Arriving at the mostly overlooked train station of Varenna-Esino, Italy, you immediately notice something is different. Gone are the crowds of more popular tourist destinations like Florence, Venice, and Rome. The atmosphere is quiet and peaceful, and after your train departs the station, you can hear local birds and insects going about their daily activities in the meadows just beyond the platform.
Your first impressions will be of a steep mountain rising uphill from the tracks, the vast expanse of Lake Como and bordering foothills of the alps downhill, and perhaps just one or two taxis waiting outside the station. If you have had your fill of the more popular hot spots of Italy, this is the place to wind down and restore.
A short taxi ride or just a five-minute walk will take you to one of the quaint hotels of this lakeside village, where you can settle in and begin to soak in the magic of this hidden gem. Immediately, you will be treated with views of Lake Como and the steep surrounding mountains that border the Swiss Alps to the east.
Wherever you stay in the heart of the town, you will be only a couple of minutes away on foot from the ferry terminal. For a small fee, the ferry will take you for a short trip across Lake Como, where you can enjoy panoramic views of the steep mountains surrounding the lake and of Varenna as it shrinks from your view. More popular tourist destinations of Bellagio and Menaggio are only about 15-20 minutes by ferry and await exploration.
Perhaps your first night, you will choose to relax in Varenna at your hotel or at one of the local lakeside bars, where you can hear the water gently lapping onto the shores. After a serene sunset over the mountains on across the lake, you can indulge in a romantic stroll along the waterfront, the soft lights of the 'Lake Walk' entreating your every step in the open air and under stone archways.
At some point, you may choose to ascend a quiet stone-stepped alley back up to the main road. To complete your first night, make a reservation at Il Caminetto. The restaurant will arrange to pick you up from your hotel and drive you up along mountain switchbacks to this secluded romantic restaurant, for a local experience that you won’t forget.
Dawn brings opportunity for exploration in this often overlooked, yet picture-perfect lakeside Italian village. The color-coded maps in town will guide you to shops, bars, and restaurants, all within a short walk. Perhaps you will take a peaceful stroll through the gardens and abbey of Villa Monastero on the south side of town.
Bring your camera - Varenna is a postcard waiting to happen!
- Season: For those seeking truly quiet refuge, visit Varenna in October, after the tourist season ends, and just before some hotels close for the winter.
- Milan: About one hour by train or bus to the international gateway of Milano Malpensa airport (MXP).
- Venice: About four hours by rail through rustic Italian countryside.