Found it at last – that magic spot, that feeling of contentment and fulfilment, that place which ticks all the boxes and makes all that effort and expense of travelling really worthwhile. There were times when the sheer popularity of Lake Como as a tourist destination was going to swamp any holiday dreams or blissful summer expectations. That was until the right inner thigh of the laked athlete figure (I now think Lake Como is like an athlete with raised hands above the head) and a final base at Mandello del Lario.
Yes, arrival day was a surprise with 60,000 bikers celebrating a motor bike convention but as the week went, it became apparent that this contributes to the character and charm of the place. Nothing too precious here.
Sitting out on the balcony, wine in hand, looking out across the lake, the silence, once the bikers had left admittedly, is enhanced with a very faint hum of motorbikes leaving the distant tunnel, two donkeys braying at each other across the town, the lunch siren of the factory and the church bells giving out their respective information, a few isolated doggy barks….and that’s it. Mandello is the home of the Moto Guzzi factory where for over 100 years iconic motor bikes have been produced for racing.
So the town is a manufacturing centre and accordingly a pretty ordinary kind of place with a railway line to Milan and inhabited by normal folk – commuters, factory workers, designers, service personnel & even Amazon drivers. So refreshing.
On the other side of the railway tracks, clustered on the lakeside, lies the old town. Narrow lanes lined with elegant villas and ornate, railinged gardens and gates head down to the water where converted fishing homes clutter around small beaches where a couple of covered boats are drawn up for the winter.
Wandering around its calm, lakeside streets in the fresh morning air or in the cool of the evening, is a pure joy. A few locals gossip easily on benches or over a glass of vino at a cafe. Wide arches and covered promenades lead from squares and through passageways between tall, multi-storied buildings, the still waters of the lake always providing a blue-skied, glass-covered backdrop. Tables are laid out in one square or another, one always available for food. Mama Ciccia has a few tables, a simple but interesting menu and carafes of excellent house wine. A clear favourite.
Although happy to while away time here, we did leave Mandello. I won’t go into the aborted trip to Bergamo. It looked magnificent from below and a fortress from a distance. However, exploring the rocky spine of the inner thighed peninsula of the lake was fascinating – wood-contained pastures, narrow winding roads, more pretty lakeside (and mountain) villages.
The gem on the route was the hill of Madonna del Ghisallo with its dramatic views over the lake which has long been an iconic location for cyclists of all ages and abilities. A museum at the top captures the Italians’ passion for such extreme racing.
Not only has the awesomely steep 10 km climb formed a stage in some of Italy’s most famous road races but generations of amateur cyclists ride up it for fun!!! An amazing feat. Not for me, thank you. I’ll appreciate it from the museum and 17th century chapel at the top.
I’ll pack the cool, pastel-lined streets of Mandello del Lario and images of Lake Como into my bag, take them home and appreciate them over cooler winter months.
Bye for now 🙂