Welcome to Varenna
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy
Population: 882 (2004)
Visit our Lake District Portal
The very short promenade along the lake
in front of Varenna, and some of the
streets further up that run parallel to
it are the only "flat" surfaces to be
encountered in Varenna. The town
that some say is the prettiest on
Lake Como (we can't really
disagree!) is built on a rocky slope at
the foot of a vertiginous mountain that
rises steeply up behind it. The
perpendicular avenues and the staircases
that reach upward through the crowded
buildings of the town are steep indeed.
The townsite, just 5 kilometers south of
Bellano, seems to have been
inhabited for a very long time, likely
and later by the
It was mentioned in historical documents
as early as 493 AD, which were late
Roman times in Italy.
Varenna was almost certainly under the
control of the
after they conquered the entire region
in the 600-700s, and then under the
Varenna's medieval history, weirdly
violent for such a peaceable looking
place, began after about 1000 AD.
In 1126, forces from Como, under Milan's
flag, sacked the town. Troubles
with Como continued for an extended
period, but these seem to have been a
bi-play of Milanese politics.
Varenna was under the control of the
Sforzas, then the
Visconti family, and later still
under a more local tyrant, Sfondrati.
From the end of his reign until
Lombardia was annexed into the modern
state of Italy in 1860, the town
weathered the complicated and continuous
regional political storms of the region.
It evidently survived them intact!
Today, Varenna, crowed on all sides by a
pine forest and shaded by plane trees,
is a beautiful little town that
draws an amazing number of tourists in
the high season, and a goodly number
every other time of the year.
Above the town, for the energetic, is
Castello de Vezio, founded perhaps
by the legendary Lombard Queen ,
Theodolinda. To the south of the
town, along the lake, are the 19th
century Villa Cipressi, now
converted to a very good hotel, and the
Villa Monastero, now a conference
center, but once a monastery.
Guests of the Villa Cipressi enjoy
monumentally gorgeous gardens,
luxuriously scented by flowers that seem
to bloom all year, that cascade down
from the hotel to the lake.
For its size, Varenna has a goodly
number of hotels, ranging from
comfortable two star albergho's to the
very sumptuous Hotel du Lac and
the previously mentioned Villa
There is good eating to be had
in the town as well. For snacks, salads and and basic fare, you can't go
wrong with Il Mole. But, the best place on all accounts, is the
Vecchia Varenna, where one can dine on fresh fish, usually trout, pulled out
of the lake and local rivers, and on other dishes made from venison and other
game. Be forwarned, you must be emotionally stable to withstand the
In sum, Varenna is a stop you must
make when you tour the Lake District.
It is simply too picturesque and
pleasant to pass by. But, do
yourself a favour, and visit in the off
season if you can. If you must
travel to Varenna in the high season,
and if you must stay in Varenna,
book ahead by many months. That
goes for a table at the best restaurants
By Vian Andrews, October 14th, 2006