Mandello del Lario: Manzoni and Moto Guzzi

MARIELLA RADAELLI

My dad had a bright red Moto Guzzi motorbike that in its day was quite cool and sporty and with its eagle wings logo. He was dating my mother, who rode sidesaddle like women did in the ’50s and ’60s.

My parents loved to travel by motorbike. It was a lot of fun during their courtship and the first years of marriage without us kids.

My dad bought his Guzzi directly from the plant in Mandello del Lario where the Anonymous Moto Guzzi Society moved in 1921 a few months after its formal registration in Genoa.
Moto Guzzi
Special bikes on display at the Moto Guzzi museum include the V7 Anniverario, an updated version of the model launched in 1967.

The founders, Carlo Guzzi, an aircraft mechanic, and Vittorio Emanuele Parodi with his son Giorgio, a pilot, needed a quiet place away from the anxieties of Genoa’s urban life to fine tune a motorcycle design for success. Mandello was the perfect location.

A picturesque town on the Lecco branch of Lake Como, Mandello is also an ideal base to explore the pretty villages of the lake full of yellow and red houses.

Mandello is only 11 km from Lecco, a bigger, industrious town that was home to novelist Alessandro Manzoni. As a young man Manzoni lived at the beautiful Villa del Caleotto where he was inspired to write many pages of his masterpiece, the 19th-century classic I Promessi Sposi (The Betrothed).

Mandello dates back to the Roman times and you can tell it by the town’s old center that has clearly maintained the urban layout of a Roman “castrum” with the addition of several medieval buildings. Part of its defensive walls are still visible today together with the Pretoria tower where justice was administered and the San Vittore gate.

Its name, Mandello, comes from the Latin “Amandus” meaning “To be loved”.

Until the ’70s silkworm breeding was a successful activity in the picturesque hamlet of Maggianica situated on a terraced hillside facing the lake. La Torre del Barbarossa, a striking medieval tower sits atop the graceful hamlet. Here, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I, known by his nickname Barbarossa, sojourned in 1158 after conquering Milan.
Moto Guzzi Museum
Moto Guzzi’s museum near the factory, a hidden gem that shelters an assortment of 150 vintage and rare bikes including racing motorcycles, attracts more than 30,000 visitors a year.

Mandello has enough activities to sate the hunger of every outdoor enthusiast: hiking, walks, canoeing, caving, climbing and history.

Walk the romantic hiking route Sentiero del Viandante. Along its path, visit Oratorio di San Giorgio, a beautiful Romanesque church that dominates the little lanes from atop the village. It is worth a visit: San Giorgio contains superb frescoes.

The lakeside promenade offers stunning views of the Pre-Alps across the lake. The Grigne Massif that rises spectacularly from the lake is located in Mandello’s territory. Generations of climbers learned their skills there, where all the climbing is on white, compact limestone.

In September you can still enjoy the Lido's sandy oasis, where a smattering of locals wile away their weekends dangling their feet in the lake waters and having drinks served in the outdoor cafes on the beach.

The local food is interesting. You will find the lake’s indigenous fish cropping up in risotto and pastas at local restaurants that embody the village’s friendly atmosphere. Fishermen deliver Le Specialità Lariane fresh from the lake, ready to be smoked before your very eyes.

Try crunchy alborelle, agoon and lavarell, species of fish native to Lake Como.

Polenta uncia, a local creamy meal based on buckwheat flour, cheese, melted butter, garlic and sage, is a classic. Conclude your dinner from three rustic desserts: Grigna cake, with toasted almonds and hazelnuts, Meascia, a cake made with corn flour, apples, pears, figs and nuts, or Paradèl, a fried dessert made delicious by the addition of aromatic herbs.

Iconic Moto Guzzi, now a subsidiary of Piaggio & Co, is the reason behind the economic development of this seductive and productive Lombard area, also known as the little Manchester of the Lario.

Since its earliest days, the company followed a path of innovation. In the 1950s, the first wind tunnel in the world for testing motorcycles was inaugurated at the Moto Guzzi factory.
Moto Guzzi history
The first wind tunnel in the world for testing motorcycles was built in the 1950s at the Moto Guzzi factory in Mandello del Lario.

You can visit the company’s museum near the factory, a hidden gem that shelters an assortment of 150 vintage and rare bikes including racing motorcycles. The museum attracts more than 30,000 visitors a year.

There is a fascinating display of Guzzis derived from the V7 military bike along with transverse engines and an incredible range of racing motorcycles. There is also the magnificent California Police bike designed in 1971 for the Los Angeles Police Department. Later other police departments used them, including the California Highway Patrol.

Moto Guzzi has produced a version of the California almost continuously every year to the present day. The 2017 model based on the California 1400 is called the MGX21 Flying Fortress that the American press defined as “the fastest bagger ever”. The MGX-21 is the most non-conventional, refined and technological of the 1400 cc cruisers built at Mandello del Lario. It is unique for design, quality and detail.

A few weeks ago, 15,000 Moto Guzzi enthusiasts flocked to Mandello for an open house, a three-day gathering that was a celebration of iconic brand’s motorcycle heritage and performance.

The community of Moto Guzzi owners, the Moto Guzzi Motorcycle Club, counts 25,000 members worldwide, with the largest group from the US.