September 27, 2023 | Rome, Italy

From the abbey

By |2018-03-21T18:44:53+01:00June 7th, 2011|Leisure Over the Years|
Il Castello on Lake Como. Photos by Andrea Smith.

he Sentiero del Viandante, the 35-kilometer Wayfarer’s Trail, has been a favorite subject of mine. It runs along the east side of Lake Como, starting in Abbadia Lariana, the first small town north of Lecco, and ending just past Colico, atop the lake. I walk its many paths often and they never run out of surprises. Hiking the full trail takes three-to-four days, but it’s easy to do in day trips, especially since train service brings you close to the starting point.

Today, we begin in Abbadia and walk the Lecco branch of Lake Como to Lierna, a fishing village with a castle on its shore. Directions are tricky but fellow hikers and local residents are helpful. The lake is almost always visible.

On the first spring-like day in early March, my husband Marino and I drive up state road SS36 from Milan to Abbadia, the first exit after Lecco, and park at the train station. From here, we walk down to the main street in Abbadia, provincial road SP72, go left along the lakeshore back towards Lecco and the tunnel. On the left, just past the building with no. 175 sign, are stairs and an orange Viandante Trail sign.

After the stairs, the path heads behind Abbadia, marking the start of an easy, up- and-down 360-meter climb. It’s a 10-kilometer hike that usually takes about a three-and-a-half hours. The land here once belonged to a ninth-century Benedictine Abbey, traces of which are now part of the parish church (Abbadia roughly means abbey town). Soon, the trail ascends and the lake stretches out below. Mountains rise on the opposite shore. Our next destination is Crebbio, a hamlet with a 13th-century church, San Giorgio.

The fresco over tiny San Giorgio church’s door is barely visible. More 15th- century frescoes decorate the walls inside. The church is closed but we pause in the quiet, low-walled, grassy courtyard for the view — cypress and palm trees, mountains reflected in the lake below. Serenity reigns. By contrast, the busy town of Mandello Lariano, home of Moto Guzzi, the famous Italian motor works, sits on its wide, flat lakeshore promontory to the right.

From San Giorgio church, we climb Via dei Rastelli and pass over the highway. At the first traces of old, stone path walls, we turn immediately right, past Zana cemetery, to a paved road that leads to the village of Maggiana.

Once enclosed with gates, Maggiana is home to the Torre Maggiana, better known as the tower of Barbarossa, named for Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, or “Red Beard,” who was a guest here in 1158 AD. A restored part of the ancient defensive walls protects small lanes and quaint stone houses that surround the narrow, stone tower. If it weren’t for the electrical cables, I’d expect to see a knight in shining armor ride by.

Leaving Maggiana is tricky, with near-constant lefts and rights. We take a lane down, backtrack, and then follow a second lane up to a meadow. On the left the path ascends into woods for 10 minutes. At the fork, we go right and climb again. At an isolated house and second fork, we go left to Rongio.

In the village of Rongio, we fill our water bottles at the fountain while studying San Giacomo Church’s (1558 AD) unusual, curvy corniced façade. Women stroll arm in arm to morning prayers. Down the road, their men-folk gather in groups outside the cafè, discussing and joking in the welcome sunshine.

“The Viandante trail?” we ask.

They point to stairs that lead down to woods by the café. “Follow signs for Valverde restaurant.”

Before the restaurant, we take a gravel road on the right and, after 250 meters, a trail to the left, descending to the Torrente Meria. Waterfalls slap river stones near a natural bridge. White snowdrops droop as crocuses prepare to pop open. Yellow primroses announce the coming spring.

We climb to Sonvico and look back at snow-capped mountains deep in the Alps. Blue periwinkles, spring anemone and violets bloom in the woods above lakeside Olcio. Precocious daisies dot the fields. We ascend to Belvedere, the highest point (440 meters). The lake widens. Across the water, Bellagio sits on the point where the two branches of Lake Como meet.

Following Viandante Trail signs to a crossroads and votive shrine near Saioli, we go straight and descend. After crossing under the highway, we take a cement road. Gardens sprout daffodils. Forsythia is about to flower. Under tall trees, masses of vinca minor, blue periwinkle, carpet the ground. The flower of Venus, used for love potions and medicinal purposes since medieval times, is toxic, rather like spring fever.

After Sornico and Olcianico, we turn left in Via Genico and soon arrive in Lierna. We head to its small, shallow port with fishermen’s houses and an unusual “castle” of tightly clustered buildings.

Like Abbadia, Lierna was also the property of a Benedictine monastery (in this case, San Dionigi in Milan). Lake water laps at the foundations of Il Castello, the ancient, close-packed, three-story apartments that form the outer castle. A chapel guards the entrance to alleyways of crowded houses, hidden piazzettas and walled gardens. A huge, Northern League’s Padania flag, white with a green-circled flower symbol, breaks the castle’s medieval flavor.

Outside the walls, couples take advantage of this surprisingly spring-like day. They roll their winter jackets into pillows and lie entwined on the crescent-shaped, Riva Bianca, one of the largest free beaches on Lake Como.

We board the train in Lierna. It’s an 18-minute ride to Abbadia. Hand in hand, we return to our car.

General information

There’s a train connecting Lierna to Abbadia. Board the front carriage, where tickets can be purchased from the conductor (€1.50).

Previous Wayfarer’s Trail reports include Como walking, To Como’s east, and As saints look on.

About the Author:

Andrea Smith's column on hiking in Italy ran from 2008 through 2013.