With a population of just under four thousand, Dongo is slightly bigger than Menaggio and lies a few miles further north, in the Alto Lario. It’s a mixture of at least three very different parts – the historic centre, an industrial area and a water-sports centre, with associated camping and caravan sites.
Arriving from the south, you first see a typical picturesque lakeside village with small piazzas lined with pavement cafes, separated by a road from the harbour and promenade. The location provides beautiful views of the Lake and mountains.
The Palazzo Manzi stands in the centre of the largest piazza. Formerly an aristocratic residence, it’s now the town hall but also contains the tourist information office, parts of the original ‘house’ and a museum of the resistance.
When we asked the young lady in the tourist office about the original palace, she was good enough to lock her office up and take us to the ‘gold room’, a space decorated, as the name suggests, mainly in gold. It’s impressive, but it raises the tricky question of what to do about the fact that the gold surfaces have become worn or darker with age. Should you leave them as they are (for authenticity) or try to recreate the brilliance of their original impact? If it were up to us we’d restore it to its former glory.
Anyway, the nice lady went on to open up the museum of the resistance for us. What you can see inside are exhibits based on original documents and newspaper reports describing the role of the anti – fascist partisans in the area. It was in Dongo that Mussolini was captured whilst trying to escape Italy. His followers were executed there (you remember the picturesque piazza you passed on the way in…). But Mussolini was taken to Mezzegra and killed there, together with his mistress, Clara Petacci.
Unfortunately, none of the documents is translated into English, so if you don’t understand Italian or don’t have a guide who does, you can only get a vague impression of what it’s all about. However, there is a photograph of one short, simple document in Mussolini’s handwriting, which is also printed in Italian and French. It says something like:
‘The 52nd Garibaldi Brigade captured me today, Thursday 27 April at Dongo. The treatment, both during and after the capture, has been correct.’
A classic example of the banality of evil. It seems, however, that the a large quantity of gold that Mussolini was trying to escape with went missing when he was captured and was never seen again (certainly, none of it was used to ‘do up’ the Palazzo Manzi).
Other parts of the Palazzo Manzi that have been preserved include the library and the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception. And other historic buildings in Dongo include the churches of Santa Maria in Martinico and San Stefano. They all represent the first of the three faces of Dongo.
The second face of Dongo is that of an industrial town, with a separate industrial zone dominated by the steelworks and iron foundry. Whether that is any handicap to tourism we couldn’t tell, because it was Sunday and the works were shut.
In one of the narrow streets between the main piazza and the industrial sector, you can find the clue to Dongo’s third face. It’s just a small shop selling beach balls and children’s buckets and spades. But it comes as a surprise because you don’t see shops like that in the mid-lake area or down the western branch. There may be two reasons for that:
- Because towns in the northern part of the Lake often have a lido and a beach, while those further south are more likely to have a lido instead of a beach.
- Because visitors to the northern end are younger, and more likely to bring children with them.
Continuing past the industrial zone, you can then clearly see the third face of Dongo. It’s one of the northern lake’s water sports centres, with facilities including:
- Skiff sailing lessons and hire of cabin cruisers, with ‘Skiffsailing Italia’ at Lido di Dongo and the Velamare Club at Casa del Lago, both in the Bersaglio area.
- Motor boat rental from Rent-a-Boat in Via Statale. You can hire a very appealing 40 horse power boat for one hour (75 Euros plus 5 Euros ‘kasko’ insurance), two hours (90 plus 10 Euros) and so on, up to twelve days (1,900 plus 240 Euros). On top of that, a deposit of 500 Euros is required. You don’t need a navigation licence to hire a 40hp boat but can’t hire one of the more powerful boats without one.
For this reason, the lakeside up to the Centro Nautico is possibly the real centre of Dongo for many visitors who stay with their kids in a number of nearby campsites and caravan parks, or agro-tourist complexes.
This is reflected in the leaflets available in the tourist office, which deal mostly with small, local providers of accommodation and food.
The road out of Dongo leads to neighbouring [post=70]. But for those who prefer land based exercise, there’s a pedestrian and cycle path connecting the two places.
Go to map of [post=30]