A Month By the Lake: Home Base in Menaggio

Menaggio, a lakeside hamlet of some 3200 souls, is located on a coveted perch at the middle of Lake Como where the three long legs of the Y-shaped Lake Como combine. It shares this mid-lake perch with the very popular waterfront towns of Bellagio and Varenna, both of which are easily and conveniently accessible from Mennagio by 15 to 20 minute ferry boat rides. If you are driving, no problem, there are also car ferries between these three sister towns. No where else can you find three enormously beautiful lakefront villages so close and so well connected. Menaggio, on the western shore of the lake, is situated at a broad valley that spreads to the west and makes an important connection to nearby Switzerland and Lake Lugano. Although there is no train service through Menaggio, the town is well served by numerous and efficient ferry boat routes which also include a fast hydrofoil (rapido) ferry that runs the full length of the lake, a nearby highway system, a very convenient and inexpensive bus line that runs the full length of the lake and also connects to Lake Lugano and Switzerland. The nearest train line runs through Varenna just across the lake, a fifteen minute ferry ride away. The closest international airport is Milan’s Malpensa airport which is approximately 1-1/2 to 2 hours away by train. With all this, I feel well connected to the rest of Italy and Europe and the world while being away from the noise and crowds of the larger and more popular cities and towns.

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The village of Menaggio is composed by the main town center and three adjacent villages of Croce, Loveno, and Nobiallo. The town center of Menaggio hugs the water’s edge while perched on a large mostly flat alluvial plain that was formed many centuries ago by the outflow of the Senagra River, a seemingly small river considering the overall size of the plain the length of which is maybe a couple kilometers (1.2 miles) across. The most prominent and enjoyable feature of this former fishing village is its long and lively waterfront promenade which begins at a small stone walled harbor well-stocked with a collection of small local sailboats and then progresses north to the nearby Piazza Garibaldi and Largo Cavour, the two main village public gathering spaces lined with stately hotels, shops, cafes, restaurants, and ‘ not to forget, the gelato shops! This is a great place to just hang out in the day and the evening. I love to come here for lunch or dinner and then get a cup of gelato and find an open park bench along the waterfront to sit and people watch and enjoy the lake view while slowly as possible consuming a sweet, cool treat. For me, this is as close to paradise as I have ever experienced!

img448      Just to the south of the harbor is one of the larger waterfront hotels and the ferry boat landing, and just a little further is the Lake Como’s only Hostel, Hostel la Primula, a favorite stopping place for students and adults with a variety of room types and includes a fine café and pizzeria, Italian language courses, sailing lessons, kayak rental, as well as a killer view over the lake. I really enjoy the Hostel’s Saturday night all-you-can-eat bar-b-que buffet which usually draws a good crowd of folks of all ages from all over the world! Here you can enjoy a great meal with a great lake view combined with an atmosphere of enlightened and friendly fellow travelers and locals. Definitely not to be missed!
The promenade then continues to the north with series of flower and tree-lined spaces complete with a smattering of park benches and a grand wrought iron railing along the water’s edge, which, with the combination of repeating plant-topped stone posts, provide a proper and pleasing foreground for the gorgeous lake view. The view across the lake from the promenade include the very popular villages of Varenna and Bellagio, both of which shine seductively along the lake shore. Even more impressive is the view of the steep mountainsides which thrust forcefully out of the water’s surface and reach unabashedly up to touch the sky. Further to the north, the lower Alps become visible with their brilliant snow-capped peaks. Continuing along the promenade, another of the town’s larger resort hotels makes an impressive appearance and thankfully is located on the land side of the promenade so that the promenade continues unimpeded along the waterfront. The farthest northern end of the Menaggio promenade is populated with a tree shaded miniature golf course, a large public beach and clubhouse with a restaurant and night club.img449
In addition to the lakeside promenade, strolling around Menaggio’s town center is a pleasant and amicable experience. Anchoring one end of the grand and lively Piazza Garibaldi, Menaggio’s main public square, Via Calvi is a short but wide pedestrian-only cobblestone paved street lined with upscale shops and the small and intimate Saint Martha’s Church complete with a lovely “rose” (shaped) window and a small but attractive bell tower. Terminating the other end of Via Calvi is the larger Saint Stephen’s Parish Church with its iconic tall, slender, onion-domed bell tower which acts as the town’s main landmark feature which is highly visible from the lake and the surrounding region and marks the center of town. It’s delicious-sounding collection of bells daily marks the passing of time while giving a wonderful melodious concerto. Wherever I go, whatever I am doing, I always will make it a point to stop to listen to the local church bells. To me, it’s a delightful experience that always makes a distinct impression in my mind of the place I am in.

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Strolling beyond Saint Stephen’s, a meticulously-maintained cobblestone passageway leads uphill to the medieval Castello (Castle) area where once stood a large stone castle which withstood numerous battles but was finally sacked and destroyed in the early 16th Century. Portions of the old walls and two towers remain and the area was rebuilt in the late 16th Century with various residential villas most of which have been renovated and are still occupied as well as the ancient Saint Charles Church. With automobile traffic regulated to just a few main streets, the village center is abundantly easy to navigate. It’s fun to just take a leisurely stroll and discover the different variety of food and pastry shops. Numerous pedestrian-only narrow passageways dot the city center and provide fun and convenient short-cuts to the lakefront. One such path passes over the River where a wide waterfall provides a cool and refreshing experience complete with the roar of the falling water.

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Considering all that Menaggio has to offer, one would think this place would be overrun with visitors. While Menaggio does get its fair share of tourists, it never seems to get over-crowded, a fact which I absolutely love. I go to Bellagio or Varenna when I want to see and be with the hoards of tourists. I come to Menaggio for the peace, the quiet, and a beautiful lakeside ambience. I am amazed at how quiet it is here. And I am astounded by how clean this town is. Oh, and everything here costs a little less than the more popular towns. With all that Mennagio was, is, and will be, I am finding it very easy to stay here longer, and longer, and, just maybe forever more.

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