I fell in love with Lake Como seven years ago and found my feelings hadn’t changed when I made a return visit during a long weekend in Milan. From the narrow steep streets and staircases winding through the pretty towns, to the jaw droppingly beautiful mountain ringed lake itself, its impossible not to like.
Realising that Varenna, a village in the nicest central part of the lake, was just an hour’s train ride from Milan was a huge plus when deciding on the city as a short break destination. Trains run from Milan’s Stazione Centrale and cost just €6.70 each way, though best to buy your return ticket in Milan as Varenna-Esino is a small station and the ticket office might not be open. So small there’s just one platform and you walk across the track on arrival.
A few minutes walk from Varenna station and you get your first glimpse of lovely Lake Como. You quickly reach the ferry terminal, so we took the opportunity to check out the times for getting to Bellagio, where I’d stayed on my first trip and was very keen to revisit.
We decided to start in Varenna though as suspected most people did it the other way round. It seemed the right call as the wonderful walkway alongside the lake to the town was pretty quiet. It really is the nicest introduction to a village. Amazing Lake Como views on one side and steep narrow streets on the other, leading up into Varenna’s shops and homes.
As we’d had a fairly slow start after a late night out in Milan it was already lunchtime, so we picked one of Varenna’s many restaurants with a view, Bar Il Molo. It’s outside terrace is right above the water, so the perfect spot for a pizza and chilled glass of Italian rose. There’s even a little path in front where you can take a great photo looking back the way you’ve walked.
After lunch we walk along to Via IV Novembre where the fab looking Villa Cipressi hotel has gardens that you can pay to visit. We decided not too as Villa Monastero is just a little bit further along and has the most gorgeous gardens with exotic plants and great views.
The villa is lovely too, it used to be a convent but the whole property is now owned by the Province of Lecco. It is clearly used for conferences as one was happening when we were there and we all agreed it was a work trip we wouldn’t turn down.
We walked back to the ferry terminal by going through the upper part of the village. First through the main square, Piazza San Giorgio, where there’s a church and a small market was underway. Then we wound our way through some of the narrow streets, spying Lake Como as we crossed other streets and steps that lead down to it. When we finally walked down one it was pretty carefully as they really are quite steep.
There are a couple of ferries that go to Bellagio so we hopped on the car ferry which seemed to be the quickest and cheapest. If you think the views of the lake are great from the land, the ones that you see looking back at the villages are equally as good. As we slowly moved away, all of Varenna was laid out along the lakeshore.
Then as you approach Bellagio you see how beautiful that looks too. One of the first buildings you spot is the Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, which has a prime position almost at the tip of the headland. It’s a fabulous old villa that’s now a fabulous hotel, complete with a very nice swimming pool with a lake view. Then the village’s other colourful buildings come into view as well as Bellagio’s welcoming and very pretty passenger ferry terminal. The car ferry doesn’t actually go to that one but I went in and out of it lots on my last trip.
Not far from either terminal you can walk up Salita Serbelloni which is one of the main shopping streets. My friend and I remembered two older ladies, sisters I think, selling us leather bags in a shop on Salita Serbelloni on our previous visit. We were pleased to see they were still there and still just as persuasive! At the top of the street is a great little wine bar, Apertivo et al, which we spent a lot of time in when we stayed in Bellagio.
A few steps further is Via Garibaldi which runs along the top of the streets running down to the lake. There are some nice shops for browsing including plenty more selling leather bags and shoes, as well as Gelateria del Borgo which makes a great afternoon ice cream stop.
Bellagio has lots of other nooks and crannies to explore as well as a Lido and Villa Melzi, another of Lake Como’s great houses. We’d visited that villa before so decided to head for the waterfront and one of our favourite spots, an outside table at Bar Caffe Rossi in Piazza Mazzini opposite the passenger ferry terminal. It’s a great place to have a glass of prosecco or rose while watching the comings and goings of the people and boats.
That was as much as we had time for on a leisurely day trip from Milan, but if you have more time there’s plenty more to see around the lake. Menaggio is the village that makes up the central triangle with Varenna and Bellagio, while Villa Carlotta is also nearby and one of Lake Como’s most famous villas.
A bit further along towards Como, on the headland just outside Lenno, is the really gorgeous Villa del Balbianello. The gardens are lovely to walk around and if you’re a movie fan you might recognise the plants, urns and arches framing fabulous lake views. Casino Royale was filmed there as was parts of Star Wars Episode II – its where Anakin and Padme tied the knot.
Como, the town at the top of that branch of the lake, is another access point for Milan. Possibly easier to get to if you fly into Milan Malpensa and are going straight to Lake Como. But if doing a day trip from Milan then the Varenna train is the best option as it takes you right into the central and much prettier part of the lake, and where if you’re like me you’ll soon be head over heels in love with Lake Como.
Click on an image below to scroll through the gallery and find out more about Milan in my blog post about the city.