Where to stay?
The first step in planning a visit to Lake Como is deciding which of the charming towns you’d like to use as your base. The mid Lake area is arguably the most desirable location. It is easily accessible by car, train and ferry. It is also home to the most well known and interesting little villages. The most widely known is of course, Bellagio. Bellagio is famous for its celebrity sightings, designer boutiques and grand villas . Though wonderful to visit, we wanted a quieter vibe for our accommodations. The beautiful and quaint town of Varenna checked all the boxes for us. Other beautiful mid Lake towns include Menaggio, Cernobbio, Lenno, and Tremezzo. All of these are easy to access by ferry, so it’s really just a matter of finding an area that suits your needs and budget. After staying in Varenna, I’m happy to say that I’ve found my home away from home on Lake Como.
Varenna is very easily accessed by train, our mode of transportation for this trip. It is a 1 hour direct train ride from Milan ( our first stop on this particular trip) and very reasonably priced. I always book our train tickets in advance when possible through Trenitalia . I prefer printing a paper ticket but you can also use an e-ticket on your phone. Be aware when looking up train schedules on Trenitalia that the station names will be in Italian, even after you switch the site language to English. So Milan Central is Milano Centrale.
The town of Varenna is quite small and unless you’re traveling with a lot of luggage you can most likely walk to your accommodations. Check with your hotel or rental host beforehand to plan whether you’ll need transportation from the station.
In researching accommodations, I came across Hotel du Lac and knew immediately that I needed to stay there. In fact the entire trip ended up revolving around the dates that they could accommodate a 3 night stay in September. I’m not a fly by the seat of my pants traveler. I have particular wants and needs in our accommodations, so I always plan ahead. I would recommend booking your lodging about 6 months in advance if you’re able. Many of our destinations are very small geographically and hotels/ rentals can be quite limited.
Being waterfront on Lake Como was non negotiable for me. I had to have a view! I needed to be within easy walking distance to the train and ferry. And importantly, I wanted someplace comfortable and welcoming. Hotel du Lac proved to be absolutely perfect!
We booked a Superior Deluxe Room and were beyond pleased with it. The room was spacious with a comfortable queen bed, sitting area, desk, large bathroom with tub/shower, balcony and the most beautiful views we could hope for! It’s not a budget hotel, but the rates were moderate and a sure value for the quality of service and accommodations.
The hotel also boasts a wonderful restaurant that is open most days for lunch and dinner. The menu is creative and the portions quite generous.We enjoyed lunch on the terrace that was quite delicious!
Everyone from the front desk staff , to the servers and housekeeping staff were warm, welcoming and very helpful. I loved walking in and being greeted with a friendly smile and genuine conversation. Hotel du Lac went beyond meeting all our expectations and I wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again!
What to do?
We spent our first afternoon in Varenna exploring the area. We strolled the lakefront shops and soaked up the ambiance of just being there. We eventually made our way to Villa Monastero. Villa Monastero lies just south of the center of Varenna and is home to beautiful botanical gardens as well as a museum. It was originally founded as a convent in the 12 century, closing in 1596 and in 1946 it was opened to the public. Unfortunately the museum was closed the day we visited, but the gardens alone are well worth a visit. Absolutely breathtaking views intertwined with statuary, fountains, architecture and of course gorgeous plantings make it an almost surreal experience.
Villa Cipressi, an luxury hotel and spa in Varenna, is also home to impressive botanical gardens. Sadly, it was closed for a private function ( I can only dream about having a private function there!) on the day we would have explored. I guess we’ll just have to go back 😉
We also spent some time in the lovely Church of San Giorgio right across from the main square. Consecrated in 1313, the church is a small masterpiece of Lombardy architecture.
If you enjoy ancient churches, definitely pay a visit to the little Church of St John the Baptist. It is tucked in a corner of the main square and we almost missed it entirely! The Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista is truly a remarkable gem. The Romanesque structure was built prior to 1150 and the remarkable unrestored frescoes that adorn the walls date back to the 14th century. So glad we happened to stumble across this treasure!
Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo is another gorgeous botanical garden and museum to visit. The splendid villa was originally built as a private residence in the 1600s by the Marquis Giorgio Clerici. The home, now a museum houses some magnificent artwork including the famed Last Kiss of Romeo and Juliet by Francesco Hayez.
Other activities include taking a private boat tour of the lake or even renting your own boat to explore.
You can take the train into Switzerland for the day ( on my list for our next trip).
Visit the lower lake area and the city of Como itself.
Hike to the Nesso waterfall in Varenna ( the weather was not cooperative on this trip..so yet another reason to go back 😉).
Our next 2 days in Varenna were spent exploring some of the other mid lake towns. A mid lake ferry pass can be bought right at the terminal, with options for a round trip ticket or an unlimited ticket for the day. Pricing is in the 8-16 euro range per person. The ferry’s are quite convenient coming typically every 20-30 minutes and the staff at the terminal are very helpful.
We thoroughly enjoyed Bellagio despite the rainy weather. The weather most likely contributed to our enjoyment as we found it much less crowded than guidebooks had led me to believe it would be. The area around the ferry terminal is indeed touristy but once we wandered inland we found charming quaint streets and shops. There are many options for food and drink to fit all budgets. We sampled some delicious wines at Apperitivo et al .
The other towns we visited were Menaggio ( very quiet compared to the other villages) and Tremezzo ( home of Villa Carlotta).
Where to eat?
I must say we had some amazing meals in our 3 days !
Our absolute favorite, maybe of any meal anywhere in Italy, and must visit in my mind was Il Caminetto. I had read about Il Caminetto on TripAdvisor and it was the only restaurant that I made advance reservations for. Reservations are a must! This authentic and rustic restaurant is located in Perledo which sits high in the hills above Varenna. It is owned by the husband and wife team of Chef Moreno and Rosella. Rosella picks you and any other guests up at a very convenient meeting point in Varenna and chauffeurs you through the steep winding roads to the restaurant. Our meal itself was just fabulous. Fresh homemade pasta ( with the best ragu I’ve ever tasted!) mouth watering grilled meats, fish and vegetables. Everything is homemade including the ice cream and pastries. Wine list was plentiful and very reasonably priced. Service was warm and friendly. At the end of the meal Moreno, comes by the tables to chat and bring his limoncello. The perfect ending to an unforgettable experience. Once all guests are ready, Rosella whisks you back down the hill to Varenna. An absolutely memorable evening! Next time I plan to sign up for one of their cooking classes 😉
Other restaurants I can recommend in Varenna are :
Varenna Mon Amour…Cool interior blend of old and new. Lovely meal, moderately priced. Call for a reservation a day or two before.
Al Prato…again try for a reservation a day or so ahead. Very popular spot with friendly service ( they sat us outside with complimentary Prosecco when our table was not ready on time ). Authentic local dishes and lovely wines.
Ristorante du Lac…creative menu, beautiful lake front setting with outdoor dining available.
Bar Il Molo…lively lakefront casual spot with outdoor seating. Great for sandwiches, pizza, salads and drinks.
In closing it is safe to say that Lake Como and Varenna in particular stole my heart ❤️. Will I be back?? I most certainly hope so!
Thank you for reading and
Ciao for now…