The final stop on our month long tour of Italy was the stunning village of Varenna, on the eastern shore of Lake Como. As this picturesque former fishing village has just 800 residents, it’s a lovely, peaceful place to base yourself to explore the lake. Filled with pretty laneways, lovely old houses and an authentic ambience, Varenna is quite unpretentious and certainly a place we’d visit again.
To reach Varenna, we caught the train direct from Milan, which takes around an hour and a half. For about the last 30 minutes of the trip, we were treated to the most stunning views of snow-capped mountains rising above the beautiful emerald waters of Lake Como. Varenna station is small, unmanned, and you have to be quick when you want to disembark on the short platform… you’ve been warned!
With the local ferries, we were able to easily access Tremezzo – to see Villa Carlotta, Lenno – to see Villa Balbianello, Mennagio, Bellagio and the town of Como, at the southern tip of the lake. We also did the Greenway Walk, along the western shore of the lake, which I highly recommend.
The town was originally a fishing village, and like many Italian villages, it has two sections – old town and new town. Cars only access the main street through the old town, as most of it is made up of a series of narrow, meandering laneways called contrade, which can only be accessed on foot. Nearly every lane leads down to the small stone harbourfront, which dates from about 1600. Incidentally, this means there are stairs, LOTS of stairs, just about everywhere you go in the village. It’s certainly not the place to stay if you have any sort of problem with stairs or uneven surfaces, as the footpaths are all cobblestones (another thing we loved).
We stayed at Cassa Rossa, which required a 3 storey struggle with our bags, but the lake and mountain views were definitely spectacular. This was one of the most expensive places we stayed in Italy (we paid extra to have a view and small balcony), but we really enjoyed our small room with a view, so it was worth the extra cost.
There are several restaurants to choose between – from the lovely Ristorante La Vista, where we dined on our first night, to family-run osterias specialising in the local lake fish and several bars which also serve pizza and light meals. Of course, there’s a lovely gelataria too – Gelateria Riva, where you can watch the gelati being made if you arrange it the previous day. After dinner, there’s a lovely lakefront promenade which is quite the place to be seen strolling of an evening.
The main attractions in Varenna are the two villas, Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi, which both have beautiful gardens and are popular wedding venues. There are a few lovely little shops along the waterfront, the understated yet lovely San Giorgio Church and Castello Vezio – a ruined castle on the hilltop above the town.
From Varenna, you can also take a day trip to Switzerland. Our day began early and was quite a long, but we thoroughly enjoyed our trip to St Moritz via the iconic Bernina Express train – another highly recommended day out.
As we’d been travelling for over three weeks when we reached Varenna, we were very happy to enjoy the quieter pace of this pretty village. We would certainly recommend this village to anyone visiting the breathtakingly beautiful Lake Como district and we hope to return one day… I’m off to buy that Lotto ticket now :-).
Have you been to Lake Como – or any of the beautiful Italian lakes? Please leave your comments in the box below. Grazie! 🙂
The Besties Do Italy series details how Seize The Day Project’s Lyndall and her long time best friend Jane ventured to Italy to celebrate a significant birthday – sans husbands and children. Shhh, don’t tell anyone they’ve gone!
Linking up with A Brit & A Southerner for #WeekendWanderlust
And Albom Adventures for #WkendTravelInspiration