Very popular with American visitors to Lake Como, Varenna is a small town on the less developed eastern shore that, along with Menaggio and Bellagio, forms the third point of the central triangle. It is an important transport intersection because it links the trains to and from Milan, via Lecco, to the ferry system. Visitors arriving by train can just walk down the hill a couple of hundred yards to pick up a ferry to any part of the lake. The ferry jetty is a little way north of the main centre, to which it is linked by a delightful walk with the lake on one side and romantic gardens on the other. This is a good spot for enjoying the sunset, looking out across the lake towards the promontory of Bellagio and the gardens of the Villa Serbelloni.
Being entirely traffic-free on the lakeside, Varenna has a particular charm all its own. Picturesque flights of stone stairs tumble down to the lake from the main road and the main square above, and these tiny streets are lined with artists’ studios and small restaurants, just as interesting and charming but not as in-your-face touristy as those in Bellagio. The narrow portico at the bottom once housed the workshops of stone masons who dressed marble from nearby quarries before it was shipped to Como and Milan.
Varenna is the location of the Villa Monastero, which is a little way along the main road south towards Lecco. From Varenna the strada dei Viandanti, an ancient donkey-path, snakes its way between the villages on the eastern shore for about 35km, ending at Abbadia Lariana, just north of Lecco. The path is largely cobbled, and the walk takes about 11 hours.
A recommended place to stay in Varenna is the Hotel du Lac, small and intimate, in a former lake house. Tel +390341830238.
The ristorante Vecchia Varenna is good value and during the summer has a terrace overlooking the port. Closed Monday (and Tuesday Feb-March)