Northern Italy (Part 02): Lake Como (& Lake Garda)
To get ourselves in the lake life groove on our way from the Dolomites to Lake Como, we stopped at Limone Sul Garda on Lake Garda. The town is quite popular, but most visitors stick to the lakefront. After strolling the lakeside promenade and watching the boats bob in the waves in the busy old port, we escaped the crowds by walking into the hills. We took a breath (and enjoyed the views) with visits to Chiesa di San Rocco and La Limonaia del Castel (where we learned about the town’s namesake). Lunch at quiet Al Veccio Fontec (ravioli with sage and butter, tiramisu) was relaxing and included what may have been the best tiramisu we’ve ever tasted!
After a long day of driving we finally arrived at Varenna on Lake Como, where we stayed at Hotel Royal Victoria. Our balcony offered panoramic lake views and the hotel pool hosted us most afternoons for sunbathing and swimming. We did take a dip in the lake once, but the pool was our preferred method of cooling off as parts of the lake aren’t very suitable for swimming and Varenna doesn’t have a proper beach.
Varenna is one of the most charming and picturesque towns we’ve ever stayed in. Chiesa di San Giorgio anchors the center of the quiet upper part of the town. The lakefront, on the other hand, while relaxing for its views, buzzes with activity in the evening. We sat and ate gelato here after dinner each night and listened to the soothing sounds of the bands playing live music outside the restaurants. The sun sets across the lake, flooding the town with a magical golden glow. Perfetto!
One morning we hiked up to Castello di Vezio, starting at 46.013017, 9.283945. After enjoying the views from above and the charming lanes of Vezio itself, we walked down another way, ending up at 46.006898, 9.289714, convenient for us considering we were planning on visiting Villa Monastero afterward anyway! It is indeed worth a visit for striking lakeside views. Back in the center of Varenna, we picked up ceramics from Il Tornio, having entered with the intention of buying one piece, but leaving with three!
Lake Como’s ferry system makes transit a breeze. One day we hopped over to Menaggio, where we walked through the streets off of Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi and just sat by the lake. It was a pretty lazy visit, but that’s just the way we wanted it!
We stopped by popular Bellagio on another day. The town, unsurprisingly, was heaving with people, which made us appreciate even more our decision to stay in little Varenna. I Giardini di Villa Melzi, south of Bellagio’s center, is another lakeside garden with more jawdropping views. Back in the center, views down the alleyways from Via Giuseppe Garibaldi bring out the photographer in anyone. And Punta Spartivento, at the tip of the peninsula, is worth a stroll.
Food on Lake Como was excellent. Caffe Varenna was our favorite lunch pick (lasagna, spaghetti carbonara, tagliatelle bolognese, tomato and mozzarella sandwich), both for the light and yummy food and also for the setting and people watching. Dinners were had at Royal Gourmet (tagliatelle with beef and curry sauce, spaghetti with oil and tomatoes), Victoria Grill (cheese, walnut and potato pizza), and Il Cavatappi (caprese salad, gnocchi with red pesto, spinach and cheese ravioli, tiramisu). Il Cavatappi served some of the most delicious meals we’ve had in our travels—we highly recommend it, but do try to secure reservations at least a week in advance! And as always, gelato was not spared. We tried Bar Il Molo, La Passerella (Rico’s favorite) and Riva (Britt’s favorite) in Varenna, La Fabrica del Gelato in Menaggio, and Gelateria del Borgo in Bellagio.
We were sad to leave Varenna on our final day, but with time to kill before our flight out of Milan, we decided to visit a small city that surpassed all our expectations. Stay tuned to learn more!