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Foliage in Lombardy

From Via Francigena to the Cadorna Line. Discover where to see the autumn colours in Lombardy

High oak and beech woods. Squirrels carved into wood and fountains. A greenway made out of former railway tracks, mule tracks and old footpaths. Hiking through nature and history in Lombardy. Often with a fine view of the Alps. And woodland with glorious shades. Five places to see the autumn colours.


1. Along the Via Francigena 
A warning to travellers about to set off on the Via Francigena: stamp-collecting can be addictive. One thousand km of walking are traced out by stamps on your "passport”. A 140 km section of the walk falls in Lombardy, between Lomellina and Lodigiano: a series of rice fields, vineyards, abbeys, castles, oaks and poplars. The different stamps are all beautiful. They allow discounted prices in the hostels and certify your status as a bona fide pilgrim following in the steps of Sigeric, Archbishop of Canterbury, who walked to Rome in 990. The Lombard stopovers are in Robbio, Mortara, Garlasco, Pavia, Santa Cristina and Bissone, and the route is indicated by brown way markers. The autumn landscape is enchanting. 


2. Val Brembana greenway
The most attractive leg of the greenway is between Zogno and Lenna, where you can still see traces of the railway track. The Val Brembana greenway follows the bed of the former Bergamo – Piazza Brembana railway track, along the river Brembo. It runs for19 km, rising for180 metres amidst thick woodland. The road surface is a mixture of as-phalt and gravel, with drinking fountains and benches along the trail. Short dirt paths connect sections where you can’t follow the railway. Dawdle past Ambria, San Pellegrino Terme and woodland resplendent in a thousand autumn col-ours. A short detour on a mule track takes you from Oneta to Harlequin’s House. The Commedia dell'Arte servant character is said to have worked here for the Grataroli family, who were wealthy merchants, before devoting himself to street theatre. Further north, you come to Cornello dei Tasso. This was inhabited by the Tasso family, who controlled Venice’s postal service from the 13th century. A small museum is dedicated to their history. Could the family name have given us the word “taxi”?


3. Listen to the Spirit of the Wood
Take a simple 2-hour excursion with a climb of 400 metre eased by steps and hairpin bends from Canzo near Como, to experience the woodland spirit amidst gnomes and fairies. From Piazzale Giovanni XXIII in Canzo, follow the signs for Prim’Alpe. After a section of asphalt road, take the dirt track. The Spirit of the Wood footpath starts in Prim’Alpe, af-ter navigating a tree-lined corridor. The path crosses a stream and then continues on the flat with small uphill sections to reach Terz’Alpe, at 800 metres. This is where you will see the woodland spirits: wood and stone sculptures in the shape of fairies, birds and squirrels seemingly emerging from tree trunks. They are made by the artist Alessandro Cortinovis. 


4. Along the Cadorna line
The Cadorna line was created to protect the Italian border with Switzerland against potential attack between the late 19th century and early 20th century. It was never used for defence or battle and became a nature walk for backpack-ers, leading from Val d’Ossola to the Orobic Alps. The mule tracks link up to footpaths, the trenches to observation posts and the artillery posts to walkways and tunnels. One of the most attractive sections is in the Marzio woodlands in the Varesotto area. There is a four-hour hike there and back, including natural lookout points. The approach route starting in Forcorella di Marzio climbs to Monte Marzio at 880 m. You come to the first lookout on Monte Rosa after 40 minutes of walking. A dense beech forest leads to the mountain-top looking out over Lake Lugano and some sections of the defensive line. From the Villa Bolchini, you descend along a very well preserved section of the Line. 


5. Monti Lariani way
This easily divisible 120 km section runs high up along the western shore of Lake Como, from Cernobbio to Sorico. The Monti Lariani way can be walked in seven days and is divided into four sections that begin and end in inhabited centres served by public transport. Leave the rural villages behind you step by step and enter a film-scape of mule tracks and beech woods. Picturesque mountain meadows, walls, huts and little churches are the only man-made trac-es.

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