June event on Lake Como – San Giovanni holiday (St. John’s day) with a firework display on Lake Como over the Island of Comacina.
The world famous Lake Como fireworks festival over Isola Comacina takes place every year for the Sagra di San Giovanni (St. John the Baptist Festival). St. John’s day is always June 23, and the fireworks festival is celebrated the last weekend of the month.
Isola Comacina is the only island of Lake Como. It’s 6 hectares of lush land a short distance from the shore of Osuccio nearby the Villa Balbianello.
The festival is celebrated with a torch procession and a spectacular show of laser lights, music and fireworks.
Motorboats sit waiting in the lake flank to flank, friends jumping from one boat to the other. People who have been camped out for hours to get a perfect spot are standing along the shores. The restaurants and hotels with views have been booked months in advance.
A triumphant symphonic horn sounds and a profound voiceover booms and echoes throughout the valley narrating the history of the island.
The island was first settled by the Gauls, then historically became a Roman stronghold dating back to the sixth century under the rule of Francio. The Lombards discovered that the Romans had hidden treasures and besieged the island.
In 1169, Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa (Red Beard) marched from Como with his soldiers and loyalists from the nearby towns of Dongo, Gravedona and Sorico. They crossed over to the island burning and destroying everything in their path forcing the residents of the island to flee to what we know today as Varenna. The soldiers demolished the castle, the dwellings and even the churches by throwing the stones into the lake so they could never be rebuilt.
In 1175 by imperial order, Vidulfo, the Bishop of Como, excommunicated anyone from the island and deconsecrated the remains of the churches. Barbarossa prohibited any reconstruction on the island proclaiming, “The bells will never ring, the rocks will never be placed one over the other, nobody will do here the work of the publican, the punishment a violent death.” (this is also known as the curse of Comacina)
The firework show incorporates modern and classical music with colorful displays of pyrotechnic splendor. The grand finale of the show shrouds the island in red light and flames engulfing the island in a symbolic, fiery battle like the one that sealed the fate of Comacina.
Watching the show
The best way to see the San Giovanni Festival firework show over Comacina Island is from a boat with a cold bottle of Prosecco! Boat rentals are available at Varenna Boat Rental or Nautica Lierna and Taxi boat services from Taxi Boat Varenna (best to make arraignments in advance).
From land, find the best vantage point in the towns of Sala Comacina and Osucccio.
La Locanda Tirlindana restaurant in Sala Comacina has a terrace looking right out to the island.
The Taverna Bleu Hotel and restaurant in Sala Comacina also has spectacular views.
From the opposite shore in Sormazzana, Lezzeno or Casate.
The Filario Hotel and Residence in Lezzeno has a direct view of the island.
Visiting Comacina Island
Day-trippers can visit the island from the end of March to the end of October. Entrance fee is 6 euro and the boat ride from Osuccio is 8-10 euro). There is a café, a restaurant and three small houses that were built by Pietro Lingeri in 1939 in an effort to create a colony for artists of the Milan Brera Academy.
For more information, visit the Isola Comacina website