Welcome back! If you have not read Part One of my Italy traveling, click the link below to check it out!
Traveling to Italy - Lake Como - Part I
The Historical Hamlet of Rogaro
Reachable only by foot, Rogaro is a small hamlet with enormous history. For me, Rogaro was one of the most peaceful places I visited while in Italy. I would often walk down to the Piazzetta in the evenings to be away from the noise and crowds. It is no surprise that I felt comfortable here. I have family ties to this very place; my father grew up in one of the homes surrounding the Piazzetta, played soccer in the Piazetta as a child, and married my stepmom in front of the church entrance. My late Aunt also was married in the small church in the 70s. To get to the Piazzetta, I made my way down the cobbled path west of Hotel Rusall passing il Ristorante La Fagurida. Beyond the patio seating behind the restaurant, I took a right between two stoned cottages. At the end of the narrow corridor, I walked into the hidden world of Piazzetta di Rogaro.
Hamlet; a small settlement, generally one smaller than a village
The hamlet, consists of eighteenth-century houses, gathered around the baroque-style church, Santuario Madonna di Einsiedeln (also called Oratory of the Madonna Nera). Santuario Madonna di Einsiedeln is named after the 16th/17th-century limewood statue of the Madonna Nera (Black Madonna). Built in 1733 at the request of the brothers Tommaso and Bernardo Magnino, with a decree dated February 27, signed by Monsignor Durini, Vicar General of the Bishop's Curia of Como.
According to legend, the statue placed inside the church is said to have been stolen from the Basilica of Einsilden, Switzerland in 1517 by a family of Swiss Catholics, fleeing the ferocious Protestant persecutions that took place after the Lutheran reform. However, research done by the parish priest confirmed that the statue was a copy produced in Switzerland in the town of Rapperswill; the work of a Swiss or German sculptor. On the walls of the church are two 18th-century paintings depicting The Mass of St. Gregory and The Martyrdom of St. Peter Thomas.
The oratory bears the inscription: "Nigra sum sed Formosa" (I am dark but beautiful).
In Mr. Magnino's will dated 1759, a chaplaincy of secular patronage was to be established which would be transmissible in the male line in his family. This line died out in 1827, with Mrs. Francesca Achler, wife of Luigi Grandi, being appointed as hair to the Magnino estate including the Oratory. The Grandi family used the church privately until 1929 when they donated it to the parish.
These days, the church is only opened to the public 3-4 times a year. I was fortunate to be able to go inside the church during my visit as my Nonna's best friend from years past, was able to borrow the key. A pamphlet available for a small donation inside, tells the story as the church understands it. See PDF of the Italian pamphlet below. I have also translated the pamphlet into English and made it available at the link below.
After exploring the Piazzetta of Rogar, I made my way back up the cobbled path toward La Fagurida. This is where I would be eating dinner. Reservations are highly recommended as this is an intimate restaurant with room to serve 60 people. The reservation book fills fast due to its local charm and delicious foods. Our party came together and filled the entire inside on the night we had our meal. Other guests did not miss out, the patio seating outside provides a splendid view over Tremezzo to Lake Como.
Again, this place held special meaning for my family. My father grew up with the family and even lived in the apartment above for a time as a young boy. Family-run since 1974, La Fagurida serves traditional country fare and cucina di montagna (mountain cuisine) in a charming, farmhouse-style dining room filled with copper pots or on a terrace with sweeping views over Tremezzo and the lake. If you are looking for pasta, you won't find it here. La Fagurida's menu includes game meat such as rabbit, steak, and lakefish—and for your carb, traditional northern polenta uncia.
I opted to try the lakefish called "Whitefish", which is sourced directly from Lake Como. According to the restaurant's website, "Whitefish is a freshwater fish, perfect to be enjoyed on the shores of Lake Como. The high quality of its meat is enhanced by the flavors of butter and sage. Accompanied with white wine it is also perfect for the most refined palates".
As I mentioned in Part One of my vacation, I do not drink. However, that did not keep me from the excitement of visiting the wine cellars below. Formally the home of cattle and hay, the stone-walled cellars house the restaurant's most refined selection of wine and aperitifs. For our party, Grappa was the liquor of choice to make a toast to our trip and send well wishes to the family of La Fagurida. Grappa, we learned is made by distilling the skins, pulp, seeds, and stems left over from winemaking after pressing the grapes. It contains 35 to 60 percent alcohol by volume. I have had Grappa before, and boy it is powerful! There are 2 ways to drink your Grappa, the owner (and my Father's friend) Lello explained. One: Take a deep breath and down it like a shot! 2: Sip it slowly. Everyone took option one!
Lello then gave us a brief history of the restaurant and shared with us the hardship that COVID-19 had brought. As with many restaurants in the area, and all over the World, La Fagurida struggled to find staff. Without staff, they have been forced to turn away customers. You could see in his face the love he has for the restaurant and the people who visit.
It's not just a restaurant, Lello says, La Fagurida is a way of life.
Tip: Reservations for wine tastings in the rustic cellars can be made in advance.
Hiking from Rogaro
I did two hikes during my stay. With all the amazing pasta, meat, and, of course, Gelato to eat while in Italy, I had to work some of the calories off. Luckily, there are multiple hikes and walks that can be started within Rogaro. A number of the hikes depart from the parking area about 500m North of Hotel Rusall. Small direction signs are posted at the trail entrances and along the way, as well as a map of the trails at the parking area.
Tip: If you know that you will be hiking in Lake Como, pack some collapsible hiking poles. I wish I had brought mine along for this trip. My Cascade Mountain Lightweight Trekking Poles are made from Aircraft-Grade Aluminum and come with a great carrying case as well as multiple tips for all surfaces.
Rogaro to Cappelletta degli Alpini (aka Cappella di Alpini)
The first hike I did was a short 1.5m hike from Hotel Rusall to Cappelletta degli Alpini with my father and nephew. Following an old military mule track, this hike winds its way up Monte di Tremezzo (a mountain of the Lugano Pre-Alps) to 1,748 ft. The trail was mostly shaded, uphill and there were a few sections of uneven rocky terrain. The trail is lined with beautiful wildflowers and greenery and ends at a grassy plateau where picnic tables, a small chapel, and a panoramic view of Lake Como await. The chapel of the Alpini, is dedicated to the Madonna di Panoort and was built in the 80s to honor of the Alpini, the Italian Army's specialist mountain infantry. After a quick look around, we descended the mountain back toward Rogaro, picking wildflowers. There were many flowers that I had never seen before, so I used my PictureThis app to identify them. Although this was a short hike, the steep slope and rocky terrain paired with the climbs from Tremezzo up to Rogaro over the past 3 days, my legs were officially sore!
As I made it back to the starting point, I was greeted by the cutest drove of Italian donkeys at a rental Villa, Villa Podere Brughee, across the street from the parking area. I was beyond excited.
Donkeys are my favorite animal in the whole World, besides my Husky of course. Can you imagine, a Villa rental that offers access to petting and feeding donkeys all day? Just take all my money now, please! You can check out the Villa and other rentals at the link below. Needless to say, my nephew and I returned to the Donkeys every day. We even bought some carrots to feed them.
Santuario Della Madonna delle Grazie di San Martino - Elevation: 1558.4ft
The day after hiking to Cappelletta degli Alpini, most of our group hiked from Rogaro to the Chuch of San Martino. To find the trailhead for this hike, head out of Rogaro down the Via. San Martino toward that parking area I mentioned earlier. Continue past the parking area another 100m and then take the cart track to the left toward San Martino (there is a sign). Make your way through the small Italian farms and begin your climb.
It is important to note that this is an all-uphill trek that climbs a cobblestone path with multiple sections of steep stairs and crosses the impressing rocky face of Sasso San Martino. Along the way, you pass a series of little chapels decorated with mosaics representing various stages of Christ’s life. Our group completed this 3.5-mile hike in about 3 hours, roundtrip.
The accomplishment and rewards at the top are well worth the effort. As you reach the beautiful church overlooking the village of Griante, you will also find a spectacular view of Lago di Como.
The church of San Martino, positioned on a plateau below the rock called St. Martin Stone (Sasso San Martino), was built in the 16th century after the discovery of a 14th-century wooden statue of the Madonna with Child. As legend has it, the statue had been placed in a mountain cave in the 15th century by an inhabitant of Menaggio when the town was defeated by the Canon of Grigioni (aka Graubünden). The statue was then found in the cave in the 16th century by a shepherd girl. After its discovery, the statue was brought down the mountain to the parish church. However, it disappeared again and miraculously was found again on the Sasso di San Martino. Locals believe this was a sign from Maria that the statue was to be venerated on the mountain.
The church has a simple porch entrance with two columns. Although it is only open 2-3 times a year for special celebrations, you can catch a glimpse of Madonna with Child through the small windows from the porch. On the right side of the church is a single bell tower. Around the church is a grassy park area with tables providing the perfect place to enjoy a picnic with a view.
As you make your way back, you do have the choice to take alternative routes up or down the mountain. If you take one thing away from this blog, let it be this. PACE yourself on this hike!