The Best Half-Day Hike In Lake Como
This is an activity that I recommend to everyone who travels to Lake Como. You don't need to be super fit to do this, but you will have to walk up a few steep sections of a footpath to reap the reward which is a stunning view, arguably one of the best on the Lake.
San Martino is a small church perched on the mountain above Cadenabbia/Griante, a small village in the mid Lake Como area known for its hotels, gardens, and gorgeous villas. If your trip includes popular towns like Menaggio, Bellagio, or Varenna, you will be a short Ferry ride from Cadennabbia/Griante, and when the weather is clear San Martino is a place you must not miss - not so much for the church, which is pretty, but for the spectacular views of Lake Como.
As a child visiting Lake Como frequently, this was the place my dad brought me at least once during every visit, and still many years later every time I return the views take my breath away.
How To Get There
From the Cadenabbia Ferry dock, walk about 50 metres north along the lake until you get to the Riviera Hotel. Take the road at the hotel. Just before the first turn (at a small church) continue straight up the staired path. At the top of the path go right and follow the road. Turn left at the small war memorial. Pass the Vecchia Torre bar on the right (very characteristic old bar - worth stopping in for a refreshment on the way up or on the way back) and follow the road. It will turn into the old and historical part of Griante (take some time to explore the alley ways if you'd like) otherwise continue on through the old part of the town. You will quickly pass through town and arrive at a small church on the left called San Rocco. From there you will see San Martino perched up on the mountain. Walk through the small piazza beside the church. Do not turn down the road, rather stay straight and take the pathway that runs behind the houses. At the end of the path you will reach another road. Go left for about 50 metres. Do not continue up the road, rather take the footpath the goes to the right and briefly down before beginning to ascend to the church. Continue on for about 40 minutes to Church.
If you are not sure where you are going, just ask anyone on the street by simply saying "San Martino" and they will point you in the right direction.
The hike, or more appropriately walk, to San Martino is relatively short at about 45 minutes up from Griante, or about 1 hour up from the Ferry dock in Cadenabbia. It's a perfect morning or late afternoon activity. Do it in the morning then reward yourself with lunch down by the lake. When the days are long, make it an early evening stroll then finish it off with a night cap at the Vecchia Torre bar in Griante. In the summer avoid doing this hike in the middle of the day as it will likely be very hot.
Not to miss is a small art gallery - Martino's Art Gallery - near the Vecchia Torre bar where you can buy original paintings - even very small ones that are easy to pack as souvenirs or gifts for folks back home. I have a small collection of these in my house in Lake Como and also a few that I have brought back to Canada to remind me of Italy while I'm away.
There are a few steep sections, but the walk is along a well maintained and safe path that begins in the forest but quickly opens up offering excellent views of the lake. It is frequented by locals and tourists of all ages, but there are never crowds. A small chapel dedicated to the Alpini (Italian mountain soldiers) is reached at about half way up; it's is a perfect spot to take a break if you need one. Bring water as there is none at the top. There is a fountain in the village. If the weather is nice and not too hot, bring a panino, some cheese, fruit and a bottle of wine and have a picnic while taking in the view.
Bring a panino, some cheese, fruit, a bottle of wine, and have a picnic while taking in the view!
Once you arrive at the church of San Martino, you are rewarded with spectacular views of Lake Como. From the small plateau on which the church sits, you are able to see Bellagio (the town that occupies Lake Como's peninsula), the town of Griante directly below, and the large mountains that line the eastern shores of the Lake such as Legnone and the Grigne.
The church is usually closed. If you find it open take the time to go inside.