Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Varenna Morning, Star Wars Afternoon

Colorful, beautiful, Varenna
Our favorite day on Lake Como, in part due to a full day of blue skies, we spent mostly in the village of Varenna. Lovely, lovely Varenna. We both agreed that this charming village was our favorite. Where Bellagio makes no apologies for catering to tourists and Menaggio seems to do so under duress, Varenna fills the gap in between perfectly with a charming mix of small town, local life along with some lovely cafes and a small number of artsy shops. Add to this a short, pretty boardwalk that curves the coastline from the ferry landing around a small point to a movie set worthy, colorful collage of buildings, plus a couple of villas open to the public, a large piazza, and some hikes in the hills and you've got a near perfect town. We started with a stroll along the waterfront, taking in the lake on a brilliant day and stopping every few feet for yet another photo, then we made our way along narrow, neighborhood alleys and up into the pretty piazza. There, we found a map of town which showed a loop road going up to a castle in the hamlet of Vezio. Somewhere, either the map or a road sign, we noticed the castle was only a 15 minute walk. Taking into consideration the disaster of our Greece hike added to my recent tendency to become out of breath by doing something as strenuous as walking to the bathroom, we decided that 30 minutes was a reasonable assumption for us.
View from Villa Monastero
Fifteen minutes later, we had just barely turned off the flat road and onto the pedestrian path sloping up. The path headed up with slight curves, cutting off most of the switchbacks that the smart people (with cars) use. We headed up, up, up. And then up some more. Until our path ended at the road, and we had no idea which way to go. Thankfully, we found a nice lady working in her yard to point us toward the castello, and at our next crossroads, ran into yet another friendly local out for a stroll. And so we headed up some more. Until we reached a sign pointing us off the road we'd joined and onto yet another pedestrian path that headed down. This path was quite easy and led us past a pretty waterfall where we relaxed by practicing our photography skills in attempting to take photos where the water looks all soft and cloud-like and glowy. After this little rest, it was up again, but this time, helpful signs told us just how close we were, and we quickly landed in the tiny, hilltop village of Vezio.

Due to exhaustion, I had no desire to wander the few streets of Vezio, so instead, we headed straight for the castle, and for some reason, after almost two hours of hiking, didn't go in. It was a classic example of the phrase "It's the journey, not the destination." From the castle, which probably had stunning views of the entire lake, but I don't really know, there were two paths back down to Varenna. One was clearly marked Varenna and ferries with an arrow. The other looked a little sketchier, said it went in the "direction" of Varenna, but also was supposed to go by a waterfall. We picked that one. I regretted it at the no turning back point, which was after about 10 minutes of carefully picking my way down a little maintained, narrow path of rocks with a steep drop off the side. Thankfully, this ended soon, and we found ourselves in a bucolic scene of olive groves, sloping path, and expansive lake views. Back in Varenna, we settled into a lakefront Creperie for a delicious lunch and even more delicious, dessert crepes. My reward for a much more challenging hike than we'd planned.
Cafe in Paradise

With the afternoon passing a little too quickly, we found ourselves in a bit of a time crunch trying to grab a ferry down to the town of Lenno, where we hoped to visit the Villa Barbianello. Anyone recognize the villa? It was used for scenes in both Star Wars: Episode 2 Attack of the Clones and Casino Royale. I'd read that the walk to the villa is along a nice, 1 km path, but the best approach is via water taxi. As we arrived in Lenno, we realized that we had very little time to actually reach the villa, tour it, then make our way back to the ferry for the last ferry out of town. We made it to the every 30 minute, water taxi with about one minute to spare and found ourselves on a nice boat ride around the small peninsula, giving us a stunning view of the Villa. As we arrived, we found the last tour of the day had already started and while the lady selling entrance tickets offered to call to see if we could run up and join it, we waved her off. Unfortunately. I had not read about the interior of the villa until we were strolling the small garden area and reading the brochure we got at the entrance. The interior sounded fascinating, full of items collected by the previous owner in his very adventurous life of travel. But since I could barely walk at this point due to sore calves from our morning hike, I couldn't work up too much regret. We walked around the gardens, which were nothing fancy after seeing Villa Carlotta the day before, and headed back to the ferry to return to Bellagio and enjoy a fabulous dinner before turning in early after our active day.

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