Quaint and romantic, Vernna sits on a point on perennially beautiful Lake Como, across from the lovely, larger town of Bellagio, with ferries running daily in the high season to and from. Easy to enjoy, this is the perfect day trip from Milan. Varenna is a romantic, old city, which steps up the hillside it fronts, starting at the water’s edge. Less crowded, touristy, and expansive as the better known Bellagio, it’s breathtaking even more so for this reason.
My crew members Martha, Gail and I took an afternoon train from Milan’s Centrale station for the 53 minute train ride, passing small coastal towns of Lake Como, having a picnic of Italian wine, cheeses, prosciutto, olives, with a fresh baguette. We got more than one wary glance over from the family sitting across from us. We walked along La Passerella (The Lover’s Walk), a promenade along the water bordered by cypress trees, privacy stone walls of villas overgrown with flowers and ivy, and the lushest hydrangea bushes I have ever seen, outshining those on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and the 6 foot tall bushes that grow wild all over Brittany, France. I really regretted not having my swimsuit as I watched locals swim in the water at the small rocky beach along the promenade. At least my feet went in, and if I had not had to make my way back to Milan in the same clothes, I would have dived in.
After dinner was the requisite stop in any Italian town at the gelateria for gelato, where I had menthe and limone for 1 euro. The early evening sky put on a show for us across the lake with alternating streaks and flashes of lightening, and rolling thunder. We watched and ate our gelato, with the night falling, as the lights of the town glowed golden in the reflection of the water.
We saw only a small fraction of what is the heart of old Varenna, leaving the Villa Monastero, Piazza San Giorgio, Castello di Vezio, and the many hidden gems along the narrow steps and alleyways for another day. Having started late in the afternoon, our day was pinched; Varenna is easy to fully experience in a day with an earlier start.
Waiting at the train station (on marble benches no less) for our 9:37 pm train back to Milano, it was after 10:00 pm when a train in the opposite direction stopped in Varenna. I asked the train conductor about the train we were waiting for, and with a shrug of her shoulders and hands up in the air, she just smiled, titled her head, and said, “Sorry, retardo” (late). She shrugged her shoulder again with another head tilt, got on her train as it pulled out of the station, and left me on the side smiling, as I was thinking, well, this is Italy after all.