Varenna guide

Varenna trip planner

A vacation guide to the villas of Varenna on Lake Como, Italy

Villa Monastero, Varenna, Lago di Como
Varenna harbor. (Photo by Ashley Pomeroy)

The town of Varenna—on the eastern shore of Lake Como across from Bellagio—is arguably a better base for exploring the lake than popular (and crowded) Bellagio. While far less famous than Bellagio, its also less touristy and more rewarding to visit.

Varenna has a waterfront promenade, two small churches on the main square with medieval and baroque frescoes, the half-ruined 14th-century Castello di Vezio high above town at the end of a stiff 20-minute hike (tel. +39-348-824-2504;, and two villas-with-gardens to wander: Villa Monastero, and Villa Cipressi.

Villa Monastero

Villa Monastero. (Photo by Aconcagua)
Villa Monastero. (Photo by Aconcagua)
The original structure at the Villa Monastero was not technically a monastery, but rather a Cistercian convent founded in 1208.

It was suppressed by St. Charles Borromeo in the 16th century after he heard one too many lascivious stories about the resident nuns—well, after they began bearing living proof that they had been getting far too friendly with the priests across the way. (Even a relatively enlightened prelate like San Carlo woudln't stand for a convent full of prgenant nuns.)

After centuries as a noble villa, Villa Monastero now owned by a science research center, and you can visit the long terrace of palms, cypress, magnolia, and roses as well as the greenhouse of citrus trees.

The Villa Monastero is at Via Polvani 4, the continuation of Via IV Novembre heading south from the center of town (tel. +39-0341-295-450;

It is open May to September Fridays 2pm to 7pm and Saturday to Sunday 10am to 7pm; mid-March to April weeknds only 10am to 1pm and 2 to 5pm; and October weekends only 10am to 1pm and 2 to 6pm.

Villa Cipressi

Villa Cipressi, Varenna, Lago di COmoA joint admission ticket also gets you into the neighboring Villa Cipressi, which you pass on the way to the Villa Monastero.

It has been altered from the 1400 through today, though the result is largely 19th century. Its gardens are modest compared to others on the lake, but it does have one thing going for it.

If you're getting jealous of all these gorgeous villas surrounded by lush gardens, this is your chance to spend the night at one without breaking the bank.

The Cipressi is now a hotel and conference center with farily moderately-priced rooms for such luxe lakeside accommodations [€€€]. Guests can wander its cypress-shaded gardens, blooming with wisteria, for free.

Villa Cipressi is at Via IV Novembre 18 (tel. +39-0341-830-113; The gardens are open to the public March to early January from 9am to 9pm.

Tips & links


Varenna tourist office:

Recommended hotels in Varenna
How to get to Varenna by train

Take a train from Milan's Stazione Centrale station to Varenna (2 trains per hour from Milan; 1 hr.).

How to get around Lake Como

If you don't take a tour or have a rental car, the easiest way is by bus ( or by boat ( Buses are a little cheaper and more frequent, but Lake Como ferries are faster and way, way more scenic—especially since many of those amazing villas with their fabulous gardens are protected behind high walls on the landlubbing side—but from the water, you get a full-on view. Bring binoculars (and hey: you might even see George Clooney!).

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Varenna tourist office:

Reccomended hotels in Varenna:
Hotel Villa Torretta [€€]
Hotel Royal Victoria [€€€]
Hotel Olivedo [€€]
Hotel Eremo Gaudio [€€]

» More hotels (Booking)

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