Travel

Walk From Town to Town Around Lake Como on This Multi-Day Hike

See the other, less-bougie side of Italy's hottest destination.

COLOMBO NICOLA/Shutterstock
COLOMBO NICOLA/Shutterstock
COLOMBO NICOLA/Shutterstock

Once upon a time, the aristocratic upper classes of Italy enjoyed a rarefied existence of opulence on the western side of Lake Como. Luxurious hotels, restaurants, and shopping in magnificent villas along the water made this a James Bond-esque destination. But while all that opulence does still exist today, there are (and always have been) two sides to Lake Como. The farmers and sheep herders, who lived a more simple existence, left their footsteps along the lake’s eastern shore. And it’s here, from Lecco up to Colico, where you can find one of Italy’s best, down-to-earth hiking routes.

Sentiero del Viandante, or The Wayfarer’s Path in English, is a 27-mile trail linking the villages on the east side of Lake Como, through verdant forest, terraced hillsides, pastures, and old church courtyards, climbing from the lake shore up to hilltop views of the entire lake valley and back down again. Follow a path where you can see the generations of work put into each cobbled stone and rocks in the hand-built walls. Around every corner, you’ll be hit by stunning panoramas, one more beautiful than the next, with the lake stretching out in front of you. On hot summer days, hikers can head to the lakeshore for a dip to cool down.

Originally a mule track that connected the villages from Abbadia Lariana, Mandello del Lario, Varenna, Bellano, Dervio, and Colico, the trail is suitable for even the not so practised walkers and families. The part that’s up to you is how much distance you want to cover during your trip. For those looking for a longer trek, Sentiero del Viandante is usually divided into three or four stages. But as the villages are all connected by train, it’s possible to jump around and do any section you please for as long as you like, exiting at one of the many towns along the way. Here’s a breakdown of the options and what to know to hike the Sentiero del Viandante.

Roberto Moiola/Sysaworld/Moment/Getty Images
Roberto Moiola/Sysaworld/Moment/Getty Images
Roberto Moiola/Sysaworld/Moment/Getty Images

Don’t overpack, and plan out where to sleep

This is an easy trail with a few moderately difficult sections. As you’ll be walking on various surfaces, including cobbled mule paths, it’s advisable to wear proper walking shoes and socks. Trekking poles are useful, especially if it rains, as the ancient cobbles have been smoothed over the years and may become slippery.

There is no specialized equipment required, and you will never really be far from a town or a road, so pack light. Remember that this entire trail faces north and can be quite shady, so while temperatures are lovely for summer, it can get chilly in autumn or early spring. Winter will see sections permanently frozen over, so many people avoid that season. And although you’re high above the lake, those blasted mosquitos get everywhere in summer so remember repellent.

Quite a few people camp (responsibly, leaving no trace) along the third and forth legs of the trek, but it is technically not allowed. For the risk-averse, there are plenty of hotel accommodations along the way.

mibres/Shutterstock
mibres/Shutterstock
mibres/Shutterstock

Start your journey with a night in Lecco

There are five official legs of the Sentiero del Viandante route: from Lecco to Abbadia, Abbadia to Lierna, Lierna to Varenna, Varenna to Dervio, and Dervio to Colico.

Lecco is your starting point, the less glamorous city on the eastern point of Lake Como. It’s reachable from Como by train, bus, or ferry. Lecco is a quieter and more liveable place than its chic cousin on the western side (the two cities maintain an ancient rivalry), and it’s worth spending a night here before you embark on your walk. Stay at La Casa sul Lago Lecco or at Luxury Suites Rocopom if you want to pamper yourself, and get a meal at Soqquadro restaurant.

To start the Sentiero del Viandante, begin from Lecco train station, going north along the lake to Caviate hotel along Via dell’Abbadia, where the trail begins.

Alex King Pics/Shutterstock
Alex King Pics/Shutterstock
Alex King Pics/Shutterstock

Warm up with humble views all the way to Abbadia

The first stage of Sentiero del Viandante is a ten-mile stretch from Lecco to Abbadia Lariana. After leaving Lecco, moderate walking with lovely lake views will take you to Pradello, where you can find a small pebble beach if you wish to swim, but otherwise not much else. The trail will take you on cobbled pathways, cutting across numerous small towns and villages, with a labyrinth of stone staircases and alleyways to explore, should you wish. This is probably the least interesting part of the walk, and no judgement if you feel like skipping it and taking the train from Lecco to Abbadia Lariana.

Upon reaching Abbadia, the trail gets slightly more challenging, but far more rewarding for the beauty of the landscape. Abbadia is a reasonably large town where you can stop for refreshment before setting off on the next stage. There is a lakeshore campsite here called Camping Spiaggia, which has its own beach. If you avoid the summer crowds, it’s a beautiful, peaceful spot to pass the night.

FooTToo/Shutterstock
FooTToo/Shutterstock
FooTToo/Shutterstock

Pass medieval towns and art frescos on the way to Lierna

The second leg is about 5.5 miles to the town of Lierna. From Abbadia, the well-marked path follows an ancient cobbled mule track that rises gently but steadily onward towards Mandello del Lario. Along the way, you’ll pass signs for the Cascata Cenghen waterfall, which is worth a slight detour, as well as the Church of San Giorgio, which has art frescoes. Continue on to Maggiana hamlet, where you can stop at the Torre del Barbarossa, for a glimpse of medieval life. Then on to the hamlet of Rongio until you reach Ristorante al Verde, a good spot for lunch or a beer before continuing on to finish this section in Lierna.

Jan Cattaneo/500px/500Px Plus/Getty Images
Jan Cattaneo/500px/500Px Plus/Getty Images
Jan Cattaneo/500px/500Px Plus/Getty Images

Get to the gorgeous town of Varenna

The third section of the trail from Lierna to Varenna stretches for 6.2 miles and initially splits into a high road and a low road. The higher one gives a better view, while the lower path is close to the villages and the lakeshore. This leg is about four hours of hiking through forest and river beds, and it can get steep in places. It’ll all be worth it, though, once you get to Varenna. Opposite Bellagio on the east side of the lake, Varenna is every bit as beautiful, but avoids the hordes of tourists. This town is definitely worth spending the night in, whether at Villa Cipressi or apartment rentals, and treating yourself to a dinner at Osteria Quatro Pass for traditional, quality Italian food.

Zigres/Shutterstock
Zigres/Shutterstock
Zigres/Shutterstock

Take in the best views (and a waterfall) on the way to Dervio

The fourth leg is 7.5 miles to Dervio. Upon leaving Varenna, the trail follows a mule track to Perledo. This part of the hike offers some of the best lake views so far. After a climb, the mule trail descends gradually to Bellano. Here you can stop for lunch and visit the Orrido di Bellano, a cavernous waterfall with an elevated wooden walkway leading to it. This sight holds certain significance for pagan cults that still exist in northern Italy, and it is a truly impressive sight.

Next, the trail descends, bringing you closer to the lake and through the town of Oro. An hour’s walk along this route (with more stunning views along the way) will bring you to the restaurant Crotto del Cech, where you can stop for something cool to drink or a snack, before hitting the last stretch to Dervio.

AerialVision_it/Shutterstock
AerialVision_it/Shutterstock
AerialVision_it/Shutterstock

Finish your hike in Colico, then ferry back

The last part of the trail will take you to Colico at the very northern tip of Lake Como. It’s an easy if slightly long part of the walk, taking about four hours, bringing you past the 15th-century church of San Giorgio and the small hamlet of Mandonico, comprising a cluster of characteristic stone houses. The trail then climbs steeply, opening up to incredible views of the lake and leading you to the Church of San Rocco, where a fountain can replenish your bottles. Onward, more forest trails lead you into the townlands of Colico, the final destination for many.

Hardier trekkers may wish to continue north towards the Swiss border. The trail keeps going in different iterations through the valley of Valtellina, up as far as Sondrio, through the forest and wine country. But many turn back to Como at this point. The easiest way to reach Como from Colico is by ferry. The lovely ride takes about an hour and a half and will give you the chance to relax while observing the trail you just walked from the water.

Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock
Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock
Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock

Replenish by spending a last celebratory night in Como

There’s no better way to bask in the fruits of your labour than spending some time in the pampered town of Como. While there’s no shortage of accommodation here, rooms can be pricey, especially during high season. Vista Palazzo Lago Di Como is a personal favourite, and Ostello Bello Lake Como might suit travellers on a budget. For local Italian food, try Trattoria La Costa or Il Diavolo l’Acqua Santa. But if you’re able to splash, I Tigli in Theoria is a Michelin-starred restaurant that is worth the price. And don’t forget to experience aperitivo, which you can do at the hotspots Hemmingway and Terrazza 241 at the Hilton.

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Hugo McCafferty is a freelance writer for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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