Merate - Villa Belgioioso
The Province of Lecco lies on the eastern shores of Lake Como; Lecco itself is an array of centuries-old villas and parks decorating a mighty, mountainous background.
The city of Lecco grew rapidly beginning with the Industrial Revolution in the 18th Century, and eventually became one of the most important Italian industrial centers. Today, it is the capital of a wealthy and productive Province.
The city enjoys an almost unique position, surrounded by a fantastic, fairytale-like countryside. Barricaded between rugged mountains, the wide basin is dominated by the Grigne Mountain Group, San Martino and the unmistakable crest of Resegone - mountains so beloved by artists the likes of Alessandro Manzoni and Stendhal. Lecco is a modern center that counts several interesting monuments among its possessions, both ancient and modern: for instance the Visconti Bridge and Tower, and structures signed by architects Mario Cereghini and Mino Fiocchi. The city's fame is closely linked to its literary mentions in the novel I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed), a Manzoni masterpiece.
A journey in discovery of this land can travel along many paths and trails that intertwine to form a multi-colored and fascinating story: protected nature reserves, inhabited settlements dotting the landscape, and epochs seen in the architecture, in particular that of the Romanesque. Various tour themes highlight the profundity of the Provincial art, history and terrain.
The Province of Lecco is composed of ancient villages and landscapes so captivating, they influenced the brushstrokes of one Leonardo da Vinci.
The city of Lecco is fronted by lakeside promenades leding to the places made famous by Alessandro Manzoni in his literary masterpiece, The Betrothed (I Promessi Sposi).
The proximity to Lake Como provides numerous seaside spots that ideal for relaxing vacations that could be defined in any number of ways: whether by practicing water sports or cultural visits to history-rich towns and ancient monuments. Varenna is certainly among these, with its pleasant stony and sandy beaches, and small harbors whence boat excursions can depart and travel along the Lario (i.e. the alternative name for Lake Como). Varenna is located atop the promontory that serves as base for Monte San Defendente, a favored position with an equally-favored panorama. The centerpiece of Varenna is without a doubt Villa Monastero, built over an ancient Cistercian Monastery enjoying a beautiful view over Lake Como's center; the Monastery is also surrounded by a stunning garden rich in exotic plants, while important international conventions and conferences are organized inside the Villa itself.
A jewel from the Middle Ages, Vezio, with its castle, is an interesting example of military fortification, accessible via a cobbled path. Lying above Varenna, this ancient fortress offers a charming vista of the lake and the olive groves surrounding the castle. At Dervio, the scenery moves from the beaches of the fishermen’s quarter to the ancient castle that dates from the 14th Century, while the 13th-Century Church of Santi Quirico and Giulitta lies in the oldest part of the town.
The Lariana Abbey, in addition to its grassy shores, is the location for the engrossing Silk Museum, where the local, centuries-old silk making tradition is narrated in detail. The Church of San Giorgio in Mandello del Lario is outstanding and represents a remarkable art gallery from Medieval times; it can be visited upon request. Finally, the Guzzi Moto Museum in Mandello recounts the history of this locally-manufactured motor bike.
The Abbey of Piona in Colico, an architectural gem and oasis forpeace and spirituality, is situated on a promontory that slopes down to the lake: The Abbey is an obligatory stop, along with the Fuentes and Montecchio Forts that evidence the great military strategic importance of the area. The former was built during Spanish domination in the 17th Century (today only its ruins are visible), while the latter was constructed during WWI; even today it stands as a fine exemplar of military technology.
Religion has long been of import in Lecco Province, as can be seen in its numerous churches and sanctuaries, important examples of Romanesque architecture that also contain extremely well-preserved and valuable frescoes. Among these is the Church of San Pietro al Monte in Civate, one of the most significant Romanesque works in Lombardy. (It can be reached only after an hour’s work along a mule trail.)
Another of the most important religious sites, the Monastery of Santa Maria del Lavello in Calolziocorte deserves mention; it is a 16th-Century religious complex made up of convent, cloisters and church.
Of course, the Province of Lecco is not just lakes. A few miles away, the enchanting mountain countryside of Valsassina awaits. Dotted with small, fascinating towns and marked by tranquility, age-old customs and traditions at first leave one with the impression that here, time stands stilll.
Heading south, verdant Brianza comes alive with, its glorious past shining from its noble villas; moving toward the countryside, travelers will find the River Adda, along which various ingenuities of engineering - such as the Dams and the Padeno d’Adda Bridge - stand.
The ties between the city of Lecco and The Betrothed (or I Promessi Sposi), the celebrated work by Alessandro Manzoni, has led to the creation of the Manzoni Tour, an interesting historical and cultural exploration of the places that provided the backdrop to the novel's events, and which take the visitor back to the 16th Century of Renzo and Lucia. Among other places associated with Manzoni, Villa Manzoni, the writer's summer residence stands out, as do the civic museum, the Pescarenico district - location of the convent where Fra Cristofor lives - the Olate and Acquate districts with the supposed house of Lucia, as well as Don Abbondio’s church and Don Rodrigo’s house. Moving away from the center of the city, it is possible to reach the Chiuso district to visit the Rocca dell’Innominato.
The Province of Lecco is synonymous with active tourism. Its natural environments suit all tastes and offer plenty of opportunities for those who love nature, sports activity and, more generally, outdoor tourism.
The Grigne and Resegone Mountains, on whose summits some of the most famous climbers in history have trained, are the ideal spot for lovers of hard-core trekking and climbing.
Innumerable pathways make for evocative routes that through the open countryside that anyone can enjoy. Valsassina, for example, is the ideal summer destination for those who wish to spend their days taking nature walks with the family; or in winter, when the snow falls in abundance, skiing the slopes. Some of the best spots are the Piani di Bobbio, di Artavaggio, and delle Betulle.
It would be impossible not to mention the famous Wayfarer's Path, an ancient commercial road that runs for 25 miles from the Abbadia Lariana (Larian Abbey) to the gates of Valtellina. This route, which can easily be done in stages, follows ancient mule tracks across fields, chestnut woods and olive groves, until it reaches Mount Albiga; it passes through some of the most enchanting villages on Lake Como's eastern shores, particularly Mandello del Lario, Lierna, Varenna, Perledo and Bellano, well-known for its Orrido, a deep gash and waterfull in the land formed by the Pioverna River.
Those enthusiastic for sports and the outdoors should head back towards the Lake. The shores near Lecco offer a wide range of aquatic sports, from classics like canoeing and sailing to windsurfing and kite-surfing.
Cyclists too will love the vast range of routes for every level of expertise. Mountain bikers, for example, can try their hand at the spectacular (though tough) routes around the lake, while the road of Brianza, with its ups and downs, is the perfect testing grounds for lovers of road cycling. Breathtaking routes and absolute tranquility make even the most difficult stretches highly-rewarding.
Mention must also be made for extreme sports. Monte Cornizzolo, for example, is a Mecca for paragliders from all over the world.
In the territory around Lecco, gourmets can find at least three local cuisines - three very particular and different food cultures, depending on from which geographic area they originate: lake, mountain or valley.
In the valleys and mountains, the cuisine is simple, based mainly on yellow polenta, taragna or vuncia, accompanying tasty dishes of game or rustic sliced beef dishes with Casera cheese, produced in two forms: fatty or semi-skimmed. In Valsassina, the best-known product is taleggio, but other dairy products should not be ignored, for instance goat cheese, ricotta and pasture butter.
In the area around Brianza, hearty specialties prevail: think Savoy cabbage (cazzoeula, casoela, etc.), tripe or foiolo, polenta and bird, cotecotto sausages and beans and, of course, all the products of the Italian delicatessen, such as filzette and cacciatorini (long, thin, salami). The original rustisciada is a typical Brianzola dish made from pork loin and sausages browned with onion.
Then, rabbit is cooked with special, traditional sauces, while savory stewed California rump stake takes its name from an old farmstead on the road between Viganò and Monza.
Fish is the undisputed king of Lake Como's gastronomy. Risotto with fillets of perch is the “national dish” of Lario, but other specialties preserve the zone's simple, folk gastronomy. The misultitt (by now Italianized as missoltini), is lake shad caught between May and June, dried in the sun and pressed with salt in the wooden containers know as missolte.
Finally, desserts include miascia, made with cornmeal and raisins, locally produced honey and dried fruit; and, in Valsassina, the traditional caviadini cookies made with pastry and sugar beans.
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