After our lovely cruise on board the gorgeous old Milano (see here) we set off to explore the ancient Abbazia di Piona. Highly recommended by our tour guide, Julia, (from our day out in St Moritz), it is not as well known as other places on Lake Como and on this particular April afternoon we more or less had the place to ourselves. In fact as we wandered up the thick wooded path in the direction of the abbey we did begin to wonder if we were coming to the right place. It was so quiet and still you could hear a pin drop – a lovely mild spring day though still brisk enough for winter clothes with the wind chill.
Not a soul was around when we got to the gates and we were a little unsure whether to go inside. There was a notice with signs about appropriate dress – common sense such as covering your shoulders out of respect in the warmer months (scarves always come in handy when travelling!). Apart from observing the appropriate dress decorum, there were no other restrictions and entrance was free. Irrespective of anyone’s religious views, Piona is a gorgeous spot – so tranquil and peaceful by the lake with beautifully maintained gardens, a lovely old church and ancient cloisters.
Piona Abbey is set on the Olgiasca Hill at the foot of Mount Legnone near the northern tip of Lake Como. Sources say that that a monastic community first lived there in the 7th century. Some of the ruins behind today’s church of the Blessed Virgin and San Nicola belong to the original buildings. Towards the end of the 11th century the abbey was involved in the Cluniac Reformation when monks from the mother abbey in Cluny (Eastern France) moved to help restore monastic life in failing communities elsewhere. Eventually from the beginning of the 19th century, the abbey passed into the ownership of a series of local families before being bequeathed by the Rocca family along with the Piona Estate to the monks of the Cistercian Congregation of Casamari.
Today you can stroll through the beautiful grounds with stunning vistas of Lake Como in the background, explore the old cloisters and visit the abbey church. The orchards were starting to blossom and the scents and perfumes were lovely.
The monks’ shop is only open a couple of times a day (from memory once in the morning and once in the afternoon) and well worth a visit if you have time. There are a myriad of beverages distilled from the abundance of flowers and herbs growing in the mountains – we came away with the San Bernardo Elixir (27 % proof – I bargained Monsieur down from 40%!) and guaranteed to blow more than a few cobwebs away. It tastes a bit like schnapps mixed with licorice and has come in very useful this past few months with Perth’s especially (by our standards) cold winter! The shop also sells a good selection of other items such as books, hand-made soaps and herbal sachets – would have loved to have brought some of the toiletries back with me as well as the liquor and books but probably wouldn’t have got them through Australian customs.
We were mindful of getting back down to the lake to catch the last ferry of the day. The Milano came round the corner as promised having been up to Colico (the northern lake terminus) and back! We were the only passengers getting on and off at Piona and the quay was manned by an elderly gentleman who waited in his car between ferries.
Although we only spent about an hour looking round Piona it was a wonderful interlude and well worth making the trip up from our base in the central part of the lake.
Copyright © 2016 Rosemary Thomas Le Chic En Rose. All rights reserved