Sunday, March 4, 2012

Lake Como Part Three: Bellano

As I mentioned in my previous blog post on February tenth my boyfriend Luca and I were lucky enough to take a trip to see the beautiful Lake Como this summer. We spent the first few days settling in to our hotel in Varenna as well as visiting Bellagio and Como. For our final day out in the area, we decided that we would combine two of our great loves, climbing and swimming, and took the train only five minutes away from Varenna to the small town on Bellano.

Bellano is one of those wonderful places that you can easily spend several days exploring. It is not the most famous of all tourist destinations in Lake Como and is therefore free of crowds and is mostly local. I chose the town largely because it was rumoured to have a small beach where one can swim and, as the Italians are fond of saying, take the sun. During the summer months especially, the people of Italy flock to the beaches, not to swim, but instead to sprawl themselves out over a rock and bask in the sun. No Italian summer vacation would be complete without a little bit of sun bathing, which of course produces that lovely golden brown tan that everyone is always jealous of when you return back home!

Bellano, is however, not just home to a pretty little beach, it is also the proud site of a magnificent gorge which is known as the Orrido di Bellano.  Although the orrido is not world famous, it has earnt itself a good reputation with foreign tourists, who have affectionately nicknamed it the little Grand Canyon. When Luca and I first arrived in Bellano, we decided to see this natural wonder before anything else. The weather that day was uncharacteristically cool and there had been several thunderstorms with strong winds the night before. Rain spat down upon us as we entered the orrido, but we figured that the spray from the water would get us wet soon enough, so it wasn’t really a problem.

Although the attraction would have been beautiful enough if it had just been left in its natural glory, the owners had puzzlingly decided to turn it into an Italian Jurassic Park, complete with huge dinosaur sculptures and various other tacky displays. As strange as it was, Luca and I still welcomed the opportunity to pose with a raptor in various silly positions before entering the caves surrounding the gorge themselves. Once inside we walked along the narrow bridges which wound their way along the perimeter of the rocks and observed the full power of the water as it poured into the gorge below. The stream resembled a waterfall and there were plenty of places to take amazing photographs along the route.

Once we had our fill of the orrido, we decided to head to the lake shore in search of a restaurant for lunch. Like the previous night, the wind suddenly picked up and we were blown about by what felt like gale force gusts. The lake turned choppy and the few sail boats that had dared to venture out onto the waters, struggled not to be carried away. Personally, I was more concerned with exposing myself to the people of Bellano, as my dress kept flipping up Marilyn Monroe style. It seemed as though I would not be getting my wish to swim in the waters of Lake Como and as we settled in a sheltered café, I felt a little bit disappointed. Luca assured me that there was still plenty more to see and to not give up on the weather. With that glimmer of hope, I tucked in to a large plate of delicious gnocchi.

After lunch we began to explore the town, which is centuries old and a pedestrian zone only. The streets were narrow and adorned with various flags representing the different communities nearby. Around every corner was a photo opportunity, from clothing lines, which were hung from window to window across the streets, to various monuments that had been erected in honour of saints. Being in Bellano was like being transported back in time and as Luca and I weaved our way through the town the view seemed to get more and more spectacular.

The town is located at the base of one of the many mountains that surround Lake Como, and it is possible to follow trails that lead hikers on leisurely strolls to the towns resting above. Luca and I elected to follow one such trail that promised panoramic views of the lake and finished at an ancient church. As we climbed higher and higher, following at first cobblestoned streets and then climbing stairs which were overgrown with grass and moss, my fear of heights began to kick in. It is not that the trails were in any way dangerous, but more that looking out over the water and miniature homes below gave me the feeling that I was leaning over the edge of a very tall skyscraper. Still, I persevered which Luca’s coaxing, after all I wasn’t about to turn back when we had already come so far.

As we neared the top of the mountain, the sun emerged once again and we ascended a very old and steep set of stairs with stone and wooden carvings lining the way. These carvings depicted Christ carrying the cross on the way to his crucifixion and Luca said that they were known as the Stations of the Cross. Flowers and candles had been left at the base of each of these stations and with the now blue sky serving as a backdrop; I experienced the sense of the awe that religious pilgrims must have felt when visiting the area centuries ago.

The church itself, was rather modest when compared to the natural scenery around us and we explored the area nearby in search of other routes that we could follow. Right behind the church was a path that looked untouched by time and it inspired in us a sense of mystery and intrigue. It was surrounded by very high stone walls and every so often Luca and I would pass miniature doors that looked as though they had been constructed for dwarves and not in fact for average-sized people as we walked along it. Suddenly a small dog poked his head through a hole in the wall and began to bark and growl! Luca and I at first recoiled in fear and then laughed because he was in fact a rather adorable mutt. As we continued to discover this hidden gem for ourselves, we decided that one day it would be nice to purchase a home of our own on the Lake Como mountainside.

For the last activity of the day, Luca agreed that we had a little bit of time remaining to take a swim in the cool waters below. After climbing back down to where we began our Bellano journey, we took half an hour to dip our feet in the lake and reminisce about the week that we had just experienced. Lake Como is without a doubt one of the most beautiful and romantic places in the world. In our short time in the area, Luca and I experienced so many different things and yet there was even more that we had to miss due to the time restriction. I would recommend it to both travellers on a budget and to those who have a little bit more money to spend. Simply put, there is something for every price bracket, every interest and every season at this charming Italian destination. I know I will never forget it, and who knows, I may even be lucky enough to return again some day.


  1. Lovely post, Danielle. The pics really caught my eye. Interesting, because I've never been to Lake Como, but my father had been there many years ago and spoke of it fondly. He's long gone, so this brought back lovely memories of him.

    How lucky you are to be living in Europe and able to enjoy the wonders of all the neighbouring countries with ease.

  2. Thanks for the words of encouragement Doreen. If your father liked Lake Como he must have had excellent taste. You will absolutely have to visit one day and discover it for yourself! Living in Italy is a dream come true for me and I intend on doing as much as possible while I am here. I was reading that you are particularly interested in travel and chocolate. It is such a shame that I was only made aware of your blogs recently because this summer there was a huge chocolate fair where I live. These choclatiers were real artists and had sculpted the chocolate into amazing forms. (think shoes, dolls and even tools!) I am kicking myself now for not taking hundreds of photos like I usually do! From now on I will be sure to keep my eyes peeled for any more chocolate-coated surprises that may be of interest to you.