Aurelia in Como

We’re delighted to have an opportunity to catch up with our good friend Aurelia. If you missed her introduction, we’d encourage you to get to know her via the following posts. (We’d suggest starting with Meet Aurelia Floss.)

For today, we’ll once again live vicariously through her travels and exploration.

“This lake exceeds anything I ever beheld in beauty.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley 

About three years ago, Italy experienced one of the hottest Julys of all time. I was exhausted from the heat, my spool wild and unfurling, and desperate for an escape from the city. I awoke early one Saturday morning and impulsively decided to head to Como. The perfect mix of adventure, culture, and good food—I knew it would also offer a much-needed chance to feel the warmth of the sun chased by a mountain breeze… essentially heaven on a hot Summer’s day. 

While I’ve been to Como countless times, it’s one of those destinations that manages to romance me in new ways every single time I visit. It is magnificent in every season, the glorious intersection of mountain, lake, and city resulting in breathtaking and often surreal vistas. I always leave feeling both relaxed and invigorated, inspired to create… Some of my best and most favourite embroidery projects have originated in Como.

I opted for a quick train ride, an easy way to reserve my energy for the day ahead. As I settled back in my seat, landscapes whipping by my window, I thought about Lake Como… a sparkling and romantic gem in Lombardy, drawing thousands of tourists every year. It has long been a revered setting for books and films, its sparkling blue waters deemed almost iconic with its three extremities — Colico to the North, Lecco on the SouthEast side, and Como on the SouthWest. 

While often romanticised as a modern jet-setter destination, Lake Como has quite a rich history. Its origins date back to the Last Ice Age and its landscapes witness a wide variety of cultures and ethnicities from the Roman Occupation to Longobards, passing through the Spanish, French, and Austrian rule, finally becoming part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1859. The city was home to some of the greatest minds of our time from Virgilio to Plinio The Young, Ugo Foscolo to Rossini, and Napoleon to Mazzini. Artists, musicians, and visionaries like Liszt, Stendhal, Wagner, Shelley, Byron, and Wordsworth were drawn to Como, seduced by the romantic charm of the lake. Alessandro Manzoni famously documented how the city of Lecco survived the plague epidemic in his novel The Betrothed (I promessi Sposi) and famed pioneer of electricity and inventor of the first battery, Alessandro Volta, was born in Como. Each transition… each story… each traveller… each of them left a mark, helping Como to become the flourishing city we now know, with its rich culture, unique landscape, historical streets, stunning churches, defensive walls, and luxurious villas. 

I’d become so caught up in my thoughts, I hadn’t realised that the train had pulled into the station. I was excited to find myself in the city centre, just steps from Monumento ai Caduti per Servizio, an iconic sculpture dedicated to disabled service people. A plaque on the side said: “One hand is actively serving the country in defence of institutional values. The other hand is wounded in the line of duty.” I was struck with emotion and took a moment to admire the moving tribute.

My first destination of the day was the Educational Silk Museum. Como is widely known for its silk production, most notably for Liberty of London. Its fame dates back to the late 15th century when Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, had the idea to plant orchards of Mulberry trees. These trees became home to silkworms and so the silk industry was born. It informed the trade of the region, with many schools and factories dedicated to the craftsmanship of silk production, giving way to some of the most talented silk masters in Italian history. 

As I entered the museum, my spool relaxed and I felt instantly at home. The entrance resembles that of a typical factory with a collection of work time clocks. While silk is certainly very different from cotton, with different origins and traditions, the many steps leading to its production are also similar to what cotton – and so myself – undergoes. From breeding silkworms, to twisting, hoarding, weaving, dyeing, printing, and finishing, the museum showcases it all. 

My favourite part was the Chemical Laboratory, a room faithfully reconstructed with original and period specific furniture. In both the Dyeing Room and the Printing Room, there were key tools, such as dowels, transparent foils, copper kettles for yarns, and printing tables on display—all important parts of the production process. The last room I entered displayed some of the most magnificent and breathtaking silken textiles I’d ever seen.  

My heart filled with emotion and rich with textile history, I was finally ready to hit the city centre. The city centre is surrounded by the remains of the walls originally built by Julius Caesar to defend the city against possible attacks. Porta Torre (Tower Gate), the access point, is a picturesque 40 metre fortress, a magnificent testament to the mediaeval era, boasting two main entrance arches on the external facade and one wider entrance arch on the inside. 

The city centre itself is composed of narrow streets and scenic alleys, surrounded by  colourful houses adorned with beautiful and fragrant flowers. Walking through the streets felt like a historical journey, enhanced by the smell of freshly baked bread and croissants coming from the local bakeries.

I set off for Piazza del Duomo. One of my favourite spots in the city, passing the Basilica of San Fedele along the way. Dating back to the 7th century, it’s easily one of the oldest churches in the city and I love that it’s been restored to show its Romanesque origins. 

Piazza del Duomo is a large square facing the magnificent Cathedral. It’s truly the heart of the city… a key destination for world travellers. I found a shady spot (to prevent my colour from fading) at one of the Piazza’s cafés to take a pause and fully absorb the spectacular architecture surrounding me. While sipping a much needed espresso, I overheard a guide explaining how the Cathedral is the last gothic structure in Lombardy. Construction began in 1396 as one single block composed by the Duomo, The Broletto (the original City Hall), and the City Tower.

The complete project, including design, architecture, & realisation, can be attributed to many artists. A hulking structure at 75 metres high, it boasts a Latin Cross floor plan with three naves, all topped by an imposing dome. The facade is a shining marble, with a rose window and other decorative elements harmoniously combined. I finished up my burst of caffeine and took a stroll around the exterior. My favourite discovery was ‘Porta della Rana’, a door with a carved frog that, according to a popular myth, signifies the level reached by one of the many floods that the city underwent during its early years.

Stepping inside, I was able to admire works of art from some of the most important painters of the 16th century, such as Bernardino Luini and Gaudenzio Ferrari. The air felt cool and the sound of my spool on the floor echoed through the space. There were a plethora of windows that allowed the light to flood the room, highlighting golden details on the ceiling, along with an array of statues, frescoes, and tapestries. As typical for an ancient church, it felt more like an awe-inspiring museum than a religious structure. For a moment, I was rendered speechless, envisioning what it must have been like to witness such architectural genius so long ago. 

I recalled a friend telling me that this part of the city is also called the City of Toys. It’s truly magical during the Christmas holiday as it turns into a real Christmas Village, with twinkling lights and magical projections both on the houses facing the square and the Cathedral itself. It’s an attraction for all ages, coming together in the spirit of the season to enjoy ice-skating overlooking the lake, carousels, traditional Italian food, and an enviable selection of unique and stunning gifts. I made a mental note to carve out time to visit again over the holiday!

It was almost lunch time… My spool was starving and I needed a delicious meal to fuel my afternoon adventures. With this thought, I knew exactly where to go: Brunate – lunch with a view.

Brunate, also known as ‘the balcony of the Alps’, is a village on the hills overlooking Como. It can be seen from the city, composed of a series of Art Nouveau villas originally built by the wealthy middle class seeking some quiet away from the city centre. I was walking along the lakefront promenade in order to reach the funicular railway when I bumped into a group of friends that I haven’t seen in ages and was delighted to have them join me on the journey.

Brunate can also be reached by hiking up the hills but, honestly, the funicular is so fast and fun… not to mention the breathtaking panoramic views while travelling up the mountainside. I could see the lake, from shore to shore, shimmering and sparkling in the sunshine, all the way to Milan’s distant skyline. Exiting onto the train platform, I closed my eyes for just a moment, savouring the warmth of the sun on my spool. 

My friends took me to La trattoria dei Bracconieri, an amazing restaurant with a balcony on the overhang facing the lake. We ordered food for the table, risotto with perch and polenta on the side, and enjoyed a long overdue catchup. My friends were due to be a part of this special program called Colour Builders. It all sounded pretty amazing– banding together with other hues to challenge quilters, sewists, and makers around the world to create new works of art inspired by our beloved Italian landscape.

With our bellies full, we set off for the most coveted spot of Brunate: the Volta Lighthouse in San Maurizio. The Lighthouse, a hexagonal tower standing 29 metres tall, was built in memory of Alessandro Volta and was designed by the engineer Gabriele Giussani. It opened up in 1927 on the 100-year anniversary of Volta’s death. 

The walking path from Brunate to Cima delle Tre Torri would take about 25 minutes, exactly what we needed after such a rich and filling lunch. The final path to the peak is quite steep, beginning with a typical pavement that gives way to a rocky Italian mulattiera (mule path) surrounded by lush trees and quaint villas immersed in the green. The smell of wood and musk always invigorates my spool and puts me in an adventurous mood. After passing by several lodges, we were able to see the Lighthouse in the distance. We finally reached the balcony and were rewarded with a spectacular view.

We sat down on the bench just below the Lighthouse and were all rendered quite speechless… The vista was awe-inspiring, the type of view that makes you think about the beauty of life itself: the Lake, the Valley, the villages far away… We were even able to see the Swiss Alps. We felt small in comparison to the vastness of the landscape before us. The smell of grass and the fresh lake breeze, the silence, interrupted only by the soft chirping of birds. The vibrant colours of the hills and the shining lake and blue sky… It was other-worldly. We lost ourselves a bit in that view, surrendering to the beauty and falling into silent introspection. 

We begrudgingly set off along the path to Brunate to return to Como City. There were a few other spots I wanted to see before calling it a day. 

On our way to Villa Olmo, we stopped for a group photo at the Tempio Voltiano (Volta Temple) and its gardens, another celebration of Alessandro Volta’s great life and contribution. The temple, now a museum, is a neoclassical building designed by architect Federico Frigerio in Volta’s honour. My friends told me that both the temple and Volta’s visage had once been featured on the 10,000 lire banknote Italy’s currency shifted to the Euro. 

The warmth of the day, while lovely, was starting to wear on us, so we opted for a Strawberry Granita at a local stand by the lakeside. Granita is a symbol of Summer in Italy with a variety of different available flavours. It’s incredibly refreshing and hit the spot on this balmy July day. 

We walked along the path that is like a balcony on the Lake, so pretty with the rampant wisteria winding down the railings, seemingly kissing the water. We passed grand villas along the way such as Villa Saporiti and Villa Gallia. Both feature a strong neoclassical design, built during a time when the aristocracy came to the lake as an escape. Such villas are now owned by the City of Como, designated for administration and events, but you can still see some of the original features inside– as stunning as ever!

Part of Como’s beauty is related to the presence of these grand villas, each one with its own charm and characteristics that have attracted famous travellers from all over the world. From the nobles during the Renaissance to modern day Hollywood stars, Como became an exclusive and glamorous destination, from Winston Churchill himself to Gergoe Clooney, Elton John, and many more.

Many villas are located directly on the lake and can be reached by boat. Villa del Balbianello, one of the most beautiful villas with its terraced gardens and picturesque features, is famous for hosting iconic movie scenes (including James Bond and Star Wars). Villa d’Este is one of the most beautiful hotels of all time and currently hosts a range of prestigious public and private events.

Finally we arrived at Villa Olmo, one of the most majestic villas I’ve ever seen. It’s just a few steps from the lake and once through the massive open gate, you are immediately within a beautifully curated Italian garden, truly a fairy landscape. Each and every tree and bush is perfectly manicured in a round shape adorned with red roses at the base. A mix of scents wafts through the air: a freshly mowed lawn, the pines and roses, and the lake breeze… all invigorating my spool. 

There are many benches keenly arranged around the park in a way that seems natural and doesn’t disturb the natural landscape. There are so many stories that Villa Olmo carries within this garden: marriage proposals, revealed good news, painful break-ups, solo explorations filled with inspiration… We laid down in the shadow of a big tree to take in the beauty of the moment… the relaxing sound of the fountain water in sync with the lake waves.

Having never actually been inside, my friends did their best to set the scene. The original architecture of the villa was designed by Simone Cantoni for the aristocratic Odescalchi family as a summer retreat in the 18th century. The many columns present in the central area of the villa are decorated with tondos depicting Plato, Solon, Socrates, Talete and Pythagoras. The immense atrium leading to the staircase is embellished with fine marble, paintings, statues and stucco decorations, along with the frescoes representing mythological figures… truly decadent and wonderfully breathtaking. I could picture it and made a note to return one day and get lost within those storied walls! 

Before heading home we decided to grab a drink at the Hilton Lake Como terrace. It was the perfect end to a long and hot, though exhilarating day. It is a favourite spot of mine to have an aperitiv with friends. The hotel itself is incredibly modern and the terrace has a stunning view of the lake. We were extremely tired but enjoyed a Prosecco while listening to an extremely talented sax player and watching the sun set over the lake, slowly vanishing behind the mountains. It was an unforgettable day with some long lost friends!

We simply adore reading about Aurelia’s adventures! We wonder where she’ll head next? If you’re eager to travel alongside Aurelia, she is color 4020 or 2530, depending on the time of year and her mood. You can find her in Colorful Vintage by Beverly McCullough. Or browse our full range of floss collections via the button below. As always… happy stitching! 


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