(updated June 6, 2014)
1. Exquisite location on Lake Como
Its sunny position facing south offers a stunning panorama over one of the most beautiful sections of Lake Como with Bellagio in front and Menaggio to the right.
Placed like a sentinel in the mid-section of Lake Como, at the intersection of the three branches of the lake, Varenna forms an excellent home base to visit the triangle area formed by Bellagio, Menaggio, and Cadenabbia/Tremezzo (with Villa Carlotta) or to explore the hiking and mountain bike trails of the Esino valley.
The quaint little town’s awe-inspiring scenery and more relaxed atmosphere make it a perfect retreat from the more touristy places around Lake Como.
2. Medieval center
Varenna is one of the best preserved medieval centers of the entire lake area, with its charming, steep cobblestone streets, porticos and historic churches. The Church of San Giovanni Battista (10-11th centuries) is one of the oldest in the Lario region, while church of San Giorgio was built over an ancient temple.
3. Lovers’ walk (passerella)
From Varenna’s Pier (the ferry station), the scenic and romantic Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lovers’ walk) runs along the edge of the lake leading to the historic center.
4. Castello di Vezio
Vertically positioned 100m over the piazza, the fortress that once dominated Varenna offers a unique panorama over Varenna and the lake area. The Castrum of Vezio was built when the Romans wanted to consolidate their control over the eastern shore of the Lake to conquer Europe. The tower of Vezio instead was built by the Lombards
5. Villa Monastero
Built in various styles (Baroque, Classic and Moresque) Villa Monastero was once a Cistercian female convent, but now houses an important international center for cultural studies. This is where Enrico Fermi lived and studied. The beautiful hall is dedicated to him.
6. Villa Cipressi
The 16th century villa with terraced, botanical garden descending towards the lake, offers beautiful views over both the branches of Lake Como.
The Villa houses a hotel offering beautiful views of the lake.
7. Luigi Scannagatta Ornithological museum
A rare collection of non-migratory birds and ample documentation.
8. Hamlet of Fiumelatte
Worth visiting also is the hamlet of Fiumelatte with its Fiumelatte river, the shortest river in Italy which is only 250m long and only flows for 6 months of the year. It owes its name to the color of the frothy water that indeed makes it appear as a river of milk. Its mysterious origins were studied by Leonardo da Vinci in the Codice Atlantico because of its characteristic intermittent flow. It is also called the river of the two Madonnas because it appears around the feast of the Annunciation (March 25th) and disappears around October 7th, the feast of the Madonna of the Rosary. A short pleasant walk starting in Vezio or Varenna takes you to the river head where you will find a picnic area with facilities.
9. Lake festival
In July there is the traditional Festival of the Lake with a grand Fireworks’ Artifice. It is the reenactment of the famous battle of Island Comacina, which occurred in 1169, when Como, led by Frederick Barbarossa, burnt the Island leaving it completed destroyed. The inhabitants of the island were welcomed by the people of Varenna, who had suffered the same faith about four decades earlier. The district where they settled down became known as Insula Nova, a name that was soon applied to the entire village. With the arrival of the refugees of Comacina, the little town of Varenna soon became one of the richest of the lake.
10. Lakeside promenade in the old borgo
The lakeside promenade in the center of the old borgo of Varenna is lined with restaurants, bars and delightful boutiques.
You may also like:
Photo credits (top to bottom): all photos © Slow Italy, except featured image by metamerist; Varenna by Twitchphoto; Lake view with red houses © Maria Raz; Church of San Giorgio © edicola189/Fotolia.com; Castello di Vezio by Junto; Villa Monastero by Benjamin Scalvenzi; Villa Capaona, Fiumelatte by magro_kr; lake promenade in old borgo by metamerist.