Lake Como is filled with quaint little towns that sit in alcoves or jut out into the lake with prominent early 19th century villas and architecture from a time gone by. Last week, I highlighted Menaggio and just across the Lake is another fantastic town, Varenna. Varenna, Lake Como is definitely a favorite as well and offers just a bit different vibe than the other towns along the shore. From palatial gardens to gelato shops and villa hotels, Varenna may subtly surprise you on your visit to Como.
Varenna is known for being the more laid-back town next to the glitz and glamor of nearby Bellagio. So if you are looking for a more chill experience, Varenna might be a better fit for your vacation.
How to get there
Located on Como’s eastern shore, you can arrive by boat (with a car or by foot) Or you can drive to Varenna as well. Although if you are coming down the roads from Germany, GoogleMaps or Waze will most likely bring through Chur and the Bernina Pass. It is something else, I tell ya. One of the highest Alps in Switzerland leads to the eastern side of Lake Como and Varenna.
TRAVEL TIP: This mountain pass can be harrowing, so bring your wristbands. You will need them as the switchbacks are winding like you won’t believe.
Another TRAVEL TIP: make sure you are searching the town of Varenna in the Province of Lecco. As there is the town of Varenna (same spelling) just outside of the city of Genoa. You will be adding another 2+ hours to your adventure. However, you would be on the Italian Riviera so it wouldn’t be all bad.
By Boat – one of the most popular ways to arrive in Varenna is by boat or ferry. Many times I have taken the ferry from Menaggio or Cadenabbia on the western coast. It is roughly €8-10 per person including your vehicle. To board the ferry, it is critical that you are in the proper line. For these frequent ferry routes, there are painted signs on the road for Bellagio or Varenna. There’s plenty of signage prior to boarding, just make sure you are in the right one. While we were there this past September it was also required mask-wearing. I believe that has dissipated now but I do recommend following whatever guidance the transport personnel recommends.
By Train – the train station for Varenna is centrally located as well making it a great stop in Como. The journey from Milan is about an hour. This route runs about every hour to an hour and a half and is €11 one way. If you are in search of an alternative way to arrive in Varenna, Lake Como, taking the train would definitely be an option.
Interested in VISITING ITALY? SPRING 2023 Group Tour
Where to STAY?
I have stayed in Varenna several times. One time as part of a small group tour and the other for a romantic weekend in the Fall with Jon. Both times were equally peaceful and enchanting. There are several types of “stays” in Varenna depending on the Holiday you would like to experience. If you would like to visit a family-friendly hotel you can, a renovated villa with palatial gardens or maybe a hotel/restaurant combo that is superb, there is something for every kind of traveler.
We stayed at the Hotel Albergo Beretta in the downtown area of Varenna and within walking distance of the boat dock. There was parking around the back and also a public parking area for €10 per day.
Here is my Google Review for this property.
Wonderful staff ~ great location. Hotel Beretta is located just off the main road in Varenna making it a perfect overnight in Como. You are close to the marina and within walking distance of all the restaurants.
Our room was modern and clean with an awesome balcony. I loved the big windows.
Sement was warm and welcoming at check-in and everyone else was generous and helpful during our stay. Would absolutely stay again!
It was also affordable and had a very small breakfast, the coffee was good. Our room was located right on the main street and the night noise ran a little late but finally settled down, request a room in the back if you prefer.
Jon and I stayed at the Albergo Milano in November 2017 for a romantic weekend getaway to Lake Como. The hotel is historic and our views from the room were just breathtaking. We were there just in time for the leaves changing, the natural beauty was incredible.
TRAVEL TIP: Most of Lake Como closes down after the first weekend in November. Restaurants, shops, and some hotels. When you are planning your adventure, remember this little detail
The outside patio is quite lovely and breakfast was well done. The views of the lake from the dining room terrace are beautiful as well. Be sure to make reservations for dinner as they stay quite busy. I would even recommend doing that prior to arrival.
Hotel Villa Cipressi
The Hotel Cipressi is located in the northern part of Varenna and is a restored Villa and Garden. The grounds are gorgeous and unforgettable. An upscale option for your stay at the lake, The Villa Cipressi is also a very popular wedding and event venue. However, some of the rooms themselves are not particularly large but do have modern conveniences and have recently been renovated.
It’s location is great as you are within walking distance of Piazza San Giorgio which is where most the city happenings occur. There is also a huge parking garage located within walking distance of the hotel. There is no valet parking so you will want to make a note of this before arriving.
Hotel du Lac
The Hotel du Lac is located right on the Eastern Shore of Varenna and has a superb location. You can arrive by boat too. Your stay here will include unbelievably, incredible views of the mountains and the lake. The hotel is within walking distance of this ancient town. An elegant early 19th-century villa with a swimming pool and award-winning restaurant. If you aren’t fortunate enough to stay here, definitely make reservations for dinner. Their Chef uses local ingredients and changes the menu according to the seasons.
Gardens & Piazzas
One of the biggest highlights for visiting Varenna are the palatial gardens. This past September, Katy and I were able to visit two of the gardens on the eastern shore.
This garden had an awful lot of hype. It was not my favorite but if you are visiting Varenna and are interested in gardening, you might find this worthwhile. I am also not a huge crowds person and it was unbelievably crowded on our visit. Tickets are available online or walk-up for €10 for adults to see the gardens and villa. The Villa Monastero is part of the FAI (Fondo per l’ambiente Italiano) the Non-profit that owns the Villa Balbianello (the Villa I highlighted in my last blog.) Their preservation of Italian historic buildings and grounds is essential to Italian tourism.
Here was my Google Review:
This villa, garden, and grounds were just o.k. for me. Unlike other reviewers, I was not impressed with the groundskeeping of this garden. However, there were endless tourists and no control at entrances. Bus after tour bus unloaded and hundreds of walking tourists and bus tourists were allowed to come in all at the same time making our visit, super disappointing.
I think they are trying to bounce back after COVID and they are trying but I do think they would be better served taking only online tickets, this would help with crowds.
Some of the visitors were walking through the gardens in areas obviously just meant to be seen and not walked through. Also, there was little to no signage making it confusing to walk the grounds and museum. As others have said, skip the villa, the Napoleon exhibit that was running was also super difficult to follow.
One recommendation I have is if you visit, go here first then next door to the Giardino Botanico di Villa Cipressi it is very quiet, serene, and peaceful with much fewer people, gorgeous, great signage, and well-kept.
Villa Garden Cipressi
We really enjoyed Villa Garden Cipressi. It was inside the hotel grounds which confused us a bit. We thought the Villa Monastero was a part of Villa Cipressi because they are right next to each other. However, they are separate gardens. The Villa Cipressi had tropical fauna and flora from all over the world and a partnership with other botanical gardens from America too.
Walk through town
An absolutely free activity and easy to do that is so delightful is walking around this charismatic town. Varenna has narrow steep alleyways adorned with hanging plants and stairs that bring you back in time. Much of the architecture from the 1800s is still visible and intact. From the ferry, you will follow the Greenway dei Patriarchi.
This narrow romantic lakeside walkway leads you to a harbor filled with stores, restaurants, the Tourist Information center, and scenic beauty.
I wouldn’t recommend walking with your luggage along this pathway, grab a taxi but strolling for sure.
WHERE to EAT?
Here is my favorite place to grab a bit to eat while I am visiting Varenna. My friend Candy has a favorite pizza place in Varenna. We really loved it too. Varenna also has several gelaterias and cafes. You will absolutely need to make reservations or be prepared to wait, especially if you are in search of a restaurant on the shore.
Albergo del Sole
Every time I visit Varenna I eat at the Albergo del Sole. Candy hooked me up with this pizzeria which is considered some of the best pizza in the region. Located on the corner in the San Giorgio Piazza the outside terrace is really a special place to wine and dine. You can people-watch and listen to the church bells chime from nearby Chiesa San Giorgia (Church of St. George.)
Their menu includes Italian favorites including seafood and pasta, and my favorite is the grilled vegetables (griglia verdure) and the smoked mozzarella (scarmoza.)
TRAVEL TIP: Order the Vino de Casa (house wine) it is delicious and affordable.
The restaurant fills up and this fall they were packed, it was great seeing them so busy with plenty of customers.
THE SECRET IS OUT
So, the secret is out. Even from the time, I will post this to now the secret of this “quieter, calmer” Como town has been let out. This September was the busiest I’ve ever seen. My friend, Candy echoed the sentiment as well on her recent visit.
People definitely have figured out Varenna. I truly hope it was just this crazy busy because of the bounce back from COVID. Still one of my absolute favorite towns in Lake Como. Looking forward to another adventure on the lake.
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