“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. Who first pronounced this famous proverb, in all likelihood, has never visited the graceful Italian town of Varenna, placidly resting on the eastern shore of Lake Como. The little hamlet shines so much in its objective and unique fascination, that even locals can’t help but be drawn to it.
Welcome to paradise: welcome to Varenna.
How to get to Varenna
How to resist the temptation of a good old road trip? Luckily, Varenna is well-connected to the major metropolitan hub of Milan, offering you a relaxed but panoramic drive, seasoned with the adorable views generously offered by Lake Como.
From Milan, take the freeway A9/E35 and, after 9 km (5.6 miles), get out at the exit SS35 dei Giovi, merging onto the highway A36. From there you will find the exit for Via Nazionale dei Giovi/SP44, leading up to the highway SS 36 del Lago di Como e dello Spluga/SS36.
This portion of the road brings you to the city of Lecco; from there unwrap your final red carpet to Varenna by taking the SS72 and getting out at the exit Varenna-Mandello-Abbadia Lariana; the village will unveil its gorgeous shapes after a total of 1.30 hours from leaving Milan.
LCE tip: you booked your own accommodation, but you don’t know where to park your car. No worries! Despite being quite small, Varenna will offer you 4 different parking facilities (Imbarcadero, Multipiano, Promessi Sposi and Stazione), in contrast with Italy’s scarcity of suitable places for your car.
By public transportation
Unlike the majority of the destinations on Lake Como, Varenna has a train station; so hip-hip, hurray! The amount of stress requested to get there will be equal to zero. From the railway station of Milano Centrale, catch the first train to the station of Varenna-Esino, at a price of €6,80 for a one-way ticket. The direct train usually leaves once per hour. However, we suggest checking discounts, trip hours and much more here!
By ferry boat
Is there any better way to travel around Lake Como, than cutting through its waters with a gentle breeze blowing from the mountains? Reaching Varenna with a ferry boat will be a thrilling and pleasing experience. From Como’s harbour (the Imbarcadero), catch the first ferry boat headed to Colico and, after a 2 hours trip, get off in Varenna. The price of a ticket is €11,60, which increases to €16.20 for a rapid boat.
A popular and recommended alternative is to combine Varenna with a visit to other localities just across the lake, such as Bellagio and/or Menaggio, both at approximately 15 minutes by boat. From and to these destinations, it is also possible to catch ferry boats equipped to transport cars (tariffs range from €8,60 to €14.40), so the only limit to daily exploration will be your fantasy!
As always, have a look at the official website for all the details.
Things to do in Varenna
Varenna possesses an unfeigned, magnetic appeal: it doesn’t need the grandeur of big-named neighbours like Bellagio to bewitch everyone who visits it. Despite being definitely concentrated in its size, the little treasures Varenna guards have nothing to envy to bigger, more mainstream touristic locations: quirky fishermen’s houses, ancient houses and castles, secluded little corners of natural beauty, and frozen-in-time monasteries are just some gems Varenna is not jealous to share.
Let’s see together a quick but comprehensive overview of what to see in Varenna, with the usual sassy touch of Lake Como Experiences.
Explore the downtown
Allow yourself to softly sink into pure beauty. Stroll around the ancient, narrow alleys of Varenna’s downtown, and reach the idyllic square of Piazza S.Giorgio. The square hosts the gorgeous medieval Chiesas of S.Giorgio and S.Giovanni Battista, one of the most ancient in all Lombardy, dating back to the XI century: they both emanate authentic history vibes.
Stretch your legs and, from Varenna, take the 20-mins hiking trail to the Castello di Vezio, a perfectly preserved medieval fortress full of majestic surprises, dominating Varenna and offering a breathtaking view on Lake Como. In addition, there are ancient statues, a visitable mysterious basement, Mediterranean olive gardens and, last but not least, a sanctuary dedicated to birds of prey, that the local falconieri will be more than happy to introduce you to.
Finally, indulge in some dolce vita with your better half: the romantic Passeggiata degli Innamorati (“Lovers’ Walk”) is a pure celebration of the joy of being loved, in one of the most enchanting landscapes of all Italy.
Did you know: Varenna is crossed by Fiumelatte (“River of Milk”), one of the shortest rivers in all Europe: around 250 m from its source, easy to access through a brief hike, to the point in which it dives into the waters of Lake Como. A fraction of Varenna, with a typical little beach, is called Fiumelatte in homage to the river.
Visit Villa Monastero
A shining jewel in Lake Como’s beating heart. Villa Monastero was built in the XII century as the only feminine monastery of Varenna and the surroundings. Nowadays, the interiors of the house are a living museum, with ancient pieces, marble creations, paintings and prestigious handcrafted furniture.
If, after the visit, a breath of fresh air is what you want, take it with style: the botanical gardens of the Villa host more than 900 species of local and exotic flora, giving life to a lush world pulsating with green life, mirroring itself into the still waters of Lake Como.
Villa Monastero is open all year round, but during the winter months can be visited only during weekends. The ticket for an all-inclusive visit to the museum and the botanical garden can be purchased for €10: visit the official website to know everything about opening hours, tariffs and discounts!
Visit Villa Cipressi’s Botanical Garden
A triumphal shrine of nature and biodiversity, in the very centre of Varenna. Villa Cipressi features one of the most acclaimed botanical gardens in northern Italy, praised by scholars, nature lovers or simple travellers in search of beauty. The garden showcases a unique selection of local vegetal species, which will wrap you with a thick, pleasing fabric of smells, views and sensations.
The Villa is open from February to October, and tickets can be purchased for €8,00, with appealing reductions often applied.
Where to eat in Varenna
Travelling to Lake Como will satisfy all your deepest wanderlust cravings which, needless to say, will obviously include opulent feasts with the most exquisite local delicacies. From a fancy dinner to an energetic breakfast, Varenna can boast a wide choice of exclusive food experiences.
Make the most of them with our selection:
Located in the luxurious Hotel Royal Victoria, the Royal Gourmet truthfully deserve its name, as it makes their guests feel like real queens or kings of local and international gastronomy. The chef has a thing for local, artisan products and wines, ranging from the freshest fish of Lake Como, to handmade desserts. For true royal moments.
Located in the center of Varenna, Osteria Quatro Pass combines a cosy but refined atmosphere, with meticulous attention to detail in every single recipe. A wine collection of over 120 prestigious Italian labels will be the backbone of a journey through the flavours of the Bel Paese, from Lake Como and Varenna to the beaches of Mediterranean Italy and up again to the immaculate valleys of the Alps.
A little place for big emotions. Il Cavatappi literally exudes comfort and genuineness, thanks to its welcoming setting, the hospitable courtesy of the personnel, and the top-notch preparation of all the best treats from the Italian cuisine: one of our favourites in Varenna.
The best dinner with a view in Varenna, hands down. La Vista is the restaurant of Albergo Milano, in the centre of Varenna; it is a place where the joy of living is expressed through the sense of taste, thanks to its constantly renewed menu proposing just the best of regional Italian preparations. The main course, however, is the astonishing panorama admirable by the terrace: a literal feast for the eyes.
Where to sleep
Varenna’s hotels and accommodations are no less exquisite than anything else the village has to offer. Luxury and hospitality are embedded in Lake Como’s DNA, and find perfect realization in our little anthology of Varenna’s best places to stay:
With no doubt, one of the best places to stay in Varenna. The combination of lush outdoor spaces, a touch of style in every environment, majestic vistas on Lake Como and vintages vibes from 2 centuries ago creates a magic atmosphere, to which no one can resist.
A true Italian fairy tale. Villa Cipressi is a temple of romance and relaxation in a strategic position for Varenna’s best attraction and can be reached by private boats thanks to its dock. The hotel is characterized by a perfect mix between contemporary design and ancient elements; the cherry on top is that all guests have access to the renowned botanical gardens. True heaven on Earth.
A lovely retreat, suspended on the waters of Lake Como. The Hotel du Lac just feels like home: the cordial atmosphere and the cosiness of the internal are surpassed just by its position and view over the two sides of the lake: so amazing it seems unreal.
Finally, Varenna’s sanctuary of peace and total privacy. Villa Torre Perledo is the apotheosis of secluded luxury, with a comprehensive panorama of the 3 branches of Lake Como, a cozy dinner and lounge area for perfect al fresco evenings, a relaxing fireplace for cooler days and, dulcis in fundo, a jacuzzi with a view so beautiful, it’s difficult to grasp with a single glance.
Varenna: history and fun facts
Like many other popular destinations on Lake Como, Varenna’s (Varèna in local dialect) origins couldn’t be further from being romantic: the village was founded by fishermen in 769 AD, due to its strategic position and proximity to abundant sources of fish. During the bloody wars among Italian communes that tormented Lake Como in the Middle Age, Varenna was destroyed by the Comune di Como, and in 1169 it received many waves of refugees from the close Isola Comacina.
Did you know? Even today, Varenna’s residents are proud to celebrate the anniversary of the exodus and welcome refugees from Isola Comacina. Every Saturday and Sunday closest to the 24th of June, the waters of the lake shine with the light of thousands of lumaghitt, little lanterns dropped into the Lake Como from the shores of Varenna. With their solemn and melancholic floating, they represent the poor souls of Isola Comacina, forced to leave their houses and cross the Lake to find shelter and safety.
During the following centuries, Varenna represented a much-coveted stronghold, being conquered by multiple powerful Italian dynasties (Torriani, Sforza, Visconti etc.).
Nowadays, Varenna is way different from how it looked centuries ago. Luxurious villas will tell you stories of Reinassance opulence and nobility, while colourful, jaunty little houses will give you the sensation of being in a living paint. Varenna quickly became an unmissable destination for any avid traveller hungry for experiences on Lake Como.