Nesso is a small Italian village of red rooftops and tall brick houses that tumble down a steep slope all the way to the rippled waters of Lake Como – Italy’s most famous lake.
Halfway between the lakefront towns of Como and Bellagio, Nesso lacks the hustle and bustle of the first and the expensive air of the other.
What Nesso offers instead is an authentic Italian atmosphere coupled with stunning lakeside views.
Yes, views and the ability to do a strenuous workout every time that you walk around the village for its streets are actually a maze-like sequence of steep steps. Cut straight into the slope and covered with irregular, worn-out slabs and cobbles, they leave me breathless when I navigate them up and down.
I don’t come to Nesso to exercise though. I neither come to rush around trying to see and do as much as possible so as to tick off Nesso as one of those destinations that I have fully and thoroughly explored down to the most obscure sight.
Instead, I come to Nesso to simply be. And to sit in the garden.
The garden is of our friends who have been calling Nesso home for a number of years now.
Their garden is legendary in a wide circle of friends reaching several countries and at least two continents. Just sitting in it and looking at Lake Como from above – with its rippled water, ferries travelling from one lakefront town to another, and hydroplanes flying almost as high as the mountain peaks that brim the lake – is a reason enough to exist.
I can easily spend a whole day doing nothing in that garden and yet I feel like I’ve done the most important things in the world.
Relax, reconnect with people, feel close to nature, truly enjoy food…
At lunchtime, our friends place a large platter on the outside table. Thinly sliced Italian salami and hams curve in appetising folds. Juicy red strawberries are artfully arranged next to a small dish filled with thick balsamic vinegar glaze. A selection of local cheeses – beautifully cubed and sliced – is complemented by a handful of perfectly ripened figs. It’s all followed by a delicious pear risotto cooked al dente perfectly.
Ah, life in Nesso is beautiful! The ultimate expression of the Italian dolce vita where you disconnect from everything that drags you down and you just contentedly exist. No mundane things to clutter your mind. No depressing thoughts to put a stop to your hopes and dreams. It’s a place where you feel present, you feel here now.
Hence, in just over a year, we travel to Nesso three times. Every time, I get my camera ready and I make firm plans:
‘This time, I am going to go out and take some photos of Nesso and the area!’, I tell my husband. ‘I need to see what there is to see and do there so as to write a detailed blog post!’, I elaborate although he knows perfectly well how my travel blogging brain works, how eager it is to see the smallest sight, the most hidden corner of each city, town, and village before I can feel that I know them well enough in order to write about them.
And yet, each time that we are in Nesso, we happily spend all our time in the garden of our friends. It’s simply so nice being there!
We relax, chat, and – on our final visit – play darts in the sun. The darts awaken my competitive streak and I try time and time again to score a perfect ten.
The Como branch of the lake – narrow and long – stretches down below before curving and disappearing beyond a steep green hill. The crumbling wall of what centuries-ago had been a castle defending those shores still keeps an eye on the lake from above a lush vineyard. The red rooftops of Nesso glisten in the sun. A tall crane is positioned precariously between them, ready for work when the world goes back to reality on Monday.
For now, it’s the weekend, still, so no need to rush around and no need to do anything but relax and chat.
I wait until everyone has turned their backs to me to look at the lake and, surreptitiously, I quickly pin the dart inside the bullseye.
‘I did it!’, I exclaim. ‘A perfect ten!’, before crumbling under the weight of my conscience and admitting my deceit.
The game continues. The darts fly. The afternoon flows into the evening and the lake looks beautiful all the way through from bright sunlight to densening dusk.
The garden around us gets ready to sleep. The flowers close their cups, the leaves of the large vine rustle in the light breeze. The fairy lights – on a string above the table – glow like fireflies.
Our friend lifts a stone slab to show us a bunch of tiny scorpions, huddled underneath. Then he regales us with the story of coming across a slow worm near the lake not so long ago.
I squeal and refuse to look at the photos he shows us of the slow worm. Always brave, my husband looks at them with interest.
For dinner, we get pizzas from Nesso’s restaurant. The restaurant is part of the small hotel in which we stay during our visits to the village and the pizzas are some of the best we have had during our six years in Italy.
This time, acknowledging our imminent return to England, I order a pizza called ‘UK’. I am presented with a delicious pie covered with slices of pancetta and the most perfectly runny egg.
We bring the pizzas back to the garden and eat them while looking at the dark lake. It is now night and the rumbling of Nesso’s waterfall comes through the air in waves.
I wake up early, just before 6 am. ‘I am going out to take photos!’, I tell my husband. I am eager to take advantage of the early morning light.
‘Just be back by 7!’, he says still half-asleep. ‘I need to move the car!’
Nesso is rurally idyllic but it’s blighted by any large metropolis’ biggest problem – lack of parking spaces. Built on a steep slope and centuries-old, the village has little space for modern amenities so parking spaces are few and strict rules are in place as to where you can park and for how long.
I head out. Nesso’s houses are several stories tall. The top floors of many of them line the main lakeside road that cuts across the village while their bottom floors face the steep steps that lead down to the lake.
With Nesso built on a slope, every available space is made use of. This leads to each building having some unexpected corners and quirks.
To reach our room in the hotel, for example, you need to go three floors down from the street level but then our room is not underground and instead it has a great view of Lake Como and Nesso’s red rooftops.
Outside, the air is crisp and clean. A tiny pavement separates the hotel’s front door from the two narrow lanes of the main lakeside road. Pavements here are quite the luxury. Long stretches of the curving and twisting lakeside road run right next to the houses, forcing locals and visitors alike to walk directly on the road while keeping an eye out for any passing vehicles.
There is no-one outside – no people, no cars. In a minute or two, I reach Nesso’s main square – Piazza Castello – a tiny, tiny piece of flat surface above a dramatic gorge through which a mighty waterfall thunders and falls.
The waterfall is known as Orrido di Nesso – from the Italian word for both ‘horrid’ and ‘gorge’ and the name of the village. The result of two streams – Tuf and Nose’ – that flow one into another right on the edge of the gorge’s steep drop, Orrido di Nesso produces a rumble that is felt day and night all around the small village.
For a minute or two, I stand behind the protective mesh that faces the confluence of the two streams. The edge of the gorge is covered with mosses and low shrubs and so uneven and rocky that the streams split in many fast rivulets that run one into another and then hurtle down the vertiginous slope.
Orrido di Nesso has been attracting visitors since ancient times. People come to see the beautiful waterfall and to marvel at the gorge that the water wildly tumbles through. They say that the view inspired Leonardo da Vinci to write in his Codex Atlanticus: ‘Nesso, the land where a river falls with strong impetus, in a large break in the mountain’.
He was right. Standing behind the protective metal mesh, I feel the water’s impetus and its deep vibration.
I cross the tiny square that doubles as a bridge above the gorge and is also part of the lakeside road. From this new vantage point, I see Lake Como bathed in the rays of the morning sun. Beneath my feet the waterfall roars.
Far, far down below, I can glimpse the arch of a small bridge. Originally built by the Romans and then re-built in the Middle Ages, Ponte della Civera is Nesso’s most picturesque spot and the destination of my early morning walk.
I leave the smooth lakeside road behind me and start the descent to Lake Como’s edge following Nesso’s steep steps.
Made of small uneven pebbles and slabs, many of them jagged and broken by the hands of time, the steps command fully my attention. I admire the people who live here year-round and have to navigate the steps every single day.
I wonder what happens when it rains or snows.
Then I imagine what would happen if I were to slip and fall. Would I slide all the way down to the lake, taking the turns and twists between Nesso’s tall buildings like a seasoned luge rider? I doubt it but the mental image makes me laugh.
Around me, it’s all so peaceful. The constant deep rumble of the waterfall aside, the dawn is perfectly still. There is no-one around and even though I am at a place I don’t know well, following a steep slope made up of uneven steps and surrounded by tall, tall houses that obscure the sky, I don’t feel nervous and I don’t glance over my shoulder.
Feeling safe is such a rare gift nowadays.
I stop every now and then to take photos, to look at the rough facades, to take in an old peeling door, to admire the water tap that somewhat haphazardly stands in a curve of Nesso’s flights of steps.
I keep wondering what daily life must be like here in this place where you can’t stop your car in front of your door and have to carry everything by hand up and down a slope. And I mean, everything – from your weekly shopping to a new fridge.
Further down the steps, I spot a curious sight.
This is the local rubbish collecting vehicle that just like a tank uses tracks to navigate the steps and slopes around Nesso. Pure genius!
During my years in Italy, many times I have stopped to admire the Italian genius – that creative force that has helped people here adapt to life surrounded by Roman ruins, medieval castles, Renaissance palaces, and at some pretty spectacular in terms of views spots which however require a daily effort to navigate.
How else would you describe the extreme effort that Italy makes to preserve its historic, cultural, and natural heritage while at the same time making it possible for its citizens to live around and within it?! I call it the Italian genius – this ability to adapt to history and life while having to make lots of practical decisions and making it all beautiful along the way.
I walk around the rubbish collecting vehicle and follow the steps down to Nesso’s small harbour. The ferry boat stops here a few times a day.
A tall stone wall creates a tiny shelter for a handful of boats.
I take the views across the lake. Brienno’s colourful houses – a small town on the opposite shore – wake up one by one in the morning sun.
A fluffy cloud envelopes a tiny village underneath a mountain top.
Then for the first time since I left the hotel half an hour ago, I spot people around.
Two, to be precise!
An early morning jogger expertly navigates the cobbles and steps. Followed a few minutes later by a girl walking her dog.
I leave the small harbour behind and head to the old Civera Bridge.
First, I gingerly walk down a steep flight of steps to look at the bridge in all its beauty. Silently, I pray that I don’t slip as this would mean ending in the water with a splash.
Elegantly arched, the bridge sits picture-perfect in the early morning light. I have seen it in countless photographs of Nesso and twice in person before.
It’s beautiful to look at. One of those perfect corners of Italy that make thousands of people want to uproot their lives, move here, and just spend their days filling their souls with beautiful views.
To reach the bridge, I walk through a small tunnel which doubles as the ground floor of the large house above. The only light comes through the glass-free windows that are half-moon shaped and look over the lake.
It’s dim in the tunnel but I don’t feel afraid. I look up to see the large boat that hangs there attached to the ceiling. The heavy millstone that I spotted during my first visit to Nesso just over a year ago still stands reclining against the wall. Right next to it is the gateway that opens directly onto the ancient bridge.
It’s such spots that make Lake Como so charming and whimsical.
I stand on the bridge for a lovely moment in time. Lake Como is in front of me. Behind me, I hear the roar of the waterfall. It tumbles to the bottom of the gorge and then forms a small stream that flows straight into the lake.
In summer, people – young and hip – flock to Nesso’s Civera Bridge and jump from it in the cool waters of the lake below for fun and for the gram. It’s summer now, too. July, to be precise. Yet, due to the early hour and the fact that it’s a post-lockdown summer, I am here completely on my own. I only have my camera to share all this beauty around me with.
I cross the bridge and stop in front of the small house next to it. It is here, on its lakefront terrace that the famous director Alfred Hitchcock filmed scenes in 1925 for his first film – The Pleasure Garden. (If you click on this link and then watch the video from 1 min 36 secs onwards, you can see the Civera Bridge and the houses that surround it.)
I know from my visits to the same spot before that if I scale the steep steps that are adjacent to the house and walk for a little bit more I will reach Nesso’s other stone bridge. Lesser-known than Ponte della Civera yet beautiful in its own right.
I need to head back to the hotel though. We must move the car by 7.15 am. So, I start retracing my steps. First, I cross the dim tunnel again.
Then I tackle the steps – all 340 of them – from Lake Como’s edge to the main lakeside road that cuts through Nesso. Finally, breathless and with aching calves, I am back at the hotel.
Later on, we have breakfast in the garden of our friends. They tell me about another nearby spot to go swimming in the lake.
‘It’s near Nesso’s main church’, they explain.
I realise that although small, Nesso still has corners I am yet to see. I am OK with that. Which is strange as usually, I feel I need to see every little nook and cranny of a place before I can consider my experience complete.
Yet, sitting in our friends’ garden now and thinking of my morning walk, I feel I have gotten to know Nesso in the best possible way.
Sometimes, we get close to a place not through its sights but through our connection to other people. Sometimes, we don’t need to discover all the secrets of a place. Sometimes, we need to leave a few corners unseen so as to dream of returning back.
After breakfast, it’s time to go. We have three days to say good-bye to some of our favourite places in Italy before we fly back to England in two weeks time.
It’s a few months down the line now and our friends have excitedly posted on Facebook about the thick blanket of snow that covered Nesso in the first December days. The snowy views of the lake are beautiful.
Then there are more news from our friends. Two cats have claimed their garden as home and the chickens our friends had been eagerly waiting for had finally arrived. The photos show some cool hens exploring their new coop and the cats eyeing them and the snow with a bewildered look.
Lucky hens! Lucky cats!
If there is anything like second chances, other lives, a return to earth in whatever form, I can’t think of many better options than being a hen or a cat with a garden to run in over Lake Como in Italy.
More Helpful Links
- Lake Como – The Beauty of Italy’s Most Famous Lake in 25 Photos
- Experience Lake Como Web Story
- Italian Villages or 6 Reasons to Visit Italy’s Picturesque and Historic Borghi
- 8 Most Beautiful Villages to Visit in the Veneto, Italy
- 5 Most Beautiful Villages to Visit in Emilia-Romagna, Italy
- 5 Most Beautiful Villages to Visit in Friuli Venezia Giulia – The Northeasternmost Corner of Italy
- Campo di Brenzone – A Great Day Trip to a Medieval Village in the Hills Above Lake Garda
- Lake Caldonazzo, Italy – 10 Things to Do around Trentino’s Largest Lake
- The Beauty of Vicenza, Italy in 30 Photos and Stories
- Best 12 Towns to Visit around Lago di Garda – Italy’s Largest Lake
- Lake Garda with Kids or The Best 11 Things to Do at Lake Garda for Families
- Lake Garda Beaches – 16 Top Tips for a Great Day at the Beach at Italy’s Largest Lake
- 3 Unmissable Lake Garda Beaches to Sun Yourself on This Summer in Italy
- 8 Best Airports for Lake Garda or How to Quickly Reach by Plane Italy’s Largest Lake
- Getting around Lake Garda – 8 Best Ways to Travel around Italy’s Largest Lake
- 3 Easy Ways to Travel from Verona to Lake Garda in Italy
- 3 Easy Ways to Travel from Venice to Lake Garda in Italy
- 3 Easy Ways to Travel from Milan to Lake Garda in Italy
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