Today, as we enter the 9th week of lockdown here in Milan, there are 181,228 cases and 24,114 deaths in Italy. In the neighborhood I live in there are 107 cases with 14 fatalities. Thankfully, the number of daily new cases continues to drop and slowly, too slowly for us here, the daily death rate is declining.
The official lockdown order expires on May 3. If the numbers continue to decrease then, theoretically, we’ll enter Phase 2. No one is really certain exactly what Phase 2 looks like. It will probably vary from place to place but I strongly suspect that here, in Lombardy, the region that has suffered the most, we will still have serious restrictions in place. I hope, I pray, that we’ll be able to exercise and get some fresh air.
As I think about what Phase 2 and 3 will look like, I’m making a list of places I want to visit when this is all over. At the top of my list is Varenna, a small town on the shores of Lake Como that I have visited many times. I never tire of this small town. Each time I visit I discover something new; a cobblestone alley I had never walked, or a view I had not noticed before. Like other lakeside towns around Como, it’s small, charming, picturesque, and looks like a postcard. It’s one of the better-known lake towns to visit and yes, it’s touristy, but it’s touristy for a reason: it’s stunning! Varenna is a perfect place to spend an afternoon admiring the lake, or even a few days of quiet down-time.
Bellagio, Varenna’s more glamorous neighbor, sits just across the lake, a short 15-minute boat ride away. Bellagio is certainly worth a visit but I’m of the opinion that Varenna has way more character and much fewer tourists.
From Milan, there are three ways to get Varenna, by train directly from Milano Centrale, by car (an hour and fifteen-minute) drive, and by ferry from the town of Como. I’ve done all three and I think my favorite is taking the ferry from Como. There’s something about taking a slow, two-hour, leisurely boat ride on the lake, along the way passing beautiful villas and idyllic towns with the pre-Alps in the background. It’s just unforgettable. It’s an added bonus that the larger ferries sell prosecco, wine, and snacks.
Other than the jaw-dropping views of Lake Como, there’s not a whole lot to do in Varenna. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to discourage you from visiting, it’s just the kind of place one goes to wander and relax. There’s a ruined castle above the town, Castello di Vezio, which you can hike to within 30 minutes. The rest of the town consists of a cluster of shops, restaurants with amazing views, a couple of small churches, a little beach and narrow cobblestone walkways.
Like many other lakeside towns around Como, Varenna has its share of villas with gardens. Villa Cipressi and Villa Monastero, once owned by the De Marchi family, both have glorious views but I prefer the gardens at Villa Monastero. If you have an extra hour to kill, a stroll through this ornate garden is something you will not forget.
For time being, I’ll have to content myself with dreaming and making a list of all the places I’ll go once this is over.