Varenna is a small community on Lake Como in the Northern part of Italy. It looks like a picture and I couldn’t believe it as we got out of the car. It was everything I dreamed Italy would be with colorful homes, historic hotels, stairs leading down to the water and locals everywhere. It was beautiful!
We left from Milan and as we drove through the tunnels to Lake Como each glimpse got more and more beautiful. We arrived on the afternoon of Thursday, September 29th for a two and half day stay and when we pulled up to the hotel I almost died! It was perfect! We stayed at Villa Cipressi and when walking up it was clear that this place had been around for a very long time. It was a noble’s home built between 1400-1800 and turned hotel in the 1980’s or so. The key to our room was a regular old school key with a large gold weight with green fridge attached. The rooms were somewhat small but bigger than the rooms in Milan. There was a large window that overlooked the lake with amazing views. We left the hotel to explore a bit. About a 1 minute walk from the hotel was a small square. There were a few small restaurants and cafes. We sat down and ate cheese, meats, melon wrapped in proscuitto and had Italian beer. There were local Italian kids running around, laughing and playing. Afterwards we walked around for hours. This place was everything I thought it would be. The stairways led to peoples homes and up to main streets as well as down to the lake. We walked up and down so many of them and I took so many pictures. It was like art in every direction I turned. My dad and uncle grew out their hair just so they could get Italian haircuts. There was a great little salon with a woman who had faded red hair and a very friendly smile. She didn’t speak much English but their haircuts came out great! It was such a cool experience.
We ate dinner at different places every night. The first night we had pasta and while everyone else had dessert I got a cheese plate! I love cheese and when in Italy you eat cheese. We ate breakfast every morning in the breakfast room in the very downstairs of the hotel. It had an old fireplace and looked like old serving quarters with huge steel doors where you entered and exited. The hotel had a large botanical garden which overlooked the lake. We walked and ran through these gardens and found so many historic things. Statues, old gates with locks and chains, beautiful plants and little pathways all around the hotel and through the garden.
One of the days we took the ferry over to Bellagio, another small more famous community on the lake. We ate lunch on the lake and walked up and down the stairways there. It was bigger than Varenna and there were a lot more people. I was happy to get back to our side of the lake after a few hours. We spent a lot of time wandering the streets of Varenna, eating gelato, embracing the Italian culture, drinking coffee in the afternoon and eating at little restaurants hidden in allies. It seemed like I could have stayed there forever.
One day we decided to do some laundry. We walked to a wash, dry and fold place just off the main street. The woman working didn’t speak any English but we managed to drop off the clothes and find out the pick up time. It cost about $15 American dollars to wash one load of clothes. It’s not cheap! My sister and I spent that afternoon by ourselves. We walked all over the place and had so much fun taking pictures and embracing the fact that we were there together. That night we ate at a very small restaurant with mostly outdoor seating. Al Prato was the name and it was situated in the middle of beautiful Varenna homes on a street just off the main square. The food was good and the service was great! It was a dining experience we all loved and will never forget. It was dark and there was just a bit of lighting from a few lamp posts on the walkways. We had such a great time that night.
One afternoon we sat outside at a small cafe in the middle of the square. It was filled with locals. I think we were the only Americans there. It was so loud with all these people laughing and talking and smoking. It was a little surreal sitting there. It was like time stood still a little bit and we were in another universe. We drank espresso, enjoyed all the culture around us and watched the little local kids run around. It seemed so simple and slow. It wasn’t like anything I was used to.
Our last morning in Varenna we ate gelato for breakfast and took one last walk around this beautiful place. My sister and I both agreed that when we go back to Italy in a couple years, Varenna is where we will stay. In all the cities we stayed, Varenna holds the most memories. The meals, the walks, the exploring, the haircuts, the laundry, the locals at the cafe… It couldn’t have been more perfect.
Part 3 of our Italian Adventure is set in the place where our family started centuries ago. It was our favorite place in Italy.