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Map of Lake Como

Varenna's waterfront on Lake Como

Villa Monastero, Varenna, Lake Como

Welcome to Varenna
From Jesse's Journeys in Italy

Population: 882 (2004)
Official site: 

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 by Celts, and later by the Gauls.  It was mentioned in historical documents as early as 493 AD, which were late Roman times in Italy.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 Lombards after they conquered the entire region in the 600-700s, and then under the Franks.

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 Cipressi.

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 prices!

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 too.

By Vian Andrews, October 14th, 2006


461′N 917′E


Bellagio - 10 km;
Como - 35 km;
Bergamo - 64 km;
Milan - 85 km;
Brescia - 161 km;
Stresa - 165 km;
Verbania - 180 km;
Cremona - 186 km


Tourist office
via IV Novembre, 7 - 23829 Varenna (Lc) - Phone/Fax +39 0341 830367

Varenna, Coat of Arms



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