The idea to visit Lake Como came, like many others, through chatting with other travel minded people. A good work friend of mine told me about this amazing little town he had been to on Lake Como called Varenna. Quiet enough to escape the crowds but connected enough so not to be too isolated, it was also amazingly picturesque. The trip to Lake Como was coupled with the football trip to Milan which you can read about here
We flew into Milan Malpensa, one of 3 airports that serve Milan. In order to get to Varenna from Malpensa you need to take a train to Milan Central station then another train to Varenna, each one taking an hour. It is a fairly simple journey and despite having to change trains in Milan it is still preferable to hiring a car. Sure you would get to Lake Como easier by driving however the hassle of parking and getting around the lake by car is simply not worth it. The ferries are by far the best way to navigate around the different towns. There are 3 types of boats on Lake Como, the slow boat (batello), the fast hydrofoil boats (aliscafo) and the car ferry (traghetto), Varenna despite being a small town is well served by all. The costs are reasonable when you consider you are getting a mini-tour of the lake as well as the journey itself.
As well as walking the lovely cobbled streets of Varenna there are a few other sights in and around the town itself. We visited the Vila Monastero and its gardens which are lovely to walk around and great for unobstructed photos of the lake. There is also the Castello di Vezio high up above the town This castle is over a thousand years old and is nice enough but what really makes it worth the walk up are the views you get from the top. I would recommend hiking up from the the Fiumelatte side as the climb is more gradual than from Varenna.
We rented an apartment with lake views in Varenna so had to self cater. This meant a trip to a supermarket in the next town of Bellano (there is no supermarket in Varenna), which we reached by train. Here we stocked up on supplies for the next 4 nights mainly for breakfast and lunches. Whilst we were in Bellano we also visited the Orrido Gorge, an impressive natural rock escarpment forged by the flowing waters of the Pioverna river. Varenna itself is extremely well priced for food compared to the more famous Bellagio and Como so we were happy to eat out in the evenings. For a classic Italian meal at one of the lakefront restaurants, such as Ill Molo, we paid approximately €40 for both of us including drinks. For a slightly more fancy meal try the excellent Al Prato.
On our 2nd full day we took the slow boat to Bellagio and conducted our own walking tour of this famous town, which of course was the inspiration for one of Las Vegas’ most famous hotels. There is mounds of history here with quaint buildings on every corner. It must be mentioned, however, that the crowds were noticeably larger than in little Varenna. After a few hours we took another ferry across to Lenno. Here Vanessa wanted to visit the Villa Balbianello that featured in the James Bond film Casino Royale. I took myself up into the hills to the small village of Giulino di Mezzegra. Here I found the spot where the infamous Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had been summarily executed in brutal fashion before being taken to Milan to be hung from a butchers hook in the Piazzale Loreto. Dark tourism at its finest!
Later on we took the hydrofoil to Como town, one of the largest places on the eponymous lake. Being the nearest town on Lake Como to Milan and Turin it is often busy with day trippers, especially at the weekend. Here there is plenty to see and do, such as take the funicular up to the hillside town of Brunate, as well as lots of museums, shops and historical buildings to visit. However due to its location in the South-West corner of Lake Como we felt it would not be the best base for exploring as it would take nearly 2 hours to get to the far end of Lake Como. Varenna, Menaggio or Bellagio are all much better places to stay.
On our last full day we took a ferry to Menaggio to do a walk over the Monti di Nava. This took us through old villages, forests, and up country lanes passing old run down farms and huge mansions. We were walking for nearly 3 hours and the only other person we saw was a farmer who cheerily greeted us ‘Buongiorno’ as we went around his property. The views were even more spectacular than we had seen so far, looking down towards Rogaro and across to Bellagio. It seems most people do not venture far from where the ferries dock, so if you are looking to avoid the crowds head inland.
After 4 fun-packed days around Lake Como we caught the train back to Milan. Varenna and its environs is a spectacular place with tonnes of history, sights and activities to keep you entertained for up to a week, I would highly recommend staying in Varenna also. Its location in the centre of the lake, its good value restaurants and stunning architecture and history makes it a standout option. Grazie Carlito!