Buzzed on Limoncello and stuffed with McDonald’s, our next train ride was much happier. With my eyes on her the whole ride, Glenna managed to stay on the train this time and we got off together at the stop in Varenna. It was a little town on the Eastern edge of Lake Como and the main train service to the area.
We walked the little town down to the port where we boarded a ferry bound for Menaggio, straight across the lake. Crossing the lake was a joy. Lake Como is over 56 square miles and the 3rd largest lake in Italy. More impressive is how deep it is. Carved by glaciers and later filled when they melted, the glacial lake is 1300 feet deep; one of the deepest in Europe! Since the Roman times it has been a retreat for the wealthy and aristocrats. Today, stars such as Madonna, Sylvester Stallone, and, of course, George Clooney all own homes along its shores.
Unfortunately, we would not be renting a villa during our stay, only a bed in the sole hostel on the lake. The Youth Hostel in Menaggio was excellent. The staff was friendly and informational and the hostel rented both bikes and kayaks. The kayaks were booked for the day, so we spent the afternoon walking the coastal road North. It was a fairly nice walk, other than the times where we forced along a very busy road with no sidewalk. One of the highlights was Villa La Gaeta, an enormous mansion perched on an outcropping just above the lake. The Villa was filmed in the James Bond movie Casino Royale and is now rented out for ridiculous amounts of money.
After our walk, we ate a wonderful meal of risotto at a local restaurant looking out on the lake. We were one of two couples in the place and the meal was fantastic. That night we hit the hay early. Tomorrow would be a full day of hiking!
Hiking Above Lake Como
Our morning trek out of the city was a bit like a scavenger hunt. We attempted to follow the marks that were painted on walls, houses, and streets and signified the trail. After leaving the maze of the city behind, the trail headed into a thick forest. We climbed steep switchbacks, zig-zagging up the mountain slope. In an open yard, we briefly lost the trail, regaining it on the opposite side of narrow, one-lane road. It was a sticky day, with thick clouds looming above. When we reached Refugio Menaggio at just over 4500 feet, we were soaked with sweat. The refuge offered sleeping quarters and meals, though we used it as a place to refill our water and relax. Sardines and some snacks helped us recover, as we stretched out on the grass and looked out across the lake.
From the refuge, we took the Via Direttissimi (direct route), to the top of Monte Grona. It was a much steeper climb than the way to the Refugio. Along the way, we spotted some people ascending a rough-looking Via Ferrata route. Via Ferratas are similar to rock climbing though the climber is able to take advantage of a steel cable, which both limits falls and makes the traverse much easier. It’s definitely something I want to do someday, though today we which stick to simply hiking. Continuing up the route, we heard bells clatter and watched as a half-dozen domestic goats scrambled up the mountainside faster than we could ever hope. By the time we reached the mountain’s saddle, they had disappeared down the far side.
It was a cloudy, gloomy day yet the view from Monte Grona’s 5700 ft summit was still spectacular. Standing far above, we could see Lake Como’s distinct “Y” shape. We also had a great view of Lake Lugano and a slice of Switzerland. As we rested on a small metal platform on the summit, a light drizzle began. It was time to head back down. The steep path made for quite a treacherous descent, but we made it back to the Refugio unscathed. From there, we took a path down to the town of Breglia. Tired and worn out, we hoped to catch a bus back to Menaggio. As we neared the town, we watched the bus pull up. We ran to catch it, but it was too late! Luckily, a nice French couple nearby had watched our misfortune and offered to drive us in their rental. It is this type of random kindness that gives me hope for humans!
The next morning we ate two omelets served by our hostel. It was the best hostel breakfast I’ve ever had! Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating and a huge storm was moving in causing us to abandon our plans to kayak. Instead, we headed down to the pier and caught the ferry back across the lake. Sadly, this was goodbye to beautiful Lake Como. With the amount of hiking and incredible scenery it offers, I know I will be back someday. I would love to do a few hikes above some of the other lake towns. For now though, it was on to Milan and the World Expo.
Planning to Hike to the top of Monte Grona?
Check out a great description of the trail on The Walking Englishman.
Lake Como Youth Hostel
Not only is this the only hostel on the entire Lake Como lakeshore, but our 6-person dorm room even had a wonderful balcony with a view. Compared with the 4 star hotels that litter the towns along the shoreline, this place is a real bargain. The staff were super friendly and the hostel rents kayaks and bicycles for a small fee. It’s location in Menaggio is excellent for getting anywhere else on the lake, as well as hitting the trails in the mountains above. The hostel also has games and a bar to entertain its guests when the weather limits outdoor activities. We really enjoyed our stay on this beautiful lake. I would recommend this place to anyone visiting Lake Como.