To kick off a magical week in the Italian mountains, we splashed out on a beautiful Airbnb on Lake Como for two nights. After picking up our hire car from the Milan Malpensa airport, we drove for 90 minutes or so to the town of Varenna which is perfectly positioned about halfway up the lake. From there you can easily reach Menaggio and Bellagio on the passenger ferry. All three are relatively touristy spots, but Varenna has the most charm, and the prettiest harbour. We started the day with a short walk up to Castello di Vezio, an 11th century castle with unrivalled views over the lake. It also bizarrely has birds of prey outside, and houses a permanent exhibition dedicated to Lariosaurus, an extinct sea reptile from the Middle Triassic period. Why not?
With culture points in the bag, it was time to focus on the real reasons one goes to Italy – gelato, pasta, pizza, wine and campari. Am I right? I’m right. We kicked off our gelato campaign at Riva down on the waterfront. La Passarella next door is another good option, especially if you like your ice cream gluten free. Caffe Varenna round the corner is a picturesque spot for a spritz, especially at sunset. The walk along the water to the ferry port is particularly lovely, even if it gets a little busy.
Hopping on and off the ferries is super easy – just buy a day pass from one of the ports and go nuts. It’s also a great way to cool down when the sun is in full swing. Our first stop was Menaggio – not the most thrilling town, but still worth visiting for affordable drinks with a view at Hotel Bellavista, and outstanding gelato at Gelateria Artigianale Edo. We moved on to Bellagio which has a lot more going on. If you want to eat some local specialities, head to family run Bilacus or Ristorante Barchetta’s cosy terrace. We settled for cheese and wine at Aperitivo Et Al, an excellent bar and shop tucked away on one of Bellagio’s steep streets. Making sure not to miss the last ferry, we returned to Varenna for a dreamy sunset at our Airbnb accompanied by Valpolicella from In Vinis Veritas, followed by dinner at Albergo del Sole – a cheap and cheerful spot for pizza and pasta. Not a bad way to start half term, but the best was yet to come. Stay tuned for the rest of our Italian adventure.