Sunday 11 October 2015

Italian Lakes: Como, Maggiore and More

Lake Mezzola

Italy, 6th – 10th October 2015

When we travelled down through Italy in April-May, we visited the lakes seeing Lake Garda and Iseo, and weren’t very impressed with them as places to visit in a motorhome when not going on campsites. Only going as far west as Iseo, we left the other lakes to come back to at some point. As we were in the area again, now we’ve spent the past few days around several of the lakes and have been more successful and enjoyed it more this time thanks to the smaller or quieter lakes.

Parking at Stezzano
We made use of our morning on the Sosta in Vicenza giving the van a good clean inside between us before doing all the tanks at the service point and finished with ten minutes left on our 24 hour ticket. From here we travelled on towards Lake Como through mixed weather with some heavy rain for a while. After some busy roads and a couple of awkward narrow sections that were a tight squeeze with oncoming cars beyond Lake Iseo we arrived at Stezzano, a small town near Bergamo. We parked in a free car park here with service point (GPS: 45.65613 9.65291) for the night. There are only standard car-size bays with no overhang room so it could be awkward if it got busy, but was quiet during our visit.

The next morning we drove into Como, not seeing anywhere to park in the town so continuing through, but the waterfront area looked quite nice and would’ve been worth a look around. Driving up the west side of the lake was similar to the lakes we saw previously with lots of villages and very few places to stop in a large vehicle. It seemed posher than Garda with lots of imposing gateways leading to large villas and mansions. The roads weren’t as bad this time, although after starting fine the villages became narrow further north. The tunnels at least were all full-width centre lined ones which were much better than Lake Garda’s. The road down the east side that we came back down on a couple of days later was much better, even though it is marked as a more minor road on our map, which is the same trend as we found with Garda too. On the way up to the top of Como we eventually found somewhere to pull in and park at the side of the road with an hour’s time limit in Dongo. After a late lunch there and a quick look around we continued the rest of the way up to Lake Mezzola which is a small lake joined onto the top of Como.

Pictured top left: Dongo, north-west side of Como
Left: Dorio, north-east side of Como

We had details of a free spot on the lakeside at Novate Mezzola (GPS: 46.21044 9.45041) which turned out to be a great place that we stayed at for a second night. There’s a large grass tiled car park with lake views next to a closed down restaurant, a play park and a small port, plus a small beach with bar that looks like it would still be operational in season. Through a gateway in a row of fir trees at the bottom of the carpark there’s a grassy area right on the water’s edge that we weren’t sure if we should drive onto, and the gap in the overhanging trees looked too tight for us so we stayed parked on a flat area of the car park. We had a walk along the footpath by the lake where to one side there were some overgrown old storage barn type buildings that had a sailing boat and a couple of old excavators left in them deteriorating away, so on the way back I had a look and took some photos.

The next day after a late start and a go on the zip line ride in the park, we got the bikes out and rode along a cycle path that followed the lakeside for a start then along small lanes which was part of a marked cycle route. We turned back for some lunch and afterwards as it was a nice warm sunny day we took the picnic blanket to the lakeside and relaxed on the grass, which was the first time we’ve done this for a while. We stayed out until the sun went down behind the mountains causing the temperature to cool off. Three Swiss campervans arrived and parked up on the lakeside so I went to reassess if we could fit through. There was enough space around the end of the row of the trees so we relocated near to the water for the night with lovely views from our windows.

After running out of water in the morning I got a water carrier full from the water spout in the park to keep us going then we took the coast road down to Lecco where there’s a free Sosta with service point (GPS: 45.83136 9.40779). It is located next to a busy road so didn’t fancy staying the night here and moved on. We tried going up the part of land enclosed in the upside-down Y-shape of the lake to Bellagio which apparently has grand houses and the rich and famous living there, but found the road was too narrow for comfort in sections and then seeing a large warning sign saying narrow road for the next 13km put a stop to it. We turned around and headed on to our next stopover at Ternate next to another small lake, Lake Comabbio. The Sosta here is close to the lakeside on a gravel area, has a service point and even four free electric hookup points (GPS: 45.77927 8.69695). Our book listed the site as free but when we arrived a sign in Italian only said something about getting a ticket from the restaurant next to it or the nearby hotel but didn’t state any costs. As it wasn’t clear we had a look online to see if we could find any more details about the place. I went to ask at the restaurant but it was closed, and seeing a German couple returning to their motorhome I asked them if they had a ticket. They said their book stated it was free and they didn’t understand the signs and had already been there one night with no problems so was free as far as they were concerned.

A few minutes later two young ladies returned to their British registered van that we were parked next to so I popped out to say hello and ask if they’d got a ticket. Jo came out to join us and we ended up stood out chatting for an hour or two. They invited us around for a beer after dinner so after eating, with our remaining beer stocks in hand we joined them in their van. Haz and El from Wales are living with their dog in their self-built Sprinter camper on a long term trip around the continent. They’ve done a great job building their van themselves which has a comfy homely feel to it. After having backpacked on a shoestring in the past they’re now on their second van and have travelled for months at a time several times before, and like us are loving van life. It turns out they were down in the Algarve around the same time as we were last winter. We had a really enjoyable evening talking about travels past and future, vans and our lives in general, and having a laugh at some of their stories. Several beers later and it was 1:30am when we called it a night and headed to bed. It made a nice change having younger people to spend time with as we’ve hardly met any during our time on the road so far. They’re great guys that we’re hoping to cross paths with again in coming months as they’re heading to Spain and Portugal for winter too.

It was the first time we’d been up that late and had more than one or two drinks for months so this morning, tired and slightly hungover we had a steady start getting organised to move on. After another chat with Haz and El, Jo and I went for a look around the area and helpfully got pointed in the direction of a snicket to the path around the lake by a man in his garden. We followed it along one side and onto wooden walkways above the water spotting some very fast fish. It was very pleasant in the sun as the weather turned out to be very nice again today.

Moving on, the next lake we were going to visit was Lake Maggiore. We’d noted the location of a recommended free Sosta from Haz and El’s Camperstop book that wasn’t in our older edition, that they’d stayed at the night before we met them. The coast road up the east side turned out to be more frustrating narrow ones a lot of the way meaning lots of stopping to pass oncoming vehicles and pulling over when we could to let our trail pass. When we got the opportunity Jo navigated us off onto another road which was better thankfully. In Maccagno we parked up at the Sosta which is next to the sports ground (GPS: 46.04028 8.73558) and only about 100m from a campsite, it’s another great free spot that you can see the lake from. Feeling like we just needed to chill and recover today we took the picnic blanket and books down to the grassy lakeside for the afternoon. The Italian Offshore Rowing Championships are unusually (on a lake?) going on here this weekend, so despite being into October the town is still quite lively.

After another day or two in the lakes we’ll be heading south via Turin, having decided to give Milan a miss this time, towards the coast ready to cross over into France.

- Matt

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