Friday, August 07, 2015

Exploring (and Running in) Lake Como, Italy

For most of my life, I’ve had a clear mental picture of Lake Como, Italy. Calm, crystal clear waters surrounded by towering mountains…picturesque villas and pastel colored towns along the shore…me taking a stroll down narrow cobblestone paths that have stood since the days of Romans…sharing gelatos with George Clooney and Richard Branson on a hot summer afternoon when we happen to share the same beach…my smoking hot topless wife tanning effortlessly at the shoreline…okay, so I obviously haven’t actually been to Lake Como. But that was going to be remedied shortly now that me and the family were en route. I could only hope it lived up to my Fantasyland level preconceptions.
(Ossuccio on Lake Como, Italy)
This was a family trip (i.e., no races this time), and would be our first international foray as a clan. It had been on the books for years, calculated as the first window of time we might travel with our youngest, Quinn (4), without losing our minds trying to keep her in an airplane seat for 10+ hours. Sophie (9) is a more natural traveler now that her bookworm traits are in full force – with the latest Harry Potter and Diary of a Wimpy Kid in her backpack, she was easily going to master any train, plane, or auto ride required. If not, the iPads (easily the greatest invention of all time for parents) were charged and ready.

(Christi and her Mom, Margi - see any resemblance?)
Christi, my wife, has always had a secret kinship with the ways of Europe, and was eager to return after her 10+ year parenthood house arrest. She was so excited that she didn’t mind spending our 22nd wedding anniversary crammed into Economy Plus (fist bump…love you!), the long travel day now just a footnote into a 20-day trip she has been dreaming about every weekend. Christi’s parents, Roger and Margi, were the experienced world travellers in our group who took the reigns on planning this epic three-stage trip. One week in Lake Como, Italy, followed by a week in Wengen, Switzerland in the Jungfrau Region (hello, Eiger!), and a few days in Milan for the World Expo (aka Worlds Fair). Even as the adventure began, it seemed impossibly dreamy, too good to be true. But here it was!

My running gear was packed, of course. But for once, there would be no race to obsess about, no Expos to attend, and no fidgety taper making it feel like I am constantly on a triple espresso high. There was no agenda except what the day would bring. An explorer’s paradise, uncontained.

Stage One – Lake Como, Italy 

The charming lakeside villa that would be our home greeted us on sight with an Italian-sized hug. It only took an afternoon for the family to slow to the leisurely pace that comes so naturally on a hot Italian afternoon. The act of “meriggiare”, where one idles through the heat of the day in a shady patch or swimming area, forces an appreciation of the minute beauties of nature - the cicada chorus, steam rising from the hot cobblestones, the slow paddling of swans and ducks...the rhythm is contagious. We downshifted and eased into a dreamy state.

(View from the villa....sigh!)
(Quinn the breadstick fairy navigates through the narrow cobblestone paths)
Daddy is the only runner in the family, so part of my job is to play “scout” and tour around to find the closest food markets, ATM’s, restaurants, beaches, and my favorite - gelaterias. Italy never disappoints on any of these (except maybe ATM’s), so my first eight-mile tour of the area gave me a good feel for the neighborhood. Thirty restaurants, 15 gelaterias, six beaches, and one broken ATM. Viva Italia!

(A typical running detour...)
One particularly nice find was the “Greenway del Lago di Como”, a 12km cobblestone path set up for hiking tourists that led through some of the more historic sites, churches, and monumental villas in the area. It quickly became my go-to for morning runs, and within a few days, I found myself stopping to say hi to the locals who had waved the day before, borrowing the shade of their decks and windows to catch my breath. The Italian grandmas sitting in their windowsills on the uphill sections were very popular, handing out glasses of water and wine to all coming back from the steamy hot street market. If you get a group of them together, you could catch some historic gossip with a little encouragement. Apparently Mussolini was captured down the street when WWII ended, but taken to Milan to be tortured and killed for his war crimes. Wow, heavy stuff, grandmas!

(Greenway del Lago di Como)
(Following the Greenway path)
It was nice to have “negative structure” in my daily runs. Instead of following a plan full of “have to’s” or be stressing about some goal race, it was just “grab a map, some Euros for spontaneous gelatos or espressos, and go as long your body wants”. I had gleefully forgotten my headphones, so the sound of birds, clanging cowbells, children at the beach, the moo’s and neigh’s of the hilly farmlands, and the wind cutting through the trees would be my soundtrack. So peaceful!

(More food!)
(Sophie searches for lizards in the walls)
My somewhat random runs found a Roman signal station from 200 A.D., the church of San Martino cut 1,500 feet up a cliff (not a big Sunday mass, I would guess), historic gardens from a dozen impeccable villas, eggs handed out from local farmers, a breakfast sampling of the delicious white wines of nearby Lugana, and of course, gelato flavors worthy of spontaneous oralgasms. I didn’t see Clooney or Branson, but totally understand why this is their vibe. If you can relax and enjoy the splendors of Italy, you blend right in and become part of its magic.

(San Martino Church - that's quite a driveway!)
(Taking the fast way down from San Martino)
I delighted in hearing my girls ease into their “per favore” and “gratzie”s (at least they say please and thank you in this country!), and finding out what pasta with butter is supposed to taste like. The “find gelato in every town” game became more of a rule, and we soon understood why dinner never started until 8pm…you’re still too full before then! All the more time to fill the streets with their laughter, one sundress chasing another through the garden walls and cobble paths while I stride hand in hand with mi amore.

(Sophie gets her Goth on with some dark chocolate gelato)
(Italian dogs are just as cool)
(Quinn takes a run!)
My iPhone was often commandeered by Sophie, which kept the photo feed full of glorious randomness. A favorite was when we found a nice place to eat, and would have to send photo streams of directions so the rest of the troupe could catch up.

(Turn left here!)
(Then another left!)
A week turned out to be just right, although I could have easily spent the whole summer here. Just as the meriggiare formed a daily routine, it was time to pack and head into the mountains. La nostra avventura italiana, loaded with great food and wine, epic views, cobblestone jogs, and girly giggles, would become family stories to be told again and again.

[to be continued...]


  1. Interesting post. Way to write! Charming pics

  2. Sounds like a great trip! Can't wait for part two...

  3. Had to come re read this post now that I'm here myself, hoping for some trail beta, but now realizing its best to go explore and soak up what I do find. Thanks for the write up.

  4. Nice article Scott! Thanks - heading to Como in may.


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