Bellagio 3. A trip to Como

The day before we were set to leave Bellagio, we decided that we would visit the place that gave the name to the lake, that it sits upon. Como is about an hour from Bellagio, if we go back to the the skinny pair of dungarees way of looking at Lake Como, then the town of Como is at the foot of the left leg if you are looking at the map.

The obvious way to get there from Bellagio is probably to take one of the multitude of ferry boats that constantly prowl along the waterway, like an army of ants. Having taken many, lovely trips on the water we decided to opt for something different when undertaking this journey. We noticed that a bus ran from outside the huge decaying Hotel Grande Bretagne, and that tickets for the bus could be purchased from the nearby Bar Sanremo, which was also a nice place to grab a coffee and a pastry for breakfast. A plan was forged, Friday morning saw us and about ten others getting on the bus and taking our seats at the starting point for it’s journey.

As the bus travelled along the start of the route, soon all the seats were full and people were standing in the centre of the bus. Then more people got on, and people were standing two abreast in the tiny central area of the bus. Still at any stop that had people waiting the driver would stop, open the door and give people the option of trying to squeeze on board. By the time half the journey was done, there wasn't an inch of space to be hand anywhere on the bus. Oh yes, we were very pleased to have joined at the first stop and to have the luxury of a seat.

The ride itself was pretty thrilling, we were on the right hand side of the bus, which meant that we had spectacular views of the lake. The road is a classic narrow winding Italian mountain road. The driver skilfully negotiated his way around some tight turns and situations when large vehicles were heading our way. Even having to back up a few times, as we peered nervously down at the steep drops towards the water, as the bus got ever closer to an “Italian Job” style situation of our back wheels hanging over the edge of the cliff. Still, he knew what he was doing even if he couldn’t see his wing mirrors and we arrived safely in Como. I don’t think I’ll be applying for a bus driver role in Northern Italy any time soon though.

We stayed on the bus until it reached the train station, then started a a leisurely walk around the town. Almost immediately we came across a poster showing some interesting looking buildings located in the city under the heading “The rationalist city”, not an architectural term we were familiar with, but that would soon change. A couple of the buildings were next to each other and only a short walk away, so we head off in their direction. The buildings in question were Stadio Sinigalia (home to Como football club) and Novocomum as residential apartment building. The later was designed by Giuseppe Terragni and architect who played in important role in the landscape of the region.

We have to mention that Terragni was associated with the right wing politics that dominated the area at the time. In fact he designed the headquarters of the fascist party in the centre of Como, it may have helped that his brother was the mayor of the city at the time! So, whilst the background to his work is extremely distasteful, its clear that he was an important figure in the development of modernist architecture in Italy and beyond. The Novocomum is an elegant building, gracefuly combining stark straight lines, with curved inset windows. The football stadium was open, so we had a wander around the main stand, which has a beautifully appointed interior, featuring a gorgeous modernist staircase enclosed within a curved wall of glass bricks.

From here, you can’t miss the striking war memorial tower that Terragni built on the waterfront. It’s located on the edge of a small park, with plenty of places to sit in the shade to escape the hot sun. We then took the short walk into the old streets around the beautiful cathedral. We were looking for somewhere to have a simple lunch and fortunately found the perfect place in the Karma Como on Via Rusconi.

We’d taken to Como anyway but there isn’t a place in the world that doesn’t feel even more special after a tasty lunch. Como was no exception to this rule. The narrow streets were packed with interesting shops, good clothes, kitch gadgets and tempting food shops. We wandered amongst their delights, window shopping happily.

We then came across the Pinacoteca Civica Di Como, a museum / gallery that was holding an exhibition on a school that had been designed by, yes, you’ve guessed it, Giuseppe Terragni. We entered the large museum and a member of staff came to greet us. We paid the small entrance fee and headed upstairs to the exhibition. It featured drawings and pictures of the school building as well as of a lot of brilliant furniture that he had designed for the place. It was chilling though, to see photos of the children in their lovely class rooms, as pictures of Benito Mussolini adorned the wall behind them.

The museum also has a brilliant collection of twentieth century Italian art, featuring many artists that were new to us. We were particularly taken with the work of Manlio Rho, Mario Radice, Antonio Sant’Elia, Carla Badiali, Carla Nadia and Aldo Galli. I think that we were just about the only people in the place, what a joy to wander around what feels like your own private collection.

After, we then had a further wander around this lovely and interesting town, obviously stopping for coffee and some excellent cake along the way. Then it was off to the bus station, to make the journey back to Bellagio.

This time the bus had hardly any passengers, as once again we enjoyed spectacular elevated views over the lake. The trip had set us up nicely for the next stage of our holiday, as tomorrow we would set off for a week in Milan, going via boat to Lecco, then train into Milan. Our brains were now back in city mode after a week in the open air.