I grew up in the industrial capital town of Lake Como. Although there are undeniably many industries in Mandello del Lario, I will here attempt to prove that the insediment on the Meria delta offers much more than Moto Guzzi bikes and Gilardoni X-ray machines. On the opposite side of Lake Como, as far away as possible from Clooney’s villa and the strong perfumes of the guests of Villa D’Este, Mandello sits around a stunning landscape, pretty beaches, old borgos and a few cheap bars and Gelaterias for the good old ordinary people of this world. Free from tourist traps and rich in village mentality, Mandello is a good lake and mountain destination if you wish to experience an authentic Northern Italian vibe.
Mandello del Lario boomed after the WWII, when many distasteful architectonic monstrosities, including two schools I attended, were built. Before that, it was a small town, administratively isolated from the surrounding nearby villages, that now fall under its municipality.
The first thing you notice entering Mandello from the SS36 northbound is a small but successful rowing club on the left and a precipitous rock giving onto the road on your right. This scenery sums up the most loved physical activities to do outdoor in this town, if we ignore touring on motorbikes and drinking Braulio, the herb-based typical labour. We are lake-and-mountain folk, which makes us simple but ambitious, easy-going but stressed, lazy but adventurous.
Mandello Basso has many pretty old colourful villas, scattered between gardens and little squares with fountains, where the lake serves as a frame to complete the pretty picture. Riva Granda is the most gorgeous spot; here a weeping willow falls onto the lake over fishing boats, and kids smoking up. Walking further along the lake-side promenade, that us locals call portici or porches, find the Imbarcadero, or the ferry-boat square, and don’t even think, you only have one option: enter the Gelateria Costantin and order a Gelso Ice-Cream to make your palate melt. Wandering on further past the medieval centre with its tight alleys, you may have the chance to meet some local ducklings, the attraction of Mandello harbor until we recently discovered lake shrimp; or local drinkers in our favourite watering hole, El Ghezz.
In the middle of the park, by a nice beach there is an old private boat-house. I always take my friends there to test our courage, jumping the approximately 8m drop (depending on how high the water level is) from the roof into the lake. This summer, I was the last one up there, making false moves to drop for about 20 minutes, but too scared to empty my head of worries and JUST GO. My stomach was full of anxiety and discomfort, but all these horrible feelings fell out of me with the jump. As you hit the water your mind is throbbing with adrenaline, and your body says “again, again, again!”. I consider it one of the summer must-does to stay young in the spirit.
Continuing along the precious green space you reach the river Meria delta, a nice place to swim as the water there is at its cleanest. I do not recommend entering the “Lido” area, a rip-off Milanesi-blood-sucking concrete and plastic beach. If you like fabulous places and fancy cuisine, rather check out the home page of Villa Lario Resort, where Enrico Derflingher invites other Michelin starred chefs for exclusive dinners.
Past this classy Villa on the SS36, there’s my personal favourite beach. Opposite the last turning to Mandello, a hidden staircase leads to a secret beach with rocks that make it look like a mini Phi-Phi island, the one from Leo’s “The Beach”. Some friends of mine have been taking care of this place and planting rosemary and sage, they leave their surf boards there for everyone to enjoy, but they expect YOU to respect too!
But in the middle of summer, after many weeks with no rain, not even the waters of the lake will refresh you. The best thing to do on these hot afternoons when the lake feels like a bath tub, is leave in the morning and set off for the river valley above Mandello.
Approachable from either the villages of Somana or Rongio via pretty paths sheltered by the vegetation, Il sentiero del Fiume continues untill the ancient village of Era. Depending on your energy and your desires for privacy, you can take any of the many paths leading to the river. But the most beautiful water pools are the highest, closest to the mountain peaks but in fact still rather low, deepest in the thin valley carved by the river itself. There are slides to fall into the pools… my favourite spot can be recognized as it stands at the feet of a massive rock from which you can fall into crystal waters of the blue pool. You touch the bottom, but not enough to hurt yourself against the soft sand. As you touch the water, your brain will be too frozen anyway and you will be more worried with finding the smooth edge of the carved stone and getting out, but only to do it again.