The Abbey of Piona stands on a promontory at the foot of Mount Legnone, a few kilometers south of Colico; and is not very easy to get to. You can take a bus from Colico to Olgiasca and then walk for about 20 minutes or take a ferry to Piona, but in practice driving there could be the most convenient solution, if you don’t take the alternative lake cruise Como-Piona-Como, that I highly recommend. Driving isn’t without its problems. The roads to the abbey are typically narrow and twisting, you can miss the signposts, and at one point the average road surface runs out, and you find yourself driving on stones. But perhaps that’s how it should be – a metaphor for the difficulty of getting to heaven. And for the fact that the effort is worth it!
The first thing that strikes you about the Abbey of Piona is the atmosphere, which is calm and peaceful, but not oppressive. This has a lot to do with the way the buildings are constructed, with a mixture of different kinds of stone. The front of the church, in particular, changes its style of masonry about half way up. It should be a mess, but somehow it adds to the charm of the place. The practical arrangement of things also helps the easy-going atmosphere. For example, as you walk down an avenue of trees towards the Lake Como, you can stop halfway for ice cream or cold drink. And another feature contributing to the firm but the relaxed tone is the panoramic view of the Lake, with sailing boats in the foreground and Dongo, Gravedona, and Domaso at the foot of mountains in the background.
The interior parts of the Abbey open to the public include the church, cloister, Capitular Hall and a couple of shops selling products made ‘on the premises.’
The most striking features of the church are the decorated bronze doors; two marble lions you see as you enter; the irregular stonework and the lovely, ‘primitive’ frescoes lit up around the altar. It’s not difficult to imagine yourself in an earlier millennium when you sit in the church.
The small quadrangular cloister with its loggia style arches is a place of silence and highly symbolic visual communication. The four sides are representative of the four cardinal points – self-contempt, world contempt, love for others and love for God and these ‘themes’ are reflected in delightful frescoes on the walls of the ‘galleries.’ In the middle of the convent, a spring and a tree represent the spring of delight and the tree of life in the earthly paradise.
In addition to the small shop in the abbey, there is a big, new shop at the entrance/exit. There you can buy various types of liquor brewed at the Abbey; honey; herbal sweets to aid digestion; Abbey of Piona chocolate and creams said to be useful for a surprising range of ailments.
Where to stay in Como
There are hotels, apartments, villas and B&Bs available, check it out and make a reservation here.