November in Japan is the month of the Momijigari, the search for red leaf trees – mostly maples. In Canada and New England it’s foliage time, the moment when nature turns into a palette of yellow, rusty, green and red shades. We don’t need to go abroad, though, to enjoy the autumn colours. Just go to the countryside (or take a train) and you’ll find peaceful places surrounded by woods, small towns and beautiful landscapes. Like those you will find on Lake Como, for instance.
Cernobbio, a little town on Lake Como
The lake celebrated by Alessandro Manzoni is special for many reasons, but the small towns, historical villas and views at twilight are worth a visit. Let’s stop in Cernobbio, one of the small villages on Lake Como, where the maple trees are painted in red and yellow today. Cernobbio is a quite little town built by the water, with large houses surrounded by gardens which we can just peer at through the iron gates.
The most sumptuous one is perhaps Villa Erba, built at the end of the nineteenth century and loved by the film director Luchino Visconti, who chose it as a location for some of his works. In the town center, the short lakefront seems to have been painted by a romantic artist. Under the autumn trees there are children playing; isolated benches and small boats lie on the shore. A lonely woman is staring at the lake under a streetlamp, while the light softens the landscape. Behind us, an old house is covered in vines. A long trail climbs up the hill to the Valley Garden, a botanic park crossed by a stream, home to centennial trees and exotic plants.
VILLA OLMO, THE LADY OF COMO LAKE
The foliage continues on Lake Como at Villa Olmo, an imposing house hosting events and art exhibitions. There’s a beautiful view from here, especially at sunset, when the light makes the lake shimmer and the city glow. The lakefront between the villa and the city center is one of my favourite places in Como, with its elegant houses and picturesque gardens. It almost seems to be in Japan, as we cross the wooden bridges and walk under the red maples. The town itself is a lovely place to wander about.
Five are the things you don’t want to miss once in Como for a day:
1. The historical center. Here you can wonder in the pedestrian streets and go window shopping. The city is quite famous for clothes and fashion shops. Stop in Piazza San Fedele, go inside the church and pay a visit to the Ubik bookstore, housed in a Medieval building with wooden ceilings and steep stairs. Tea lovers will enjoy Tea World Shop nearby. It’s a place where it’s easy to get lost in cups of cinnamon, ginger, jasmine, mint, white and black tea.
2. The Broletto and the adjacent Duomo, Como’s cathedral, built between the fourteenth to eighteenth centuries; inside, gothic and baroque style harmoniously blend together, while outside the imposing dome dominates over the city.
3. The Basilica of St. Abbondio, an ancient church which is a little harder to find (the address is via Regina 35) but definitely worth visiting, since it’s a jewel of romanic architecture, built in stone and wood and immersed in a mystic atmosphere.
OUTSIDE OF COMO
4. Brunate, a small village on top of a hill connected to the lakefront by a funicular. The view from above is quite impressive.
5. The crotti. These are typical restaurants housed in stone “caves” in the hills and mountains around Como, where you can taste traditional dishes in a very characteristic location. A few minutes from Como, Il Crotto del Sergente has a wooden door so ancient that you might think it dates back to the Middle Age. Meals are served in a very warm, softly lit room with arched stone ceiling and copper lanterns. The pizzoccheri (buckwheat pasta with melted cheese, spinach and potatoes) and their buckwheat cake are simply delicious.
Before leaving you’d better stop at Beretta bakery, next to the Cathedral. They sell homemade honey cookies and a special cake called “nuvola”, which means cloud. It’s a sort of brioche with a heart of apricot jam. And if you plan to stay for dinner, I can recommend A casa di Elsa, a little restaurant next to Piazza Volta, in the city center. It’s a small place where they serve fresh fish and delicious pasta dishes.