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Things to Do in Lake Como: Visit Varenna

by Bianca @ Italian Fix

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Looking for things to do in Lake Como and Varenna?

Besides simply just being there, of course.

We’ve got insider intel that will help you maximize 24 hours in the most gorgeous lakeside region in the world.

First things first: Lake Como loops around lush valleys and islands, which means it’s not just “one” place –– it’s made up of multiple villages.

Follow along as we walk you through a summer day (we recommend going any time between April and October) in the laid back, charming village that gets our air kiss of approval in Lake Como –– Varenna.

She doles out romance in the form of majestic old villas with sweeping gardens, yellow hotels tucked along the shoreline, medieval lanes for long strolls, and blooms and bougainvillea bursting through cracked cobblestone streets.

To experience her in all her gorgeous glory, here’s a mix ‘n’ match itinerary of what to do, see and eat in Varenna, Lake Como –– something for every kind of traveler.

Varenna: See This

When you wake up, you can take your pick of the pretty around here. Villas, rivers, churches –– Varenna smacks you in the face with her signature vintage-y, postcard-y charm.

We recommend sleeping in just a lil’ (you’re on vacation!) and seeing one of these spots in the morning:

  • Villa Monastero: This monastery-turned-villa houses beautiful botanical gardens, rare plants galore and a museum that overlooks Lake Como. You could easily stroll through it all in an hour. Bring your camera, your favorite novel and grab an espresso — your backdrop will be easy to handle.
  • The Fiumelatte River: A quick drive, walk or 2-minute train ride will take you from Varenna to Fiumelatte (translation: Milk River), the wonderfully weird milky stream that only flows between March and September. It’s Italy’s shortest river (at a proud 250m) that gushes right into Lake Como surrounded by walls of wonderful wildflowers, and it’s a total rarity. Pro tip: pack a picnic and head to the river’s head to settle down with a snack.
  • Church of San Giorgio: Crafted from Varenna’s famed black marble, this church is smack dab in the town’s main square and oozes all kinds of Gothic-Romanesque vibes. Wander inside to enjoy the unusual frescoes and three-nave design, and geek out over all the art dating back to the 13th century.

boats on lake como near Varenna

Varenna Rainbow

Varenna: Do This

What you do in Varenna next totally depends on your personality –– does your perfect day involve breaking a tiny sweat? Discovering under-the-radar spots? Lounging as much as possible?

No matter what your cup of gelato is, Varenna is a great home base for it all.

We suggest picking one of these options for spending the rest of your morning or afternoon (and it goes without saying that a lakeside dip at some point should *always* be on your itinerary):

  • Ferry hop around Lake Como. Varenna is tiny, so exploring other spots like Bellagio, Menaggio, and Tremezzo is super doable from this village –– having lunch in one, strolling through another and squeezing in some shopping (naturally). Pick up a ferry schedule from the local ticketing office and plan your day accordingly.
  • Hire a private boat. On our Rome Florence Venice tour, called the Greatest Hits, we rent a private boat and treat our clients to a lake tour. Highly recommended!
  • Bust out your hiking boots. If you’re planning on exploring the gorgeous mountains surrounding Lake Como, Varenna is one of the best spots to hike from. We recommend the Sentiero Del Viandante route –– it dates back to the Roman period and once connected Milan and Switzerland. The beauty of this route is that the distance you want to hike is totally up to you –– try the path to Bellano (up to three hours) for something lighter, to Lierna (half a day) if you want to save some time for another activity, or to Albiga if you’re ready to spend a full day amongst the castles, black marble quarries, and villas along the way.
  • Learn to cook, nonna style. This is our off-the-beaten-track pick: cooking classes at Il Caminetto is a remember-forever experience, from the second you get into the car they’ll send for you –– you’ll be taken up through narrow, winding roads to reach this restaurant tucked into the hills behind Varenna. From learning how to master tortellini to prosciutto-covered veal roast, this is a totally fun and fab hands-on class that features lots of vino along the way (and coffee from their vintage espresso machine –– be sure to ask them for it!). Not to mention: any dinner here during the rest of your stay will likely make for one of the best meals you’ll have while in Lake Como, hands down.

Swans and Streets in Varenna

Fresh fruit in Varenna

Varenna: Eat This

Now that we’ve got tortellini on the brain, let’s talk food in Varenna. Traditionally a fishing village, the seafood here is fresh and full of flavor, so eat it every chance you get. Lake Como is also known for its prosciutto and Parmigiano due to all the surrounding farms owned by local families, so you catch our drift –– you’ll love it all.

If we had to pick, here’s where we’d park our tushy to indulge throughout the day:

  • Cafés: An Italian breakfast is a cappuccino and a pastry — make it yours too! We love the fresh, jam-filled croissants at the unassuming Cafe Il Binario –– it’s actually at the train station, but is one of the best spots for straight-outta-the-oven baked goodness.
  • Lunch: We dig the kind of restaurants you stumble onto by accident –– those tend to be the gems that have the best food that no one else knows about. In Varenna, this spot is Monamour. Cozy and charming, with limited spots for lakeside views and the *best* food that most visitors don’t know about, but all the locals love. Order just about anything with seafood and you’ll be a happy camper.
  • Aperitivo: For the best sunset and spritz, head to Caffe Varenna. It’s poppin’ with perfect people-watching ops all day, and aperitivo hour is no different. Listen to the lake lapping at the shore paired with rounds of olives, cheese, and cold cuts.
  • Dinner (with a fab view): Round your day out in total style with a table at La Vista, in the hotel Albergo Milano Varenna. Make your reso in advance and time it so you’re there for sunset because you’ll be treated to a panoramic view of the Alps and the lake drenched in a gorgeous golden glow.
  • Gelato: Your day isn’t complete until you’ve got gelato in hand, so head to La Passerella to grab a cone and walk down to the harbor to enjoy it on the steps.

Varenna from the water

Lakeside docks in Varenna

How we can help you see Varenna and Lake Como

Join us in April 2020 on the tour we call Greatest Hits, where you’ll see, do and eat it all in Italy’s iconic hot spots.

Rome, Montalcino, Florence, Cinque Terre, Lake Como and Venice.

We’ve only got one date available in 2020 for this 12-night experience:

==> April 25 – May 7 (all adults welcome).

Click here to snag your spot at our aperitivo table.

Got questions?

Leave a comment below and we’ll jump in to help!

Sail boat from Varenna on Lake Como

Varenna at twilight

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