It was the last day of our 3-country intergenerational family trip and our final day in Milan. I love nature and any chance to be near an ocean, lake, river or any body of water; I take it. In this case, the body of water was Lake Como, and it was calling. After visiting Amsterdam, Dusseldorf and spending a day in Milan, I was yearning to get away from concrete and city chaos.
I didn’t have a plan, but I knew Lake Como was reasonably close. I chose Varenna because it was a 65-minute train ride to Varenna Esino station, picturesque and not as touristy (busy) as other destinations on Lake Como.
My two boys (10 and 6) and I headed to the Milan Central station which was one stop away on the Metro from our rental apartment in Piazza Della Repubblica. The Milan Metro has several lines which can be a little confusing but with my very limited Italian, hand gesturing and helpful Milanese, we were on our way.
We arrived at the station with time to spare. We did some window shopping on the lower levels then grabbed some pizza on level two where the platforms are. After lunch, we joined the other travellers in the waiting area near Gate A where we were to board our train.
It was an easy train ride and the last twenty minutes were spectacular as the lake and mountains came into view. We took a taxi to Piazza San Giorgio, the main square, as I didn’t know how far of a walk it would be. It turns out it’s a quick 4-5 minute taxi ride and a flat rate of ten euros to get there.
The first thing you notice upon arrival is the stone church and tower on your left, the Church of San Giorgio, consecrated in 1313. The bells chimed just after we arrived and again as we got back to the Piazza before departing Varenna.
We weren’t sure which way to go to get to the waterfront, but the lane sloped downward, so we followed it. As we walked away from the church, there was a red house straight ahead; the path continued right.
Then, a house with green doors and shutters next to a house with terra cotta/orange-ish coloured walls and a window with flower pots in front of us; a mailbox was on the left corner.
A narrow lane continued left and offered another glimpse of the water and mountains. We could either continue to walk down the continuous path or take the steep steps on the right which led down to the lake. We chose the longer way down so we could enjoy all the little details and colours along the way.
At the end of the cobblestone path, there was a restaurant on the right with a choice to go left or right; we went right. As we continued, there was a small outdoor patio with a view of the lake on the left and then another and another. There were restaurants and more seating across the pathway on the right. We passed the restaurants in search of a gelateria.
Just after we passed the restaurants there was a stone ‘beach’, children were laughing and playing in the lake, and anchored boats were in the harbour. There were benches with views of the lake and mountains with the Alps in the distance behind them. Shops, galleries and gelaterias were also to be found. There was a pier with a water taxi service which also offered tours around the lake. Signs pointed to the ferry boat that takes passengers to Bellagio.
After a while, we turned back to Gelateria Riva di Riva Duilio, one of the gelato shops we had passed. My youngest son is a big fan of gelato, my oldest son, not so much. We both had the mint gelato; it was so fresh, creamy and minty and we were in gelato heaven. We sat on the stone steps beside the gelateria which had seat cushions for its patrons to enjoy their gelato with a view. After our gelato, we continued walking back in the direction we originally came from and made our way to one of the waterfront restaurants, Bar Il Molo. The patio nearer to the lake was full, but we managed to snag the last table across the pathway.
We were enjoying our time in Varenna so we opted for one of the latest trains back to Milano Centrale, one that got us back to Milan just after 9:30 pm. We had a minor blip on our trip back as we ended up on a train going in the wrong direction. No big deal I thought, we’ll just get off at the next stop. Luckily it was only a few minutes away; we were about 6-7 minutes ahead of our schedule, and the right train was delayed for ten minutes.
Note: If you’re at Varenna Esino train station and are going to Milan, take the stairs to the lower level and go through a short tunnel under the tracks to get to the other side. ‘Getting lost made for an adventure and thanks to helpful people that pointed us in the right direction. There is some street art in the tunnel, mostly The Simpsons.
It was an uneventful ride back to Milan and a short trip back to our apartment. It was the perfect day trip with my two sons. They loved both Varenna and Milan, though I think it was the pizza and gelato that sealed the deal.