Things to do in Varenna and around Lake Como Italy

Europe, Italy — By on July 18, 2012 7:55 AM

Over the past few months I have made three trips to Lake Como, spending most of my time in the small town of Varenna where my good friend Sarah has been residing on an extended career break at Agriturismo Castello Di Vezio.

Lake Como

Beautiful Lake Como is only a three hour drive from where I lived outside of Zurich, and I found Varenna to be a great place to get away to simply relax, slow down, breath deeply and find peaceful solitude in an idyllic natural setting.

Varenna, Italy

Varenna is nestled between lake Como and a mountain, on top of which is a medevil castle built in the 11th century. The towns 800 resident’s colorful houses are snuggled against each other overlooking the lake. Cafes and restaurants line the waterfront and narrow cobblestone alleys.

View of Varenna from Agriturismo Castello Di Vezio

If you get bored of relaxing there is lots to do in Varenna and the surrounding areas.


Photo credits to Sarah Skinner

Castello di Vezio

This partially ruined castle dates back from the 11th century. The castle can be reached by climbing to the very top of the mountain which will take you about 45 minutes from the base of town. The walk up the mountain is steep but the panoramic views afforded from the top are well worth your efforts. From the top you can see the glistening lake, the town below, the Bellagio headland and surrounding mountains.

Castle of Vezio

view from castle

Vila Montastero

This once inhabited vila on the lakefront is now used as a conference center attracting visitors to its botanical gardens.

Botanical gardens at Villa Monastero

Photo credits to Sarah Skinner

Garden of Villa Cipressi

The botanical pathway of Villa Cipressi winds through centuries-old gardens with inviting lakeside terraces.

Giardini di Villa Cipressi

Giardini di Villa Cipressi

Dine along the waterfront

There are many delicious restaurants to choose from situated right on the lake serving traditional Italian cuisine. l I can never decide between pizza and pasta and was happy to have friends that like to share their food.

Dining at Cafe Il Molo

Lunch at Hotel Du Lac

The Lovers’ Walk

This short walk begins at the departure point for ferries past  a small harbour area to a line of lakeside restaurants, gelaterias and shops. On the waterfront is a lovely promenade with hanging willows, cypress trees and wood-planked pedestrian bridges.

Lover’s Walk

Go to Church

Chiesa Di S. Giovanni Battista is a one thousand year old church located in Varenna’s old town center. Inside you can see paintings and frescoes dating from the 15th century.

Chiesa Di S.Giovanni Battista


Hike to Flumelatte 

Flumelatte (meaning river of milk) is a small town located just 1km south of Varenna  named after the “shortest river in Italy” that springs from a cave in the mountain. The river only flows half of the year in a cascade of white foam through the town into the lake. Many famous explorers including Leonardo Da Vinci have been here.

hiking to Flumelatte


On the way to Fumelatte, you will pass a very beautiful cemetery built into the side of the mountain.

Take a ferry to Bellagio or Mennagio

From Varenna you can take a 15 minute ferry ride for 7 Euro across the lake to the well known town of Bellagio.

Ferry to Bellagio

Bellagio is a great place to spend a leisurely day eating delicious Italian food, gelato, wine and limoncello tasting, and shopping for leather goods.


Basilica di San Giacomo in Bellagio

Rent a Motorboat to explore the entire lake

No boating license needed! We enjoyed a leisurely afternoon on our own private boat, motoring wherever we like to go next. We negotiated a reduced rate of 150 Euro (from 180 Euro) for a four hour rental.

Motorboating Lake Como

Italian villa

Keep a lookout for George Clooney!

Looking for Clooney

Enjoy a board sport in Colico

Colico is a 30 minute drive north of Varenna, and can also be reached by boat. There is a grassy beach on the lakefront and a shop where you can rent SUP (Stand Up Paddleboard), kitesurfing and windsurfing gear. Sadly I was unable to kitesurf at this spot as there was no wind the day I was in Colico. So instead, Sarah and I rented a SUP from  Son of the Beach board rental shop for our first experience to stand up paddle board. Being the clumsy balance challenged person I am, I succeeded in falling off my board causing Sarah to laugh so hard she almost fell off too!

My first time to SUP

 Take an Italian cooking class

Just east of Varenna in the town of Perledo, the chef of Il Caminetto restaurant offers cooking lessons.

Sarah taking a cooking lesson at Il Caminetto

Visit Milan

Only a one hour train ride from Varenna, Milan is a great place to do some serious shopping and see famous landmarks and paintings. I had hoped to set my eyes on Da Vinci’s masterpiece … Last Supper; however, tickets were sold out three weeks in advance so be sure to book ahead if you plan a visit!

Duomo Cathedral in Milan

Lake Como … I will be back!!!

To see more photos of Lake Como CLICK HERE.


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  1. Dasha says:

    Great post! I want to go here!

  2. Nigel Foster says:

    Interesting article and great pictures on a great place to stay. Is there anywhere more beautiful than Lake Como in Summer? Nigel

  3. Lisa says:

    Love this blog! Definently makes me want to jump on a plane and just GO

  4. Lauren says:

    I am going to the Lake Como area in September and want to stay in Varenna, but someone told me we shouldn’t stay there because the shops and restaurants close in September. Is that correct? I would be there mid to late September.

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Lauren,
      I just asked my friend about this as she lived there for 6 months and I only visited her a few times. She said:

      I was in Varenna until about the end of September, everything was still open. I don’t think they close up shops until later (maybe late October or early November).
      For some reference, the main garden is open March through Nov 2nd (
      My favorite lakefront restaurant (Bar Il Molo) is open every day April to October (then just weekends in Nov)
      The most popular cooking class in the area is also still open for business in September ( at least that is what I read from reviews.
      Visiting this area in September would not be an issue at all. However, whoever is visiting should realize that Varenna is a TINY town, there are only a few shops and restaurants in town. Most people that visit take trips to the other lake towns, or to Milan, etc. Although, there is plenty of hiking and sightseeing in Varenna to keep you occupied, I guess it depends on what you want to do. It is a great place to kick back and relax for a while.
      I hope you have a great trip, would love to hear your thoughts if you go! Happy Trails! 🙂

      • Lauren says:

        Thank you so much for getting back to me. That’s great news! We want to stay in Varenna so it is a more authentic experience and to use it as a home base to explore other towns of the Lake Como area. Going to book our trip this week. Thanks again for your help! Love your site and very jealous of all your trips!

  5. Martha says:

    How much are the cooking classes and how would i book one?

    • Kelly says:

      Hi Martha. I did not take a cooking class but my friend did. She doesn’t remember how much she paid but said it wasn’t too expensive, perhaps $50. She said it was definitely worth the time and food that you get in the lesson. You can email the chef directly here to find out more info:

  6. D.B.Reynolds-Moreton says:

    We visited Verenna – loved it! – the walk to Cestello Di Velio is one hell of a climb, but well worth it for the view. We have been to all three of the main lakes, and Como is the best. We stayed in the Grand Hotel Menaggio(in Menaggio) – excellent – and a great ferry service to the other towns around the lake.

  7. Peter Ramsbottom says:

    This place looks lovely! I’m planning a trip to Lake Como, to Manello del Lario, and the Moto Guzzi motorcycle factory and museum. It’s the oldest motorcycle manufacturer in continuous production in Europe (since 1921). Owners of a Moto Guzzi like to make “the pilgrimage” and have a photo taken outside the factory gates.

    A visit to Verenna will certainly help my wife feel that the trip is for her, too.!!

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