A bunch of colorful houses overlooking the lake, the mountains in the background, narrow alleyways plunged into the water, super panoramic restaurants, villas of a thousand and one nights: Varenna with all its fascination and magic has everything that will make you dream! And indeed, this small village, lying at the end of the Lecco branch of Lake Como, is one of those gems that every year makes tourists from all over the world literally fall in love. Perhaps Varenna is less known than other great names of Lake Como such as Bellagio or Menaggio, but it has nothing to envy! 😉
This picturesque village is located on the eastern shore of Lake Como, overlooking Bellagio, Menaggio and Cadenabbia, 12 kilometers from Lecco.
So, it is very suggestive to reach the village by water with the colors of the houses that come to life as you approach. There are many connections of boats, make sure to check the schedule on the website Navigation of Como Lake as it varies from low to high season. Eventually you can also book a train ticket from Milano Centrale (Milano Central station) to Varenna-Esino station on Trenitalia site. The route is just over an hour.
Varenna is inhabited with a population of about 700 inhabitants and is quite small to visit, but on weekends and in the summer months it is full of tourists. Best to avoid Saturday and Sunday for the biggest influx of visitors and, if possible, plan a visit during the week.
A bit of history
Varenna has really ancient origins dated back to the Gallic and Roman times. Also the Lombards marked its history and in fact the beautiful panoramic castle of Vetzio just behind the village was built by the Queen Theodolinda to defend the lake and the surrounding villages.
During the communal age, Varenna was allied of Milan against Como and they clashed several times. When Como invaded and destroyed the nearby Comacina island, its inhabitants sheltered here and, thanks to their presence, Varenna became a thriving city. The islanders brought with them new customs and traditions including the rite of the patriarchate of Aquileia (a particular liturgical tradition of the Patriarchate of Aquileia and hence called the ritus patriarchinus), which remained alive until the seventeenth century, then replaced by the Roman rite.
Because of practising this religious rite of Aquileia, the inhabitants of Varenna were nicknamed “Patriarchitt”. Nowadays the “Patriarchs” term is referred to elderly and wise people of Varenna.
What to see in Varenna village
Coming by water, as soon as you set foot at the Olivedo landing stage, the walkway overlooking the lake awaits you, it’s one of the highlights of Varenna, known as the “Walk of lovers”.
It is a pedestrian path with red-coloured railings of about 250 meters that, clinging to the rock, connects the historic center of Varenna to the pier. Built in the 80s, renovated and embellished recently, the walkway is one of the most characteristic features of the village. At some point you will find yourself wrapped in an arch covered with plants, you will feel like entering a small tunnel of wonders.
At the end of the walkway you will arrive at the beating heart of the village – the small old pier, overlooked by restaurants, bars and shops. From here there are some alleys winding up towards the central square, where stands the Church of San Giorgio, and the provincial road which runs along the lake coast.
Historical hamlet of Varenna is characterised by charming architecture and narrow curving streets which hide many doors, flowered balconies, traditional restaurants and all kind of artisan shops.
Among Varenna’s best-known and unmissable attractions there are two beautiful villas: Villa Monastero and Villa Cipressi.
Villa Monastero is a refined seventeenth-century residence born from the transformation of an ancient Cistercian convent. The villa offers a fully furnished museum house and a botanical garden that stretches for 2 kilometers along the lake. Spring, when its stunning garden begins to bloom, is the perfect season to visit this jewel.
Near Villa Monastero there is Villa Cipressi, a complex of buildings and gardens, rich in history, built mainly between 1400 and 1800.
Today the villa is an elegant hotel (unfortunately only the gardens are opened to visitors) and is considered one of the most beautiful locations on Lake Como.
Trekking in Varenna
The lovers of trekking and hiking will not be disappointed. You will have the choice between several routes for all abilities starting right from Varenna.
The Greenway of the Patriarchs:
From Varenna starts the Greenway of Patriarchs, a walk of about 6km immersed in a rich context of life and beauty that will make you discover some of its neighboring hamlets, without ever leaving the sublime view of the lake. The route is easy and it takes about 2 hours (one way). It starts from the pier, simply follow the yellow signs along the way.
The second hiking trail is Sentiero del Viandante. This route is longer, about 50 kilometers and is composed of multiple stops. From Varenna it goes in two directions: the simplest is a track in a northward direction up to Bellano, and the other one for experienced hikers towards Lierna in a southerly direction.
If you are looking for a less challenging walk, Vezio Castle is where the best view on the lake combines with the history of Varenna. Vezio Castle has dominated Varenna for over a thousand years. It is an ancient military outpost, partially restored in the twentieth century, a place rich in history, art, nature and culture of the territory.
To reach Vezio Castle on foot you need to follow a trail that connects the village of Varenna and the overlying village of Vezio. The path starts right next to the restaurant Montecodeno. The climb takes 20-30 minutes and the hill is quite steep, it is recommended for accustomed to walking.
Once reached the fortification, a falconer will introduce you to the raptors of the castle: barn owls, buzzards and hawks. During some fixed hours you can also admire their spectacular flights participating in falconry shows.
Climb the tower of the castle to enjoy the 360° view of Lake Como. It is unrivalled.
For the walk back to Varenna you can follow an alternative path, very fascinating from a landscape point of view, the Scabium Path, downhill quite equivalent in duration and difficulty compared to the one-way route, just a bit more challenging on the climb.
Where to park in Varenna if you are by car
Given the size and the “perched” position of the village there are comparatively few numbers of parking places, but do not despair. The first solution might be to leave the car at the entrance of the village: you will have to make a small of walk to get to the historic center. Alternatively, there is paid parking right behind Villa Monastero. I generally recommend to arrive in the early morning to ensure the parking place and enjoy Varenna without too much tourists around.