Lake Como is undoubtably well-known for it’s prepossessing beauty and it’s glamorously ostentatious guests. Although it completely lives up to this expectation, like much of Italy, it’s also elegant, understated and effortless in it’s vintage postcard look. The almost-rainforest like greenery and azure blue waters are undeniably captivating and the whole place is a bubble of wonder for any traveller. There’s no surprise then that it is in Italy’s top ten tourist locations and receives hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.
With Lake Como’s shores lined with resorts however, it begs the question – why Varenna over it’s other, possibly more glamorous, neighbours?
1 – It’s Lack of Ego
Varenna, unlike it’s neighbour Bellagio, has a complete lack of ego. It’s small harbour front and pebbled beach is charming and useful and there doesn’t appear to be as much of the heel wearing, Chanel bag variety here. There’s also a distinct lack of tourist shops, with only one or two on the walkway between the harbour and the town. Originally a fishing village, Varenna feels authentic. Much of it’s beauty lays behind the harbour facade and between the narrow, steep streets (some dotted with antique-like art galleries) that lead up to the town square. It’s picturesque, medieval and beautiful. When staying there, it also feels comfortable and un-crowded, unlike much of Lake Como. I am not claiming that Varenna is ‘off the beaten track’ by any means but it has a local, family-friendly feel which appeals, still with the stunning views other resorts offer.
Vintage Car in Varenna
2 – The Food
Albeit small, Varenna has no lack of eateries from rustic Italian Trattorias with basic home-made pasta to die for, to Ristorante’s with pricier menus, where you need to book ahead. Of course there are various bars for a simple coffee or aperitif also. A few of these venues line the main water-front but others are a little further out and you have to do your research for, all with stunning views and wine lists to die for. Our favourites were: –
La Vista – more of an occasion restaurant with a backdrop of dreams and food of the gods. Family friendly, fantastic atmosphere and helpful staff.
Three Creme Brûlée’s at La Vista Restaurant
Caffe Varenna – they advertise as more of a lunch time setting but this is our ‘thing’ to a t. Completely relaxed, outdoor seating on the waterfront. Beef pappardelle; tortellini, butter and sage; peaches wrapped in prosciutto with balsamic glaze and a bottle of house white – absolute bliss. You could turn up in your beach wear and nobody would care.
Staying in Varenna you gain a real sense of local community. The town square often hosts events with live music and bars open till late. Again, as with most of the continent, this is inclusive of all ages, young and old and is often a family affair. The local shops are also a dream (only with essentials) but nice ones, I could have browsed all day at the wine and fresh meats selections.
4 – Villas Monastero and Cipressi
If it’s history and culture you’re craving then Varenna also supplies these goods. Villa Monastero, situated high up in Varenna, is not for the weak of heart, due to the incline required to reach it. It’s surrounded by beautiful botanical gardens and has an eclectic interior which you can also view. Villa Cipressi was built between 1400 and 1800 and holds real historical interest. It’s been resided in by several prevalent families over the years and it’s garden terrace with views over the lake is a must see.
5 – Accessibility
Varenna is easily accessible to other historic villas and resorts on the lake. Ferries are frequent and it is the first stop on the train line from Milan. If you’re feeling brave – hire a boat for the afternoon – you will not regret it. This is the way to see the best views of the lake and villas inaccessible via road, such as Richard Branson’s pad or George Clooney’s Palace. Don’t worry they give you a map. Moore up, swim, admire and enjoy.
To surmise, Lake Como has so much to offer any tourist and is a treasure trove of travelling finds, Varenna definitely being one of these.