google-site-verification: google3f3736d98883db6a.html Varenna - prettiest town on Lake Como
  • Gary

Varenna - prettiest town on Lake Como

Updated: Dec 23, 2019

With narrow cobbled lanes and romantic greystone buildings that seem to flow down to the waters of Italy’s beautiful Lake Como, Varenna is one of those picture-perfect Italian villages that are fun to explore and even more fun to stay in, and its location makes it the perfect base from which to explore the central lake.

One of Varenna's small stony beaches

You can stay in Varenna on Viaggio Italia Travel’s Beautiful Italian Lakes tour. We also visit Varenna for a day on our Northern food and wine adventure where you can enjoy a cooking lesson at Il Caminetto.


Find out more on our website at www.viaggioitaliatravel.com.au or send us an email at gary@viaggioitaliatravel.com.au.


Varenna is readily accessible from Milan. It’s about an hour by regional train and while for the most part the ride is nothing special you are rewarded with some lovely views towards the end of your journey as water comes into view and the line hugs the side of the lake as you near Varenna-Esino station. The town also has excellent ferry access to the nearby villages in the central part of the lake.


Across from Varenna you’ll find lovely little lakeside towns like Menaggio and Lenno, which make for pleasant day excursions, and whose lights twinkle like clusters of stars and dance on the rippling waters as the evening descends. Over that side of the lake you’ll also come across some wonderful old palaces: Villa Carlotta - with its magnificent botanic garden - and Villa del Balbianello whose beautiful terraces and picturesque structure will leave you breathless.


Only about ten minutes south of Varenna by ferry is world-famous Bellagio, and for many visitors this is their destination and they pass through Varenna from the railway station to the ferry with barely a glance at the town itself, but they do themselves an injustice because, of all the towns around Lake Como, Varenna is my favourite.


A couple of things stand out. Firstly, apart from the main road which sits above most of the town, there are no cars, so the medieval lanes are yours to explore without the threat of being mown down by a local in a hurry or a lost tourist trying to steer whilst reprogramming their GPS. The other is that it’s quite small, so whilst it certainly attracts the attention of day trippers, by late afternoon it settles into a lovely easy rhythm.


I could happily spend a week here; sitting at a table looking out over the lake sipping cappuccino and trying to read a novel but being distracted by the little waves lapping the stony beach, taking long walks to nowhere in particular and occasionally riding a ferry over the water to do pretty much the same in Tremezzo, Bellano or one of the other appealing towns where the ride takes me.


But time can be a precious commodity for tourists and a week can be a big investment, so let’s suppose you have limited time and have just a day to spare. Is it worth the trouble of coming to Varenna for only a day? Well, my answer is resoundingly, 'Yes!' Not only because you can have a great day trip, but I think you’ll leave already planning to return for a longer stay next time you are in the vicinity.


So, let’s see what a day in Varenna might be like….


Now whether you come by ferry or by train, on arrival you’ll find yourself at the northern end of town, and it’s just a short walk of about 200 metres down from the station to the ferry terminal, which sits right in front of Albergo Milano - our favourite hotel in town. This charming hotel is not only perfectly-located for accessing the boats and trains, but every room has a great view of the lake.


In the little piazza in front of the hotel you’ll usually find a small market offering hats and T-shirts and other touristy goods and you can browse as you wander towards the lungolago: the little walkway that clings to the rocky outcrops around this part of the lake and which affords lovely views as you wander into the town itself.


The lungolago in Varenna, heading towards the ferry terminal

After a couple of hundred metres you find the first of the little town beaches and from here it’s a choice of continuing along the pathway or venturing up and into the narrow shop-lined laneways and either is a good choice. You can spend a happy hour or so just wandering the village but at some point you’ll arrive at the Villa Cipressi at the far end where a highlight is a visit to its centuries-old gardens through a meandering botanical path that takes you down to the lake. It’s a nice garden – not huge – and contains specimens of rare beauty and botanical importance.

One of Varenna's many lovely alleyways

Trekking back into town you’re probably getting a little peckish by now, and my recommendation is Bar Il Molo: a pleasant little ristorante right by the water where every table has a lake view. The prices are very reasonable and the outlook across the water is fantastic. I’d go for their lasagne with a salad side (and maybe a glass of the house red... it’s really quite good).

The view from Bar Il Molo

You’d best carb-up, because after lunch we’ll need the energy for the uphill trek to Castello di Vezio: a reasonably well-preserved small castle that sits on a ridge looking down over the terracotta tiled roofs of the town and out across the lake to the silhouetted alps that frame the area. We’re taking a rough path that starts just behind town and continues through little pockets of woodland and past quiet cottages to the castle whose origin is claimed to be lost in the mists of time. It came to strategic importance in the area during the Middle Ages when frequent raids into the area by Como led the inhabitants of the village below to seek salvation in the castle.

This way to the castle!

Today you can climb the stairs to the top of the tower for some great views of Lake Como below, as well as wander the nicely-tended gardens around the castle. Mind you, after the 40 minute walk up the steep hill to reach the place, you might prefer to just sit and enjoy the views from the garden, or have a cool drink at the little café at the entrance.


When you are ready, it’s time to wander back down the path to Varenna, and the walk down is somewhat easier than the walk up. When you arrive back in town you’ll have earned an aperitivo and the pretty little Piazza San Giorgio in the centre of town is the ideal spot. Surrounded by several nice little bars and with the backdrop of the Chiesa di San Giorgio – the local church - and the Town Hall, the piazza is an appealing place to sit and people-watch. It can get busy but in the afternoon the piazza becomes a meeting place for locals and tourists alike.


I’d suggest the 27metriquadri bar (it means 27 square metres…. yes it’s small, but people spill out the doors and onto the tables out the front so there’s plenty of room) as a great place for an Aperol Spritz, although any of the alternatives will do you well. Along with your drink, you’ll get some appetisers: sometimes just nuts or chips and other times small sandwiches or perhaps a piece of pizza, which you can enjoy as the afternoon sun starts to slip behind the mountains and the air cools a little.

Looking back up at the church from Piazza S. Giorgio

Now, if you are leaving, you’ll have to start thinking about catching your train or ferry, but if you are lucky enough to be staying the night – or have a late train - make sure you’ve made a booking at Il Caminetto: a lovely authentic Italian restaurant in the small hamlet of Gittana – about a fifteen minute drive up behind Varenna. Don’t worry about how you’ll get there as the lovely owners – Moreno and Rosella – will collect you from town and bring you back at the end of the night. You’ll have a great night, and when you arrive back in town if there’s time you can take a walk back to the lake, and perhaps back to Bar Il Molo for a nightcap to top off a brilliant day.


Varenna truly is a gem; with enough to do to keep you busy and pretty enough to make you not want to do a lot.



You can stay in Varenna on Viaggio Italia Travel’s Beautiful Italian Lakes tour. We also visit Varenna for a day on our Northern food and wine adventure where you can enjoy a cooking lesson at Il Caminetto.


Find out more on our website at www.viaggioitaliatravel.com.au or send us an email at gary@viaggioitaliatravel.com.au.

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