THINGS TO DO IN VARENNA & THE SURROUNDING AREAS
Taking a ferry boat ride is an ideal way to tour the lake and you can stop and visit it's charming surrounding towns and villages. There are several types of boats running up and down the lake such as hydrofoil and ferries. While the first is faster, the last permits you to sit outside and have the best views of the lake, the villas and the mountains. Buy a day pass and travel as you wish from town to town throughout the day. Have an espresso in Tremezzo, go to the cable car in and have lunch al fresco with some shopping in Bellagio, all in a day.
To see another town, we'd recommend going to Bellagio, AKA the "pearl of Lake Como" which has a beautiful waterfront, bustling streets, cute shops and great restaurants. It is much more quintessential Lake Como than the Town of Como (which I actually wouldn't recommend!).
A one-way ticket to Bellagio on the ferry is roughly €4.50. The ferry ride is approximately 15 minutes. Make sure to look at timetables if you go at night so you can get back!
Boat rentals (no license required).
Boat Tours of the Lake
FAMOUS VILLAS AND GARDENS WORTH VISITING
Villa Monastero: Near Villa Cipressi (our venue & hotel), halfway between Varenna and Fiumelatte, this Villa includes a botanical garden, museum and convention center. Famous for having hosted the international School of Physics with more than 34 lectures by Nobel Laureates in addition to an extensive botanical garden with over 1,000 rare botanic species. Perhaps slightly exaggerated due to translation, the website describes it as a "true explosion of colors, shapes and perfumes!" :)
Villa del Balbianello: A famous wedding venue and also the location of filming for select James Bond and Star Wars films! Located in Lenno, on a Peninsula on the western shore of the lake, it is famous for its elaborate terraced gardens and amazing views. Probably one of the most picture-worthy spots on the lake!
- Villa Carlotta: A former marquis’s mansion dating from the late 17th century that today functions as a museum. Located across the lake in Tremezzo, a 20-minute ferry ride west from Bellagio, the grand villa today houses artwork and romantic Italian gardens surrounding the villa where roughly 20 cultivated acres bloom with camellias, azaleas, roses and citrus trees.
Close to VARENNA
- Take a cooking class at Ristorante Il Caminetto (Kate's parents did this and HIGHLY recommend it. Book in advance and it takes about 6 hours!)
- Sip some coffee on the waterfront at Caffe Varenna, have a delicious meal with a view at La Vista (make reservations!), dine on the cobblestone streets or in the cozy interior of Il Cavatappi, or take a quick taxi to a river gorge where generations of locals cure meats and make amazing barbeque at Crott del Pepott. There are so many amazing restaurants, cafes and gelaterias in Varenna that are walkable from the Villa!
- Go on an (easy- Kate did it!) hike to a castle with amazing views of the Lake! (walkable from villa)
- Go on a Lake Como Food Tour
- Head over to Pigra to go up the cable car for some amazing views! Much faster trip than the cable car at Como-Brunate, about 1hr each way. (Take a 22 min ferry to Tremezzo then the C10 bus to Argegno)
- Isola Comacina, the only island on the lake, is on the Como branch. It is lush and rich in historic relics that testily to the medieval battles fought there. The only Church on the island is dedicated to San Giovanni. On the Saints holiday, a sacred ceremony takes place and there is a celebration with boats, flags, and banners.
There is an inn where food is served Mon to Fri, April to October.
Info: 0344 55083
quick trip to a quintessential lake como town: BELLAGIO
The best way to visit these towns is to wander around the streets soaking up the atmosphere. As is found elsewhere in Italy and in other Mediterranean countries, the piazza/plaza, town square serves as a neighborhood's playground and hub. The main piazzas in Bellagio include Piazza del Duomo, Piazza Cavour, Piazza Volta, Piazza Mazzini and Piazza Fedele. They are all within walking distance of each other and you can check out all the shops, cafes and restaurants that adorn the squares and connecting streets. There's enough interest to keep you wandering for a good part of the day, especially if you stop for shopping, lunch and espresso.
Generally speaking, for better quality food and less markup, walk away from ferry docks and train stations!
SLIGHTLY FURTHER AWAY DAY TRIPS
DAY TRIP TO ST. MORITZ VIA THE BERNINA PASS
Never been to the Swiss Alps or want to go back? There is a great day trip that you can take from Varenna up to Tirano in northern Italy and then on to several Swiss towns including St. Moritz. The train goes over the Bernina Pass and is one of the most beautiful train trips you can take anywhere. You can leave from the Varenna train station at 9:24a and be in St. Moritz at 1:11p (or leave at 7:24a and be in St. Moritz at 11:11a) for a leisurely lunch. Have some aperitivos, some vino and a stroll and return from St.Moritz when you are done. Coming back to Varenna, there is an alternative route that is highly recommended so you see other sites on the way. That return trip is comprised of a bus and trains and includes brief stops in Chiavenna and Colico. Leaving from St. Moritz, at 3:15p puts you back in Varenna by 6:36p. If decide to linger in St. Moritz, leave at 5:15p instead and get to Varenna at 8:36p. You can get tickets for this excursion from the travel agent inside the Varenna-Esino train station. If you are planning to take this trip after May 13, there is another option available to you which is the Bernina Express train that has panoramic windows. To take that train you'd leave Varenna at 8:24a. See the travel agent in the Varenna-Esino train station if you are interested in that option. You will need to bring your passport since you will be crossing the Italian/Swiss border.
FUNICULAR TO COMO-BRUNATE (CABLE CAR WITH AMAZING VIEWS!)
The funicular has been in operation since 1894 and the entrance is located at Piazza Alcide de Gasperi which is less than a 5 minute walk along Via Torno from the Como Bus and train station Como Nord Lago. The funiculars get you up to the summit of Brunate from Como in about 7 minutes 750 meters above sea level with panoramic views of the Como and the lake. Trains run every 30 minutes for around 5.5 euros including the return trip. Once you are there, you can relax and have a glass of wine at the cozy restaurants nearby. The ride is spectacular and the views are magnificent.
Address: Piazza Alcide de Gasperi, 4, 22100, Como, Italy
**Getting around via trains is very simple & tickets can be bought last minute. To go to other cities, typically you'll have to take the local Varenna-Esino train to Milano Centrale (less than hour away) and switch trains**
MILAN (5-8 EUR, 1 hour via train)
Milan is just shy of an hour by train from Varenna. Make sure you see the Duomo, Opera House and the Brera Gallery (Pinacoteca di Brera) which is home to Caravaggio's marvellous painting 'Supper at Emmaus'. There's also amazing high-end shopping near the train station. Stop for a drink at one of the elegant cafes in Galleria Vittorio Emanuele.
See juliet's balcony in VERONA (LESS THAN 30 EUR TOTAL; train to Milan, connect to Verona Porta Nuova, ~3 hours each way)
Three of Shakespeare's plays are set in Verona: Romeo and Juliet, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, and The Taming of the Shrew. It is unknown if Shakespeare ever visited Verona or Italy at all, but his plays have lured many visitors to Verona and surrounding cities many times over. The city has been awarded World Heritage Site status because of its urban structure and architecture. (Thanks Wikipedia I haven't been!)
Lugano, Switzerland (FERRY + BUS, TRIP IS LESS THAN 20 EUR, AROUND 1.5 HRS EACH WAY)
The town that started it all! Kate studied abroad here and it can be easily accessed by taking a 10min ferry to Menaggio across the lake and then the C12 bus. Walk across the lakefront, hike the mountain San Salvatore, walk through the Olive groves of Gandria, take a cable car up to Monte Bre, check out the views from Cattedrale di San Lorenzo (on the way up there's an adorable cafe for espresso and wine!), among many other things. If you're thinking of visiting here, reach out to Kate :)
Piemonte WINE REGION (i.e. barolo, barbera, asti, alba - more of an overnight trip)
Piemonte (Piedmont) is a region in northwest Italy that borders France to the west and [our region of] Lombardia to the east. The capital city of Piemonte is Torino, which was once the capital of all of Italy and the springboard for the unification of the country. Of the twenty regions in Italy that each produce wine, Piemonte is probably the most well-renowned for their vintages. The rolling hills and mild climate result in some of the world’s best wine – the Barolos and Barbarescos produced here are often the prize jewels of wine cellars the world over. These wines, made primarily from the Nebbiolo grape age very well, and in fact improve and develop richer and more powerful flavors as the decades pass. It was easy that to recognize that this portion of our trip was going to be entitled simply, Vino (wine).
LONGER TRIPS BEFORE/AFTER THE WEDDING
Click any city below to see more
GENERAL TIPS for eating, drinking, and getting around!
- Dinner begins pretty late, many places may not open until after 7-8PM! If you're hungry, get gelato or an aperitivo (small snack with a glass of wine or cocktail, basically happy hour!) at an enoteca or bar.
- Italians take "Riposo" from noon-3pm so many stores/businesses close during this time. Get lunch between 12-2:30!
- In order to not get charged a fortune for bottled water, order 'acqua del rubinetto' (AKA tap water) because it is totally safe and much less expensive in Italy!
- If you don't know what wine to order, most places have their house wine by the carafe; it's inexpensive, comes in a large quantity and is usually hand picked by the restaurant as their favorite (as opposed to just being the lowest quality/cheapest).
- YOU DO NOT NEED TO LEAVE GRATUITY! Feel free to round up a total but tipping is not customary and is included in the cost of a meal. Waitstaff is typically paid highly hourly or salaried.
- Don't be embarrassed to ask for an English menu, just be polite and try to speak a little Italian!
- Regular coffee in Italy is what we'd call Espresso here, not drip coffee. Cafe Americano is espresso & water, which is the closest you'll probably get to an American coffee. I always go with a Cafe Latte or Cappuccino, which translate the same here! You'll usually get it in a ceramic mug, as take-away coffee is not as common, but to get a paper cup ask for it "portare via"
- Pepperoni in Italian means bell peppers; American pepperoni s actually salame piccante or a diavola pizza
- More to come!