Italian Vacation: Lake Como

I’d heard a lot of good things about Lake Como. Off in Northern Italy, it was supposed to be this idyllic spot in the southern Alps. Crystal clear water surrounded by towering mountains and quaint Italian villages. Surely it couldn’t be all that and a bag of chips, could it? I had to find out for myself.

It’s just a short train ride away from Milan. It took an hour for us to travel from Milan Central to Varenna, a town set on the eastern shores of the lake that was supposed to be a good place to start off. We went without really a clue about what we would do when we got there. All we knew is that we had tickets to arrive in Varenna at 10:30 in the morning and leave Varenna at 7:30 at night. For all I knew, we’d get there and just sit around staring at the water for nine hours.

As it turned out, the day was a complete blast. Lake Como is every bit as beautiful as I’d read. Better yet, it wasn’t nearly as crowded as some of the other places we’d been so far. (Mind you, “crowded” is a relative term. Venice had a lot of people in it, but I didn’t really feel swarmed ever there. Rome, on the other hand . . . )

We started our day by taking a rather steep hike up to the Castello di Vezio. It was a bit bewildering to find the path at first. We tried using Google Maps, but that told us to walk on a main road, which made no sense at all. So we walked into town a bit and discovered signs showing us to a footpath that went almost straight up the mountain. It wasn’t long, but it was steep enough that the younger contingent expressed their displeasure with this decision. Multiple times.

The castle had gorgeous views of the surrounding area, and they were even hosting a medieval festival that day, so there were a bunch of people fighting with swords and giving demonstrations. That went over well with the gang.

Once we were finished, we tromped down to the lake again and looked for a place to eat. While Varenna might not have seemed packed, it felt differently when we were searching for a restaurant at noon. We found a place called Varenna Mon Amour that looked tiny on the outside, but had a big (air conditioned!) room inside. The food was delish. No longer hungry or thirsty, we searched for a spot to swim.

Varenna didn’t have any sandy beaches or anything like that, but we found a spot just north of the ferry called Lido di Varenna where lots of people were swimming. It was very rocky, and though most of them were smooth, it was quite uncomfortable to walk on barefoot. I was glad I’d brought my sandals. The water felt cold when you first got in, but I think that’s largely because it was so hot that day. It was very nice after you were in, though it got deep quite quickly. It’s not a spot I’d just let kids play around without worrying about them.

We still had time, so we got on the ferry in Varenna and rode it over to Bellagio, an even older, swankier town on the lake. It was nice to get out on the water and see the towns from farther away, and Bellagio had fantastic gelato, but in the end, I think we would have been better served taking it easy around Varenna some more. People were very tired by the time we got back. (Actually, I probably should have gotten return tickets to Milan for around 5:30 instead of 7:30. Live and learn.

In any case, if you’re heading to Italy on vacation, and you want to do something other than touring through cities, definitely think about heading up to Lake Como. Everyone in my group loved it.


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