I visited Italy for the first time recently. As I’ve had a lot of trouble with my back and knee over the last year and a quarter I had no intention of doing any walking, however I found that the climate was agreeable and while there I had a degree of mobility that I haven’t enjoyed for a long time and was able to undertake two short walks. I was holidaying at Griante on the shores of Lake Como, located in the “Pre-Alps”, not far from the Swiss border. The weather was outstanding and the clear blue skies formed a stunning backdrop for the snow capped mountains, teasing me with out of reach peaks. The villages of Griante and Cadenabbia merge into one and sit at the foot of of the 1629m high Monte Di Tremezzo, higher than Ben Nevis.
This part of Italy is very much like Scotland in some respects, the main differences being the pleasant weather and the fact that where we have bare hillsides they build onto them, with villages spreading precariously upwards. Far above the villages are dotted lonely, white chapels, and the very tops of the hills are often decorated with huge white crosses, visible for many miles. Griante is no different, and it sits beneath the impossible looking chapel of San Martino, which appears suspended on a huge chunk of rock. While out walking along the lake I noticed a signpost for the chapel and helpful tourist information board indicated there was a route to it. I decided that I would try and give it a go, and next day set off with my daughter from the hotel up through the village to see if I could find the way to the chapel. Away from the lake there is little to Griante, but what there is is wonderful. The wider of the streets are lined with the local government building, a small school, an arts shop and Vechia Torre, a bar which serves some very nice pizza and red wine. The wider streets give way to a very narrow streets which explain the Italian fashion for very small cars and mopeds. At one point I saw a builder squeeze his narrow van through what I thought was a footpath, so it’s worth bearing in mind that you need your wits about you on even the narrowest of thoroughfares.
After passing a small chapel the road twists round to the left before a signposted footpath breaks off to the right. This is the start of the pilgrims route to the chapel San Martino. The path is lined at intervals with small shrines depicting stories from the life of Jesus, and these are often decorated with flowers and candles. As I climbed up the path I could hear the sound of scuttling in the undergrowth, and I caught glimpses of elusive green lizards darting into cracks in the wall which lines the path.
Around half way up in amongst the pine trees we came across a small chapel dedicated to the memory of the Italian Mountain troops who died in World War 1. Despite its location which commands a stunning view across the lake to Grigna in the Bergamo Alps, it is well kept and tidy. I wonder how it would fare back home?
The path carries on upwards, twisting and turning, making the ascent maneagable. I’m more used to the Scottish method of ascent, a line more or less directly up a ridge, small tight twists. Direct and hard on the knees. This is altogether different. We stop by a bench which looks over the village and I can now clearly see the chapel only a few hundred metres away. I can also clearly see a small path running off along the hillside, and I mentally tuck that away for later, as I have read that there is a track to the top of the hill, and this may be it. The path takes a final dramatic twist over a deep fissure in the rock before climbing up to the chapel. The view from here does not disappoint. We are sitting above the point where the lake splits in a Y-shape. Directly across from us is the little village of Bellagio, which can be reached in a few minutes from Cadenabbia by ferry. The left hand fork leads to the town of Lecco while the right hand fork takes you to the town of Como itself, from where the lake takes its name. Griante/Cadenabbia sits below us, and some of the villas are breathtaking. We can see the Konrad Adenaur Foundation building and grounds, named after the first Chancellor of West Germany, who holidayed here for many years. I wonder if he climbed to this spot?
The chapel itself is locked, as is the mountain hut which it tucked discreetly away in the woods nearby. There’s a fantastic view here too and the faintest sign of a path leading north to who knows where.
Wherever it is it’s steep and precarious, so we turn and return back the way we came, pausing to finally capture a shot of the lightning fast lizards which had so far eluded us. All in all it’s not a difficult walk. It’s well signposted from the village and easy to follow once actually on the path. Allow an hour for a relaxed walk at an easy pace, and add another for a post walk beer in the Cafe afterwards as well…
1:50,000 Globalmap Lago Di Como E Lugano is available in the local shops and is suitable for hiking.