Como Lake is really a world of its own, and discovering it bit by bit is an extremely rewarding experience. It’s also a great lesson in learning how many treasures and endless beautiful surprises you can discover, without covering too many kilometers. The lake’s spectacular three-armed shape, mountainy surroundings and history unite in making the lake a really adventurous place, a timeless place, a natural paradise, where the atmosphere could be described as a mixture of an eternal “Belle Epoque”.
As I said before, Como Lake, is an endless source of new places to discover, different moods and light, and favorite swimming spots. I have become particularly fond of Varenna, a delightful village on the eastern shore of the lake. And most certainly I’m not the only one. This picturesque small fishing town with all its colorful waterfront cafés and restaurants, steep scalinate streets, and breathtaking sunsets on the sunniest side of the lake, has for centuries left artists, philosophers and visitors enchanted by its eternal beauty and given birth to various paintings, writings and music as the lake in general. The Italian writer and poet Alessandro Manzoni immortalizes the Lecco branch of Como lake for example in his famous novel “Promessi Sposi“:
« THAT branch of the lake of Como, which extends towards the south, is enclosed by two unbroken chains of mountains, which, as they advance and recede, diversify its shores with numerous bays and inlets. Suddenly the lake contracts itself, and takes the course and form of a river, between a promontory on the right, and a wide open shore on the opposite side;… »
Getting from point A to point B
On the way from Como to Varenna, you have a lot of exciting possibilities of leisure: numerous hikings in the hills above the lake or by its shore, a big variety of cute little restaurants and cafés at the waterfront where to stop for an aperitivo, lunch or dinner and villas, museums and botanical gardens to visit. Sailing and swimming remain of course on top of the activity list in this timeless poetic water world all of its own.
Sharing here with you some of my favorite stops on this enchanting way, getting from point A to point B, or from point C to point V, that is from Como to Varenna.
Let’s think of a beautiful day that you decide to spend getting from Como city, ending in Varenna.
After visiting Como city, its fascinating Duomo church, and getting amusingly “lost” in the labyrinth of its center streets, you could take the boat straight from there to Varenna, but we are going to thread the west coast up to Cadenabbia where we will take our boat to the east side.
Day & Night charm of Duomo Church of Como
To get to the town Brunate above Como, you can’t take the boat, but have to take the hitorical funivia train (in function from 1894). It’s great fun. The newly created passeggiata built into the lake gives an intime view of the harbour and boat life.
A swim and a Walk in Colonno
I start the day with a swim at Colonno, which is a little town which big part is hidden from the street and therefore you don’t stop there so spontaneously for a visit, and often it is completely ignored by the lake’s visitor. But it is really worthwhile. There are few parking places by the street that is very tight in that place, but there’s a parking house. Many of the town parts by the lake, are hidden from the street, and that remains one of the fascinating things about it and makes an even more special and a precious discovery. In Colonno there’s a great place for swimming. You just have to walk down to the lake from one of the descending steps taking you through the charming small vias to the lake. There you’ll find a small stony beach with comfortable access from a small stony beach or you can use the small stair attached to the stony bridge on the right side coming down to the lake.
In Colonno there’s a trattoria that is also quite hidden, but worth a visit for the typical risotto con pesce persico, and unexpected intimate view of the lake from its terrace.
If you like to walk, then there is a great panoramic walking path, The Greenway del Lago, starting from Colonno, about 10 km long that ends in Cadenabbia. You can of course just do a bits of it.
Above Colonno on the other hand, there’s another, ancient walking track less known, that is called, that takes you to a mountain shelter at over 1000 meters above sea level. The panorama during this walk is beyond beautiful and as you get higher, the lake reveals its “fjords”, that sometimes remind of the Norwegian fjords.
Lake Como is after all a Fjord Glacial Lake, and it’s fascinating to contemplate the dreamy scenarios of the deep water-filled valleys sculpted by an enormous glacier during the last Ice Age, about 10.000 years ago. I totally agree with Henry James, the great American novelist, who spent a lot of time in Italy, finding there inspiration for many of his works. He says in his Italian Hours (Italian travel essays written from 1872-1909) arriving to Lake Como from Switzerland: “One can’t describe the beauty of the Italian lakes, nor would one try if one could…..” Of course he then manages very well to do so with his great sensibility and amazing narrative capacity, but in that phrase he puts in words exactly what happens (to me and many others), that find themselves wordlessly astonished before such a profound and at times overwhelming beauty. Fortunately many writers – as well as painters, composers, philosophers and artists – have written about this magical lake, and through their words, Lake Como lives strongly in our hearts and in our minds even if we’ve never been there, and permits everyone to feel the romanticism of this water land of golden reflections and sun at the roots of the Alps.
Crossing the lake and water life
The most fascinating way in my opinion to get to Varenna from the eastern shore, is by boat, but of course you could drive all the way around it, making it another kind of experience.
To get to Varenna by boat from the east coast, you have many possibilities of ferries, water taxis and then you could also hire a little boat and get there on your own, f.example through Comolakeartists.
A part from the refreshing experience it is going on a boat ride, you will get a unique point of view from the water of the landscape, villas and boat life, that only crossing the lake by boat will give you.
On the way to Cadenabbia
As I said before there are infinite possibilities for making stops from Como to Cadenabbia: for an ice-cream, a swim, a walk, admiring the elegant villas on the way, or for taking aperitivo, lunch, or simply choose a poetic quiet spot that inspires you and inhale the beauty and observe the life by the lake.
Argegno is a cute little town on the way, very charming and lively, with the particularity of the quite powerful river Telo running through a part of it, that you have the privilege to cross by a roman bridge. It is a ferry departing place, so there is a lot of coming and going. Amongst things to do in Argegno, is to take the funivia to Pigra (that take you from 200 up to 850m in less than 5 minutes) and make a stunning-view walk above the lake, and have a refreshment at the local café. The town’s church of Santissima Trinità from 1632, is definitely worth a visit. It is situated just by the lake in front of a big free parking, the cute harbor and a newly built Lido, an excellent solution (often seen at Lake Como), where you have the combination of a pool in front of the lake view and where to alternate your swims between swimming pool and lake. A sensational experience.
From Bar Porto, Argegno you get a unique view of the deepest spot of the lake (416m) to accompany your outdoor aperitivo
Around the fountain in center square of Argegno, there are a lot of cute restaurants and cafés. By the river behind the center there is a great restaurant, La Posteria, whith a panoramic terrace overlooking the river and the lake.
The glamorous Tremezzo
Continuing our journey things start to get more glamorous as we get closer to the renowned holiday spots Tremezzo, Cadenabbia and Menaggio and the so-called Tremezzina (including the towns of Lenno, Mezzegra, Ossuccio and Tremezzo). At the beginning of our trip we passed closed by Villa d’Este, one of the lake’s most historical and luxurious hotels, and in Tremezzo we find another one of that kind, the “maestoso” Grand Hotel Tremezzo, that sits in a majestically at the root of the steep hill above Tremezzo. It’s a good idea to stop there for aperitivo or dinner on the way back and some live music, and have a luxury moment. Behind the villa there is a big garden situated on various terraces, that comes as a nice surprise to visitors and a fancy swimming pool in front of the hotel.
The “lake” swimming pool at Grand Hotel Tremezzo
On the way we have Isola Comacina, a cute little island nice to visit, the only one on the lake. The boat is parting from Ossuccio. One of the reasons for the popularity of the Tremezzina area, part from it’s natural beauty, possible walks and leisures, is the cool thing that here we are in the center of the lake, and get the view of all three directions of its branches, and at top of the west branch just in front of the east coast, so it gives the possibility to travel to the nearby gems, Varenna and Bellaggio ca. every 15 minutes in short time.
If you’re taking the ferry in Tremezzina, it’s a good idea visit the botanical garden of Villa Carlotta, especially in springtime. In April the garden’s camelias are at their best.
If you have to wait for the boat or want a refreshment in any case, there is a cosy Chiosco just next to Villa Carlotta, where you can enjoy a variety of panini breads and drinks in the shade of its small terrace and the joyful simpaticissima, Simona.
From Como you have of course an infinity of gelato ice cream stops, just don’t eat too many! There is also an ice cream car next to the ferry departure in Tremezzina.
On the boat
There is a ferry stop just in front of Villa Carlotta that takes you to Varenna. If you wish to bring the car to the other side with you, you will have to drive a couple of kilometers ahead and take it from Cadenabbia or Menaggio. On the way you will enjoy a unique view from the lake observing the east cost becoming ever more miniature, giving way to the imposing promontory of Bellagio with its gayful glamourness. Bellagio that is surely worth a visit, before arriving to the calm and charming Varenna.
The feminine shape of water
Como Lake offers a lot of meditation spots, and Varenna for that aspect (and not only), is for me the capital we could say. What I adore about that place, is that it’s a village where you go, just to chill, to be, and not do anything special. Don’t get me wrong. There are historical buildings to visit, the beautiful botanical garden and museum of Villa Monastero, and the Vezio castle,
above the town, that alone are worth a visit to Varenna. September is a wonderful month to visit Como Lake, and it’s pleasant to learn that the parishes of Monza and Brianza
coordinated with Lecco province, Como and Varese, are repeating the successful exhibition Ville Aperte (Open Villas), where the provinces open the doors to the public to cultural sites and places of particular historical- and artistic interest in the Brianza area. Three weekend in a row 8th (14-15, 21-22 and 28-29), the public is given the chance to visit those cultural pearls of Brianza for only 4 Euros. Visit Ville Aperte for information and reservations.
Villa Monastero is partecipating in the event on Sunday 15, 22 and 29th September.
Let’s get back to Vezio castle.
To get to the castle there’s an easy, just a little bit steep walk from the town. From there you can just imagine the great view you have of the lake. To enrichen your castle experience, I recommend combining it with the spectacle organized daily (normally around 15:00 o’clock by the falconry of the castle. It gives a unique sensation of liberty mixed with loyalty, observing the falcons flying from their master’s arm, embracing the immense beauty in the air around them, and then returning to their feeding person.
What I meant before by “just doing nothing”, is that Varenna seems to radiate a calm, warm, positive and profoundly healing energy, that I feel to be of a feminine nature, as the shape and element of water. The element of water in fact, is usually associated to our feminine side and the energies of focus and depth. Those are elements that aim to go deeper, and at the same time strive to hold things together. As we know water always flows to the lowest place, so the profound Como Lake, that is N.B. the deepest lake of Europe (max. depth 414 m.a.s.l.), is loaded with feminine power and motherly energy, the same energy that gives us life and heals and cares for it at the same time. So Como Lake is therefore the perfect lake for nurturing the feminine part of us.
The of the Lido of Varenna is the perfect place for meditation and a best friend talk
…….. and of course a good swim
Another nice swimming spot is the free beach below Hotel Victoria and nearby porticcioli
The view from Villa Monastero’s botanical garden is one of the most romantic one imaginable, and the historical villa hosts an interesting museum, and conference hall, Sala Fermi, that has a great acoustic and remains one of my favorite concert places. Last year’s concert with Alfredo Ferrario and Maurizio Aliffi.
Walking and sleeping in Varenna area
If you decide to stay the night or more nights in the Varenna area, there are various “passeggiatas” to make of course and things to see, and you could take a part of the day visiting the beautiful towns on the western side, that differently from the east coast are connected by train, so it remains an easy thing to drop by, and than turn back for the ferry in Varenna. You could go direction Lecco and visit Lierna (where there is a nice beac) or Mandello del Lario or go the other direction and visit Bellano (where there is an important “frantoio”, oil mill). This side of the lake has quite prosperous olive groves, that come to many as a surprise. In Varenna there are many hotels and hostels and Bed & Breakfasts in the area. I am especially fon of Perledo,
a small little town just above Varenna. It has a extraordinary view of the lake, a different point of you, and gives you the feeling as you were one of the falks of Vezio castle flying with your mind above one of the most beautiful lake in the world. There you are by the way two steps away from the natural park Parco della Grigna.
The unique view out of one of two-room Air B&B da Flavio in Perledo
The misteriously blue Como evening
If you’re on the other hand returning returning with the last ferry from Varenna after dinner, it is appropriate to end this beautiful day in the most poetic and romantic way, by strolling around Cadenabbia and admire the dreaming Bellaggio on the other side and nearby charming boat scenes with a promise in your heart to return.