Varenna

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Varenna is a fairly sedate, attractive lakeside village in the central part of Lake Como in the Lombardy region of Italy.

It is traditionally a fishing village and has colorful houses and villas built close to each other on a little piece of land just below a mountain. With staircases and steep paths, the historical centre of Varenna is nicely cozy and has bars with terraces and a pedestrian walk along the lake shore. The village has some nice hotels and restaurants (some of the best on the eastern shore of Lake Como), a conference centre for physics (Villa Monastero regularly hosts the national Italian research conference) and two botanical gardens worth a visit in Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi.

Access : Coordinates: 46.016667, 9.283333 / By train : Varenna is on the line that runs from Milan to Lecco, up the eastern side of the lake through Varenna and on to Colico, then to Morbegno, Sondrio and Tirano. Express trains leave from Milano Centrale station, stop at few stations, and reach Varenna in approx. 1h. Regional trains leave from Milan Porta Garibaldi, stop at all stations (including Fiumelatte, a southern subdivision of Varenna), and reach Varenna in 1h30 or 2 h. The trains are a convenient way to move along the eastern shore of Lake Como, but the service finishes quite early in the evening (the last train leaves Milan at 21:20).

1 Stazione di Varenna-Esino (at the village of Perledo, just across the stream of Esino at the N border of Varenna). Regional services line Calolziocorte – Lecco – Colico – Sondrio, RegioExpress train services on the route Milan – Lecco – Sondrio – Tirano. Check Trenord website for timetables and fares.

By air : The nearest airport is Orio al Serio International Airport (sometimes referred to as Milan Bergamo) in Bergamo, which is served by several low-cost airlines. Driving distance is around 70km (1hr 10mins); by public transport the easiest way is to take a bus from the airport to Bergamo railway station where you can catch a train to Lecco and then change to a train to Varenna.

Milan Linate Airport and Milano Malpensa Airport are relatively close, although the latter is further away, being on the west side of Milan. Drive time from either of these is around 1hr 40 mins. Public transport is more comfortable than from Orio al Serio  from Milano Malpensa you can get to Milan central station with a bus or train and from there you can take the train to Varenna  from Milano Malpensa there is a public bus (the ATM shuttle takes you directly to Milan central station) and from there you have the train to Varenna.

By boat :  Boat trips across Lake Como are an essential part of any holiday in this region. Varenna is directly served by the lake’s ferry network which provides connections to/from several towns and villages on the lake shore. 2 Ferry piers (at the N end of Varenna). Vehicle ferry services to Bellagio, Cadenabbia (near Tremezzo) and Menaggio. Passenger ferry connections to Lenno, Tremezzo and Como. Check Gestione Navigazione Laghi website for timetables and fares.

Get around : Varenna is a small, compact village best visited on foot. It’s on a steep hill with lots of steps, but there is a fairly level and very attractive waterside path along most of the shoreline. The village has one frazione (subdistrict), Fiumelatte, which is south of the main village, past the Villa Monastero garden. If you want a taxi, you can probably find one at the Varenna-Esino railway station. Vittorio Ongania Auto Pubblica Taxi, Piazza della Stazione a Perledo. / Ruggero Maglia Servizio Taxi, Via Statale 45 a Varenna / Enrico Faggi Servizio Taxi, Via Per Esino 81 a Perledo.

Highlights :

  • Villa Monastero, Viale Giovanni Polvani 4 (southern end of Varenna),  9.30am–7pm (last entry 6:30pm). Garden: daily 1 Mar – 1 Nov  house museum: Jun, Jul, Aug – daily  1 Sep-4 Oct – Tu-Su; 5 Oct-1 Nov – F-Su, holidays, Tu only 1pm–6pm. Originally it was a convent, which was later, in the 17th century, converted to a manor. Currently villa Varenna and a garden around it is a museum. It is preserved as a house of the late 19th century and its 14 furnished rooms can be visited. It also hosts conferences (in particular it has hosted physics courses that have been attended by over 60 Nobel Prize winners) and is owned by the Province of Lecco. The garden is on a narrow strip of land that stretches 2 km along the lake shore until Fiumelatte. The climate is mild and the garden includes species from Africa and the Americas. €8 for garden and house museum (free for children up to 13 years old); €5 for garden only.
  •  Villa Cipressi gardens, Via IV Novembre 18 . Daily Apr–Oct 9am–6:30pm (last entry). The villa is now a hotel and restaurant, but non-guests may visit the gardens, which are charming, while not as grand as some others on the lake. Costs a few euros, or a Villa Monastero ticket may give you entrance here too.
  •  Church of San Giorgio.
  •  Church of San John the Baptist (San Giovanni Battista).
  • Museo ornitologico e di scienze naturali Scanagatta (museum of ornithology and natural sciences Scanagatta), Via IV Novembre 18, . In general Saturday and Sunday. €3.
  •  Vezio Castle (Castello di Vezio) Daily Mar–Oct, opens 10am, closes 5pm or later depending on month & day of the week (check hours )  closed when it rains. The castle is in the municipality of Varenna, while the little village of Vezio is in the municipality of Perledo. It has a permanent exhibition of the Lariosaurus. It is home to captive birds of prey (owls, hawks, buzzard, falcon) with flight exhibitions on some days. Adult €4, child 6–12 years €2, student or over-65 and others €3.

Activities : Cookery Lessons at Ristorante Il Caminetto, viale Progresso 4, Gittana di Perledo . Chef Moreno gives relaxed and informative lessons in Italian cookery from his family restaurant in the neighbouring village of Gittana, up in the hills (they’ll come and collect you from the main square in Varenna). Group sizes are small, and everyone gets to sit down for lunch afterwards to enjoy the fruits of their labour. After lunch, they’ll take you back to Varenna or drop you off at Vezio Castle from where you can walk downhill back to Varenna.  Hiking itinerary: Historic mule tracks between Varenna and Esino Lario.

Go next : Bellagio / Menaggio / Esino Lario / Perledo / Tremezzo

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