Silvia Givera is standing on the picturesque bank of Lake Como in Lenno, Italy. She winds up, underhand, to throw a tennis ball to her dog Diego. The dog stands transfixed until the ball sails far out into the lake, and then happily dives in after it and brings it back to shore. After a little tussle, Givera gets the ball back and the two walk to Bar il Golfo in town. Silvia helps run this place, which serves traditional Italian fare. The view of the lake is stunning from the restaurant, and it’s hard to fathom spending every day surrounded by such beauty.
I had just stepped off a water taxi after visiting the amazing topiary gardens of Villa Balbianello and walked past Bar il Golfo on my way to meet my family, in Italy on a parallel trip. While I went to the gardens of Venice, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, my family used Como as a base to explore Switzerland, the towns around the lake and, most important, connect with relatives near the Austrian border.
When we met in Lenno, my family had already walked more than 2 miles from the Grand Hotel Tremezzo on the Greenway del lago di Como (Lake Como Greenway). It’s a 10-kilometer trail, a little more than 6 miles, that winds through neighborhoods and small towns from Cadenabbia south to Colonno in this part of northern Italy.
Of all the remarkable things I saw on my 10-day trip in September, this was one of my most treasured memories. People always say to get off the beaten path while visiting Italy, and it paid off for us in every way.
The greenway is well marked with metal emblems embedded into the trail and bright blue and yellow signs above. We had a few missteps and wrong turns but always found our way.
We started our walk by a couple of small restaurants and industrial businesses. Our first surprise was a rocky slope filled with pink begonias cascading down a rock wall. The second was the sight of a beautiful maid working inside a home. Once we tore our son away, we were back on our hike.
Before long, we stumbled onto a little lakeside boat launch several yards off the trail. The lake was calm, and we stood there for a few minutes to soak in another sweet view of the water and surrounding hills.
We continued through narrow cobblestone pathways flanked by stone walls punctuated by open shutters and window boxes filled with geraniums, ferns and other plants.
As we rounded a corner in Ossuccio, we were struck by an odd-looking home filled with art, and a sign saying “free entrance.” I wasn’t sure about going in, but my son led the way.
As we opened the door, Felippo Salice sat watching television. He rose and greeted us with a great smile. His home was filled with a cornucopia of strange treasures for sale. He didn’t speak English, but my wife, Cindy, is pretty good with Italian, and they were able to communicate. After we’d chatted for a while, my wife bought an old crucifix from 1950, and I purchased a crazy-looking little bronze face, which might have been at the front of someone’s home.
We said our goodbyes and left, eventually coming upon the faded frescos of San Giacomo, a church that dates to at least the 11th century. As we looked around the church we were treated to another spectacular view of the lake. Standing on a narrow, overhanging walkway we could see big fish swimming at the bottom through the crystal clear water.
Figs for the taking
The trail ascended and as we climbed we passed an abandoned estate, where we briefly had an “Under the Tuscan Sun” moment. We thought better, though, of following in author Frances Mayes’ footsteps and renovating an old villa. We took a breather at a small, cool waterfall where warm, greenish-purple figs hung from the trees for tasty snacks.
As we reached the summit and began to descend, we were greeted with a glorious view of the bell tower of Chiesa di Sant’Andrea in Sala Comacina.
Later, as we approached two men pouring concrete, one whistled a tune as he worked on a modest trail-side home. I always recall George Clooney’s comments about Lake Como and why he chose to live here. One day he watched as workmen headed for home singing, each with a lunch pail and bottle of wine in hand.
At the bottom, we were desperate for a bathroom break and needed to catch a ferry.
But we had to hike back to Sala Comacina for both, about a 20-minute walk. “It’s not safe,” I yelled to the family as I looked at the narrow berm and tiny, speeding Italian cars flying by. “This is how they do it,” my wife screamed and off we went, stopping to peer around curves, running to the next safe spot. We found what we needed at Enoteca Wine Bar.
Alessandra Carminati was preparing the bar for patrons and was happy to allow us in for a bathroom break and point my wife in the direction of the ferry stop.
The printed ferry schedule at the dock confounded us. Two women sitting nearby tried to help. They didn’t speak English, but my wife was able to ascertain that there was no ferry going north to Tremezzo where they were staying and only one more going south to my hotel in Moltrasio.
But they learned of a bus headed north, and we parted ways. Since I had 1 ½ hours to kill before my ferry, I headed back to the Enoteca bar, where Carminati poured me a large beer and made me a nice plate of meat and cheese.
As we talked, she told me of her love of Italy, how she had lived out of the country for a time but longed to return home. She wondered what I thought of Italy, and when I told her of my unending love for the country she flashed a sweet smile and opened up, telling me where all the food on my plate came from.
“The cow cheese is from up there,” she gestured toward a steep hill. Each bite was better than the last, and as she poured me another beer, one of her friends stuck in traffic yelled a greeting and waved to her through the open front door. Her grandmother came in to sit for a bit and then her grandfather, who runs the nearby Grand Hotel Victoria. Another friend came in for a small beer and some cheese.
The two of us talked for 45 minutes — about tourists, food and her long journey on a bike to and from work each day.
“Will I see you again, maybe next year?” she asked. I didn’t have the heart to tell her we’d probably never meet again.
It’s one of the beautiful things about traveling, stumbling upon a person and place like this.