Staircases of Varenna

Varenna staircase art

We spent a day orienting ourselves around Lake Como by buying a one-day ‘hop on, hop off’ ferry ticket to visit villages along the lake. Our favorite destination was Varenna directly across from Menaggio; our least favorite was Bellagio at the tip of a peninsula between the two (we’ll save our reasons for the end of the post).

Morning ferry, Menaggio to Varenna

Welcome to Varenna

Ferries across Lake Como

Ferry rides across Lake Como are about a half hour, making it possible to have cappuccino and croissants in Menaggio, early lunch and a stroll around Bellagio or Varenna, and return to Tremezzo or Cadenabbia for drinks, and back to Menaggio for dinner.


The moment we walked off the ferry at Varenna, we knew we were in a special place. The town is above the lake reached by taking one of many stairways to the main piazza.

We chose a stone walkway along the lake with several wonderful features.  A few steps from the dock, we walked along a stone path about ten feet above the lake.  The path entered a stone gazebo with openings on the lake.

Stone walk along Lake Como shoreline

The path continued over a narrow arched bridge against an ancient stone wall with cascading vines and flowers.  The arched bridge led to a cobblestone pier looking over a small marina. One false step, you’d fall into the lake or onto the deck of a small boat.

Arched bridge along Lake Como

We were pleased we took the stone path along the lake.  It was a delightful experience, passing cafes, boutique hotels, postage stamp sized parks with benches where tourists were enjoying coffee and pastries from hole-in-the-wall bakeries.

Staircases of Varenna 

 If Hollywood ever makes a romantic comedy on Lake Como, they should name it “The Staircases of Varenna.”  There are so many leading from the lake to apartments, villas, markets, piazzas, and churches on steep hillsides looking over Lake Como.

Varenna’s staircases are narrow, worn down from centuries of use, and between apartment buildings and shops.  Each staircase had attractive features that added color and charm — flower boxes, flags and banners, or hotel and restaurant signs. They make an interesting photo essay:

Lucy exploring Varenna staircase

Villa Monastero

We enjoyed walking along the Varenna hillsides and bought a ticket to Villa Monastero known for its formal gardens along the lake.  We had a relaxing lunch of pizza, wine, and salad in the shade of palm trees, listening to the birds chirping in magnolia trees whose branches spilled over a stone fence touching the surface of Lake Como.

Villa Monastero

Arabesque portico at Villa Montaresco

Arabesque portico at Villa Monastero

Gardens at Villa Monastero

Lucy at Villa Monastero

Sorry, Bellagio

We were disappointed about the Como village that bears the name of a Las Vegas casino.  But maybe that’s the image the Nevada casino wanted.  Bellagio had too many tourists, designer stores, expensive restaurants, and kitschy markets.  Plus a shocking number of farting motorcycles weaving around tourists as if they were barrels on an obstacle course.

After an hour or so walking around, we couldn’t wait to catch the ferry to Tremezzo.

Ciao, Varenna

* * * * *

Next destination:  Paris

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3 responses to “Varenna

  1. Thank you for this one. Now we know what we have missed. Varenna would have been our next tour if I hadn’t broken my leg.

    Merry Christmas and love from Kai and the rest of the pack 🙂


  2. We loved Varenna too, so much so that we went back. We stayed the second time at the very beautiful Hotel Villa Cipressi, near the beautiful gardens you visited. I didn’t dislike Bellagio as much as you did, but I definitely preferred Varenna.


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