During a recent trip to Northern Italy, we spent four glorious days and four nights in Varenna. When you think of picturesque, multi-coloured houses on a lake with the cutest town centre, Varenna is probably what comes to mind.
Set in the middle of Lake Como, we selected it as a base for exploring the lake for a few reasons:
- It’s located on the train line to Milan, making it easy to get into and out of Lake Como
- The waterfront is beautiful, with views across the lake and to the mountains to the north
- There are more than enough restaurants to keep us happy for a short trip
I tend to be a bit of a go-go-go traveller but this trip was going to be different. We were going to spend at least three nights at each of our destinations. I tagged on an extra night to Varenna as we were arriving from Parma in Emilia-Romagna and were heading to Florence afterwards. Both journeys take over three hours so a decent portion of the day.
How we spent four days in Varenna
The plan for Varenna was to have a couple relaxed day trips and lots of chilling out. Here are my top experiences when spending four days in Varenna. Though you could easily do this in two days but you could also happily stay for a month (or more)!
A couple of day trips to Bellagio and Menaggio
Look at any guidebook or blog post about Lake Como and there will be a recommendation to visit the other nearby towns on the lake. During our stay, we took half day trips to the popular towns of Bellagio and Menaggio. Click on the town names for links to my posts about those day trips.
While we were going to make a couple more day trips, we opted to stay in Varenna and see its own unique sights.
Hiking to and exploring Castello di Vezio
If you’re looking for a bit of exercise, the walk up to Castello di Vezio is well worth it for the views. We started the walk in the mid morning and even though it was mid May, it was already quite hot. With a large portion of the walk without cover, make sure to wear a hat and bring plenty of water.
There are a couple ways to walk up to the castello. We left from just past Villa Monastero, taking Via Roma up the hill until we saw a sign posted for the the entrance to the pathway up to the castle. This route takes about 30 minutes and provides very scenic views of Varenna and beyond.
Once at the castle, we walked around the old grounds and watched the birds of prey exhibition. I was worried that the birds were left chained all day to their small perches for the demonstrations. Watching the birds chained to small perches trying desperately to fly away, was breaking my heart. Soon after the presentation to a group of school kids, a few of the birds were let loose to fly around and have their lunch. Now knowing this, I really enjoyed the exhibit (though it was in Italian only so I only caught parts of it). The guide told the group that these birds would have a much tougher life in the wild and only a small number of people continue to traditions of falconry today. I felt much better after understanding what they were doing with the birds!
To return to Varenna, there is an alternate quicker, though less scenic, pathway down the hill. When leaving the castle area, there will be signs for the return down to the town centre.
Enjoying a beverage at sunset next to the lake
This was by far my favourite way to spend a late afternoon or early evening. There are a few restaurants and bars near the waterfront but not a lot of seating at aperitivo time. So make sure to get there early! Most places will provide a few snacks along with your drink. We tried Bar Molo for their cocktails and beers at Tutti Frutti Varenna.
If you’re not after a drink or food, there are also a couple of bench seats to enjoy with or without a gelato. A trip to Varenna is not complete without some lake-side sitting in this part of town.
Lakeside stroll from Varenna to Fuimelatte
I recommend this walk in the early morning when the tranquillity of the lake is bordering on surreal. There’s not a lot in Fuimelatte but we did find one bakery open for some freshly baked bread. The lovely stroll in the early morning was a highlight of the time in Varenna.
Half day trip to Lecco
We found the grocery stores in Varenna were a bit too small and didn’t have a lot of variety. So while they are adequate for a day or two, we wanted a few more substantial items. To make it more of an adventure, we visited the much bigger town of Lecco. The town, located at the southern base of Lake Como, is accessible by a 40 minute regional train ride from Varenna. When travelling between Milan and Varenna, it sits about half way along the route.
The town centre is only a few minutes away from the train station, making Lecco an easy stopover for groceries and other supplies. We also stumbled upon a lovely cafe called Bar Caffeina on Via Roma and enjoyed a walk along the waterfront.
Enjoying a gelato along the waterfront
Unsurprisingly, there are a few places to buy gelato in town. Two of them have cushions on the stairs next to their shops where you can enjoy the views while getting your gelato fix. My favourites were Gelateria Riva di Riva Duilio and La Passerella, both off the pedestrian pathway along the lake.
Where we ate in Varenna
Firstly, I have to say the best meal of this trip to Italy was at Al Prato. We ate there for my mom’s birthday dinner and my expectations for the food were well met. On the night of our meal, we were seated outside. It seems that they either do their service outside if the weather is nice or inside when the weather isn’t cooperating. Fortunately for us during our mid-May trip, we stumbled upon a lovely spring evening.
While the food was excellent, the service was a bit of a let down. Even though we were ordering in Italian, I felt like the waiters didn’t want us there. Even when I gave them a sizeable tip at the end of the meal (which I hardly ever do in Italy), I was met with what could be best described as ‘meh’. So five stars for the food. One star for the service! And yes, the food was good enough that I would happily return!
Albergo del Sole Pizzeria
Service at this pizzeria set on piazza S. Giorgio could not have been more different than at Al Prato! We were made to feel at home at this pizzeria. As for the food, they were fairly decent pizzas. Not the best ever, but they were good enough to fill the pizza craving.
Meals at home
With a couple small shops to choose from and our supplies from Lecco, we had a lovely made at home dinner of cheeses, meats and plenty of wine. With four days in Varenna, we had time to sit and relax in the apartment, which for my trips is a rare luxury. And with views like these, how could we not?!
Where we stayed in Varenna
Choosing a place to stay in Varenna was fairly difficult and expensive! We were visiting in May, so I thought the prices would be less than they were. We ended up paying 670 euros for four nights, which is above my typical price range. But this was the first time I stayed in an apartment with mountain and lake views. So really, it’s not THAT expensive …
The apartment had a main bedroom and a sofa bed. It was very spacious and to be honest, its views made me book it. And I can honestly say the views were even better in person than in the photos. There are even lake views from the toilet! The accommodation was ‘Property ID 1072851‘ booked on HomeAway.
Have you visited Varenna and Lake Como? What are your favourite spots to visit?