Years ago when I was working as an au pair in Rome, I was blown away by the beauty of the city that was expressed through its history. In Rome, every building, alleyway and side street had a role to play in Rome’s history. I was spell bound by how history created beauty, through the association of a story with something and it brought it to life. A door was no longer merely a door, it was the door that held the key to past. I was put into this trance that something couldn’t only be beautiful, there had to be more.
Lake Como changed this for me, from the minute I stepped off the train and set eyes on the place – the sparkling, blue lake surrounded by step hills brimming with lush plants. It was breathtaking, imposing in its scale and held a rugged natural beauty. Yes, there was history to the area, to specific buildings; but history didn’t play a vital role in the beauty of the place. Here, in Lake Como, I had discovered pure beauty.
Often places of beauty are exploited, with modern apartment blocks or hotels cluttering the area. In some respects it is natural that as time passes an area is inundated with new buildings to meet the changing needs of the people who inhabit them. More so, with places of beauty the rate of change is exponential as word circulates around. It is not without planning laws and restrictions that this process is stopped. A favourite example of this is the Cinque Terre in Italy, which has been designated as an UNESCO heritage site and, thus, the landscape hasn’t been altered in decades. Lake Como is, also, one of these exceptions, with rugged, historic buildings peaking out from in-between trees and flowers. There’s no glass fronted, high rise buildings poking out or cluttering the promenade, everything is in keeping with the traditional Italian style. Of course, the old ‘Nonni’ (grandparents) would disagree; but I sure didn’t.
To truly appreciate the whole of the lake in its beauty, there are three things one must do. Firstly, partake in the truly Italian pastime of a (preferably, evening) stroll alongside the lake. Walk along the promenade, which has trees and benches placed systematically throughout; so you can sit in the shade and admire the lake. To top off the ‘passeggiata‘ (a leisurely stroll), make your way to the Life Electric Sculpture, located at the end of a boardwalk in the lake; which provides extensive 360 degree views of the lake.
As with any city that I visit, I always source out the highest point to gain a birds eye view of the place. In Rome, this was Gianicolo Hill; which gave spectacular views over the city and clearly depicted how beauty in Rome was intertwined with history. I remember standing on the edge of the hill, peering down on the city tracing the history of the city. In Como there is a quirky funicular which takes you over 1,000m up the hill side to a small village called Brunate. From here the grand scale of the lake can be fully appreciated with 180 degree views, making the boats floating below look like little toys.
Finally, one must travel across the lake to gain some perspective. I whizzed across the lake on an authentic ‘bus’ boat to the nearby town of Cernobbio. I liked to imagine that I looked like George Clooney is that infamous photo, alas I think I looked more like a windswept mess. But, I did achieve what I set out to see and that is to be centred in the lake and see the lush green forests cascading uphill around me in every direction that I looked and not a modern building in sight. It was stunning and not to say the least beautiful.
On my last day in Como, I was sitting staring out at the lake and knew then that beauty and history weren’t intertwined; as Rome had lead me to believe. History provokes a sense of beauty, yet some places are simply just beautiful and Lake Como is one of them.
Image Credits – Nuala McBride