Lake Como rambling experiences and advice
Menaggio is situated halfway up Lake Como, on the western shore. The tourist information office can provide information about walks, and there are plenty of hiking possibilities in the surrounding area, or just across the narrow lake at Varenna.
Several buses a day run from Menaggio to Lugano (with its equally lovely waters) and from Menaggio up to the modern hill village of Breglia. From Breglia a well-signposted and popular route climbs up to Rifugio Menaggio in under two hours, for fine views of the lake: also open daily for refreshments during the midsummer months. A tougher extension continues to the summit of Monte Grona, with its big all-round panorama, including snow-clad Monte Rosa to the east. A much shorter walk also heads from Breglia through woods to the spectacularly sited chapel of San Domenico.
There is also a steep walk of about two hours from Croce, a bus halt just above Menaggio, to Sasso San Martino, a high and woody shoulder overlooking the lake. From there you can either hike down a little alpine track to the lakeshore again via Griante (which is the village connected to Cadenabbia and Tremezzo, or – for walkers who can cope with the challenge of a long day, poor signposting and a 200 yard tunnel through a cliff (straight and level – no torch needed) – up to the domed summit of Monte di Tremezzo (1700 metres). Descent from this is long but easy, since an old military road, becoming more civilised as you proceed, runs from just below this summit all the way down to the slopes above Argegno, for a cable car down to the lake and a bus back to Menaggio. Or you can drop off this road earlier – as I did – down to lakeside Lenno. The more easy-going walker can, of course, simply use the cable car from Argegno to reach the same high road and wander up it for the big views, returning the same way. There are even a couple of rifugi serving as restaurants along this road – the locals know how to get there by car.
There is also a most beautiful little walk, well signposted from Griante, up alpine pastures – flowers and butterflies all the way – to the chapel of San Martino, high on a big ledge above the lake. Only an hour each way, this one.
We also tried a little walking at Varenna, which we thought even prettier as well as smaller than famous Bellagio. This walk leads up a mule path (signposted from the village) in under an hour to a ruined mediaeval castle perched right above the settlement. From there you can also walk on, contouring through woods and an olive grove, to the shortest river in Italy, Fiumelatte, which rushes from a cave a couple of hundred feet above the village of the same name and apparently runs only from March to October. It takes an hour to get from the castle to this mysterious river.
As a final note, there are much bigger and longer routes on the Varenna (eastern) side of the lake since the mountains in that direction are really high – and still streaked with snow in June.