Not long ago, I had the opportunity to discover the captivating Italian town of Varenna, located on the scenic shores of Lake Como.
Having previously explored the town of Como, this time, as we crossed the region, we opted to park our car in Menaggio and embark on a ferry trip to experience the charm of Bellagio and Varenna.
Varenna is a hidden gem that captivates visitors because it maintains its authentic charm as a traditional fishing village. The colourful houses along the waterfront, the small harbour, and the lakeside promenade contribute to the town’s idyllic atmosphere.
The town has a rich history dating back to the Roman era. Over the centuries, Varenna has been influenced by various rulers and civilizations. Its historical centre features narrow alleys, cobblestone streets, and medieval buildings.
I loved strolling through the narrow alleys, where the colourful houses, cobbled streets, vibrant storefronts and historic appeal create a perfect retreat for those searching for tranquillity and elegance.
Given its compact size, the town can easily be explored on foot in about 2 hours, with a heads up for a few steep slopes that may require some legwork!
After disembarking in Varenna, we headed to the right through Largo Enzo Venini, better known as Passeggiata degli Innamorati or The Walk of Lovers.
It is a short pedestrian path that leads from the pier of Varenna to the centre of the town, from which you can admire the lake, the mountains and the small colourful houses perched at the foot of the rock face.
After this, you can venture into the steep little streets (mostly with stairs), explore the little shops, and capture all the picturesque corners of the town.
Visit the historic Church of San Giorgio, known for its medieval charm and panoramic terrace offering breathtaking lake views.
Varenna also offers the chance to explore historical villas, such as Villa Monastero, a former Cistercian convent turned elegant residence where you can explore the botanical gardens and wander through the halls adorned with frescoes and period furniture.
Also, the famous Castello di Vezzio is an ancient fortress atop a hill overlooking Varenna, and everybody says it is a must-see.
However, as said earlier, I was on a lake tour constrained to a day, and regrettably, I didn’t have time to visit these last two places I mentioned.
The Lake Como is one of the largest lakes in Italy, covering 146 km². Additionally, visiting Lake Como doesn’t just mean visiting one place. There are numerous villages along the lake shores; therefore, I would suggest at least 3 to 4 days to get to know the region (a bit).
The best period to explore Lake Como extends from late March to late October, between spring, summer, and early autumn.
Throughout this timeframe, key tourist destinations like the Island of Comacina, Villa Carlotta, Villa Melzi, Villa Monastero, and Vezio Castle typically stay open.
It’s important to know that a few places shut down in early November and only resume operations at the end of March.
While this window is considered the prime time for experiencing Lake Como, visiting during other times can still be worthwhile!
However, be mindful that, particularly in the summer months, the town attracts numerous visitors, making it advisable to plan ahead. Finding a suitable lunch spot might be challenging during peak hours, so securing a restaurant reservation in advance is recommended or try to eat before or after lunchtime.
We opted for the free circulation ticket for the freedom to embark and disembark multiple times.
Opting for the free circulation ticket (“biglietto di libera circolazione”) provides the flexibility to embark and disembark multiple times. Ticket prices vary based on the route and time of year.
Public boats traverse the 40 small towns around the lake, with ticket prices depending on the chosen route and the time of year. As destinations and tour durations differ, consider boat schedules and routes. Fast boat tickets are pricier, with costs and schedules subject to seasonal variations. Find more information here (in English or Italian).
The boat journey from Como to Varenna or Bellagio takes around 2 hours by slow boat and 1 hour by fast boat. From Varenna to Bellagio, the trip takes less than 20 minutes.
How to get there?
To reach Varenna, one can take a scenic train ride from Milan to Varenna-Esino station, followed by a short ferry journey across the shimmering waters of Lake Como.
The closest airports to Varenna are Malpensa (MXP) and Linate (LIN), both in Milan. Additionally, Lugano-Agno Airport (LUG), situated in Switzerland, is approximately 80-90 kilometres away.
While public parking is available in the city, it is advisable to arrive early, especially during the high season, as parking space is limited. Consider leaving your car in a smaller town and using ferries for inter-city travel.
If you’re considering renting a car, I recommend checking out Discover Cars. They provide a platform to compare rental options from various providers, allowing you to choose a vehicle that suits your preferences. They are known for their reliability and competitive pricing. Click here to explore your options.
Varenna is well-connected to other nearby cities through bus services. This option can be convenient for those travelling from more distant locations or who prefer not to drive. For more information, refer to this link.
The Varenna-Esino Train Station is part of the broader Italian railway network, connecting major cities such as Milan. The train journey from Milan to Varenna typically takes around one to one and a half hours, making it a feasible day trip destination. You can buy the tickets here.
And how about you? Have you experienced the charm of this Italian town, or do you have questions about planning your visit? Share your thoughts or inquiries in the comments below!
And if you would like to know about the other towns nearby, such as Bellagio, please read this article here.