One of the highlights of our road trip through northern Italy was our stay in Lake Como. Most of our stops were in the Lombardy region, where there are lakes galore. Lake Como, the third largest lake in Italy and one of the deepest, is heavily visited by locals and tourists alike, especially during the summer months. Finding a place to stay can be difficult, and though parking is difficult, finding a home rental – our choice for this stay – was even more so.
We lucked out because we arrived just before the travel season had really kicked-off. We also arrived on a weekend, finding a parking spot just down the hill from our apartment rental that didn’t need us having to pay or move our car during our entire stay.
There are a lot of little towns around the lake, Como and Bellagio being the most popular. But we fell in love with Varenna, in the northern part of the lake. It wasn’t as touristy as the other two towns, nor as sleepy as the nearby Mennagio, and it had a lot to offer for a leisurely weekend with easy access by foot to anything we could want, including shops, eateries, and the ferry that allows travel across the lakes and its surrounding villages.
You can easily spend an entire weekend touring around the lake by ferry. We visited Bellagio for a quick walk around and lunch one afternoon. Though lovely, I thought it was overcrowded and overpriced. We had lunch at the Hotel Bellagio resort overlooking the lake. This experience reinforced a theory I found to be true throughout most of Italy: sometimes, and especially in the most touristy cities like Venice, Milan, and yes, even Bellagio, you pay extra for the food, but are not guaranteed that the food will be the best.
However, Varenna felt like a reprieve from all of it. There isn’t as much to do, so not as many people visit. There aren’t tons of luxury hotels or eateries, so tourists don’t venture here as much as in the some of the other areas. Which is exactly why it’s perfect for us.
We would walk to the local market for goods then up the steep steps to our apartment to cook. The apartment, listed on AirBnB, was a two-bedroom, one bathroom apartment with a loft for extra space and a full kitchen and living room. It had an outdoor patio overlooking the rooftops and the lake. There are few moments as sigh-inducing as waking up to the view of Lake Como and the alps from your bedroom balcony, coffee in hand.
Hikers will find many trails in the various towns and around the lake. For us, a fun afternoon consisted of hiking up to Castello Vezio along the Sentiero del Viandante, an ancient Roman trail. The views from up there are stunning though note, the hike is steep.
We took some time to drive around the lake and explore the tunnels and bridges. There are different spots along the way worthy of a stop for a little coffee as you take it all in. Usually, travelers like to come to this area in the summer and then head to the Swiss Alps less than 2 hours away for skiing in the winter, though avid hikers also enjoy the mountains there as well.
We were content with our time in Lake Como and with the leisurely pace of the area. When planning your trip decide beforehand what you enjoy the most before booking a stay as each village has a different feel and offer different experiences. If you rather not drive, the train from Milan to Varenna-Esino station is a two and half hour ride. If you’d rather experience the larger city of Como, then take the train from Milan to Como, stopping at Como Nord Lago. For Bellagio, take the ferry from either of these destinations, or a bus from Como. Note that the stations in the smaller towns aren’t always open to sell tickets, so either buy all your tickets in Milan or have cash readily available to buy from the conductor when you board. Schedules and fare for the ferries are listed at the port, and most ferry ticket vendors speak English to help you and provide information as needed.
I will also say, we made this a long weekend stop in our road trip, but we were ready to extend our entire vacation just to stay there longer, that’s how much we loved it. There are a lot of other lakes to visit and explore in the region, but it is no wonder why Lake Como is a favorite of anyone who has ever visited.
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