Top 9 Things to Do in Varenna, Italy

Varena, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

One of a handful of towns located on the eastern shore of Lake Como, Varenna, Italy is considered one of the most picturesque. Situated 38 miles north of Milan and about 21 miles from the Swiss border, this pretty little fishing village boasts a charming network of cobbled lanes, art-filled churches and spectacular villas. It's the perfect place to escape the crowds of tourists who tend to flock to the lake's largest city, Como, or to its more famous neighbor, Bellagio.

Here are nine of the best things to do and see in Varenna, Italy:

01 of 09

VIsit the Church of San Giorgio

Church of San Giorgio, Varenna, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Piazza S. Giorgio, 25, 23829 Varenna LC, Italy
Phone +39 0341 830228

With an unusual three-nave design and ebony-colored floor made of Varenna's famous black marble, the Church of San Giorgio is considered a masterpiece of Lombardy architecture. Located on the town's main square, the Romanesque- and Gothic-style church was consecrated in the early 13th century. On its facade is a portrait of St. Christopher (the patron saint of boatmen). While the basilica is somewhat austere, it still boasts beautiful and ancient frescoes and other important works of art dating from the 15th to 18th centuries. The bell tower and the baroque altar of red and black marble were added later.

02 of 09

Wander the Gardens of Villa Monastero

Gardens of Villa Monastero in Varenna, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Viale Giovanni Polvani, 4, 23829 Varenna LC, Italy
Phone +39 0341 295450

Built in a combination of styles (Baroque, Classic and Moresque), Villa Monastero has one of the most beautiful views of the lake in the area. The property was founded sometime in the 11th or 12th century and once served as a Cistercian convent before becoming the private home of a noble family. Today, Villa Monastero houses a museum, lush botanical gardens, and an international conference center.

03 of 09

Gaze Over the Lake from Castello di Vezio

Lake from Castello di Vezio in Varenna

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Via del Castellano, 23828 Perledo LC, Italy
Phone +39 333 448 5975

Hovering above the town's main piazza, Castello di Vezio is a former fortress with vistas spanning across the lake, to the Alps standing majestically in the distance. The strategically important site has been occupied since the Iron Age, but the current Tower of Vezio was constructed in the 11th to 12th centuries. It's open to visitors from March to the beginning of November.

04 of 09

Feel Like Nobility at Villa Cipressi

Hotel Villa Cipressi, Varenna, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Via 4 Novembre, 22, 23829 Varenna LC, Italy
Phone +39 0341 830113

Built and renovated over the 15th and 19th centuries, Villa Cipressi (meaning house of the cypresses) is a property with a terraced, botanical garden, which seems to spill right into the lake below. It now functions as a high-end hotel, with restaurants and bars open to the public. The gardens are also open for public tours, seasonally from April to October.

Continue to 5 of 9 below.
05 of 09

Picnic at the Head of the Fiumelatte

Head of the Fiumelatte in Varenna

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

23829 Fiumelatte, Province of Lecco, Italy

This little hamlet and river, less than a mile from Varenna, is the shortest tributary in Italy at just 820 feet long and only flows six months out of the year. Named for the effect and color of the waters (which appear to be like frothy milk or latte in Italian) the river's origins are still a mystery today. Fun fact: the river once caught the attention of Leonardo da Vinci, who studied its strange and intermittent flow. If you walk to the river's head, there you'll find a picnic area with facilities.

06 of 09

Hike the Sentiero del Viandante (Path of the Wayfarer)

Sentiero del Viandante (Path of the Wayfarer)

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

Dating back to the Roman era, Sentiero del Viandante once connected Milan with what is now Switzerland. Today, it stretches along the eastern shore of Lake Como from Abbadia Larian to Piantedo, totally some 28 miles in length. The walking path can be divided into three or four stages, depending on one's training and stamina. It also intersects railway routes along the Tirano-Sondrio-Lecco-Milano line, so it's quite possible to take a stage at a time, returning to the starting point of each stage by train. From Varenna, there are three starting points of the hiking trail: Varenna to Bellano, Varenna to Lierna, and Varenna to Albiga in Perledo.

07 of 09

Hold Hands on the Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lover's Walk)

Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lover's Walk) in Varenna, Italy

TripSavvy / Christopher Larson

From Varenna’s pier (at the ferry terminal), the scenic and romantic Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lovers’ Walk) runs along a promenade above the lake's edge leading to the heart of the historic center, which is lined with characteristic restaurants, cozy bars, and artisan shops. It's a truly enchanting walk through a storybook Italian lakeside town.

08 of 09

Learn About Birds at Luigi Scanagatta Ornithological Museum

Via 4 Novembre, 4, 23829 Varenna LC, Italy
Phone +39 350 157 3202

This civic museum houses a rare collection of non-migratory and sedentary species of birds found in the Lake Como area. Dedicated to its namesake, Luigi Scanagatta — a teacher and scholar of ornithology (the study of birds), malacology (the study of mollusks) and botany (the study of plants), the museum contains a science library containing more than 1,500 volumes.

Continue to 9 of 9 below.
09 of 09

Attend a Summertime Lake Festival

Varenna Village on Lake Como

Freeartist/Getty Images

Each July marks the Festival of the Lake, celebrated with a fireworks display and a reenactment of the famous battle of Island Comancina. The story of this great conflict goes that in 1169, the warriors of Como, led by Federick Barbarossa, set fire to the nearby island, forcing its inhabitants to flee to Varenna. Having been sacked themselves nearly four decades earlier, the townspeople empathetically welcomed the refugees, and in doing so, became one of the richest communities on the lake.

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Top 9 Things to Do in Varenna, Italy