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Menaggio and Varenna

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Our day for visiting Menaggio and Varenna

Before we visit Menaggio and Varenna, we needed to find a new campground.  This was an easy task with the information we received from the Spanish couple.

Finding campgrounds isn’t an issue as a general rule.  But, with the way we travel in our motorhome (no plan, no set itinerary, no set date) then sometimes that just makes things a little trickier as we can’t book ahead, or even check if a town has a campground.  Sometimes we just go down a different road because we see something that catches our interest.  We might never have planned to go that way initially.  Having guides and using the internet can assist, but not every campground has a website, nor are they listed in the books.  Even if they do, or are, you cannot always rely on them being right.  I’ve lost count of the number of campgrounds that state they are open all year round and then close at the end of September.

There’s plenty to like about Dongo

And, as a result of all the campgrounds in the centre of the western side of Como being closed, we found a fantastic campground high up on the end of Como at a town called Dongo.  We probably never would have ventured up here if not for this.  And aren’t we glad we did.

Here, on Lake Como Italy, where prestigious houses line the lake, so too did we.  ‘Magic Lake’ Campground had a starring role.  Of course it had to be called that.  How could it be called anything else with this location?  For the next couple of nights, our motorhome was going to be very happy parked in a prime spot with a full and uninterrupted view of the lake, with the mountains in the background.  And so too were we.

Menaggio and Varenna
Drinks ‘lakeside’ of our motorhome campground

Dongo is also a little more famous than you might expect. In 1945, Benita Mussolini and some of his ministers were fleeing from Milan as the world was closing in on Hitler and his allies.  Mussolini and the ministers were captured and executed near Dongo at Mezzegra.

Today it’s known for a great place to conduct watersports out on the lake.

Before long, we were on our way into Menaggio on the bus, located only a 30 metre walk from the campground.  It was a good feeling too to watch the bus driver handle the narrow roads and know that for once it wasn’t us having to do it as well.

The trip from Dongo took about 15 minutes to get into the main bus interchange at Menaggio and cost €2.20.

Menaggio and Varenna
Bus tickets for anywhere along the Lake.
Menaggio and Varenna
Bus tickets for Dongo- Menaggio. These have been bought from the bus station in Menaggio.

Menaggio

Menaggio acts almost like a hub. Midway up the western side of Lake Como, it serves as a great base for visitors.  It’s very easy to town hop by bus or ferry, and it’s a beautiful town in it’s own right.  It’s also an easier access point (if you are driving) to head into Switzerland.  This sweet little town doesn’t offer much in the “see and do” category, but being built around the lake offers ample opportunity to sit, relax, and tell all your friends on Facebook, if nothing else, that you are in Lake Como!

The town was really quiet this morning, and the tourist information centre had indicated that the tourist season was coming to an end by closing it’s doors on 30 September.  It would only come to life again in March.

Menaggio and Varenna
Menaggio down by the lake
Menaggio and Varenna
Lakefront Menaggio

Menaggio and VarennaMenaggio and Varenna

I spied a perfect place to soak up some of the Menaggio spirit.  Gelateria Edo, right on the lake served up a dozen or so varieties.  I was perfectly sure there would be one for me to taste that I hadn’t already on this trip. Bacio and creme caramel were my selections and my husband had raspberry.  He’s obviously feeling the pressure, dropping back to only one scoop!  There are words for people like him 🙂

Menaggio and Varenna
Another round of gelati in a perfect location

We caught the ferry to Varenna.  I was really looking forward to getting out on the lake.  Being on the water offers a different and certainly beautiful persective of the towns that surround the lake.  The ferry system works effortlessly and is extremely regular.  We paid 4 euro 60 each for our ticket to Varenna.  A day pass is available which covers  the “heart” of the lake – Menaggio, Varenna, Bellagio, Tremezzi and Cardenabbia.  It must be used in one day.  As we didn’t want to go to all of these towns at once, we just settled for individual tickets which were only slightly more expensive but provided us with the flexibility and freedom.

Menaggio and Varenna
On the way to Varenna via ferry
Menaggio and Varenna
View of Menaggio from the ferry
Menaggio and Varenna
Looking back at Menaggio
Menaggio and Varenna
Views of Varenna from across the water

Beautiful Varenna

It seems perhaps that I am falling for towns staring with “V”, for it is Varenna that steals my heart in Lake Como.  To have a favourite seems oh so disrespectful of the other lake towns, who are anything but ordinary.  But, there IS Varenna.  And as far as I am concerned, there is absolutely no competition.

Whilst it’s more fancied neighbour, Bellagio, attracts more of the attention Varenna quietly pulls everyone in with it’s lack of pretentiousness.

We get off the ferry, and ignoring a few souvenir type market stalls that don’t really fit in, we walk along a path lined with jasmine-like vines growing over a trellis.  A beautiful entry into the restaurants that take pride of place on the waterfront.  We pass the Riva Gelateria and I recognise it instantly from my research notes as being a ‘must visit’.  With it’s 100% artisanal, natural product gelati, I made a note that we must return here after lunch.

Menaggio and Varenna
The pretty walkways into the town

Menaggio and Varenna

The beautiful entry to Varenna

Menaggio and Varenna

Whether we were hungry or not, Varenna was going to be our lunch spot today.  Lucky for us we were, and we were ready to tuck into some local fare.    The biggest decision was which lakeside restaurant to eat at.  We chose Nilus Bar, the only one that had a spare table on the water that had our name on it.  With an order of traditional lasagne and porcini tagliatelle underway, it was time to sit back and do nothing else but drink and gaze over the lake.

Menaggio and Varenna
Prime spot on the lake
Menaggio and Varenna
A taste of the local lasagne
Menaggio and Varenna
Porcini Gnocchi

Walk around the laneways

Varenna is not a difficult town to walk around and given it’s size, it really is a must do.  Take the sloping , cobbled laneways that run from the waterfront up into the main  square.  Here you’ll find plenty of restaurants and shops tucked away into the most amazing stone buildings.

Menaggio and Varenna
The steps of Varenna

At the top, the main square opens up and showcases the 14th century church, Chiesa di San Giorgio.

Menaggio and Varenna
Chiesa di San Giorgio.
Menaggio and Varenna
Looking down from the top of Varenna square
Menaggio and Varenna
Varenna piazza

It was on these steps leading up to the square that the gelati experience was played out.  Nocciola and pannacotta were all mine today.  Stirling had coconut and lemon which he decided was not a good combo.  Clearly he needs some lessons about mixing fruit and non-fruit flavours.  We ate it whilst sitting on cushions on the steps, talking to some Americans from Philadelphia about their desire to travel to Australia. Could the day get any better for all of us?

Menaggio and VarennaIt was colder today, with snow appearing  overnight on the mountains overshadowing the lake.  As the afternoon wore on, the winds picked up, the skies became a little more gloomy and we decided to call it a day – a very good day – and head back for drinks by our own personal piece of the lake.

Menaggio and Varenna
Returning to Menaggio
Menaggio and Varenna
Drinks by the lake at Dongo

Transport tips

  • Bus driver validates your ticket that you buy on board or at a variety of other local places (eg we bought ours from our campground).  The validation is a tear off piece on the bottom of the ticket
  • Tickets are more expensive if you buy them on the bus
  • Buy tickets for the ferry before you board the boat, at sales offices at the docks
  • The daily ticket includes Lenno, Menaggio, Varenna, Bellagio, Cardenabbia and Tremezzo
  • There is a “rapid” and ordinary service.  Tickets are not inter-changeable and a surcharge is levied for the rapid service

Highlights

  • Letting the bus driver earn his money by driving us around instead of us having to negotiate the tight turns
  • Varenna, Varenna, Varenna.  Simply beautiful
  • Being out on Lake Como.  I would have loved to have hired our own boat but I think this would be better in summertime.
  • Having drinks at our own private spot on Lake Como in a location we didn’t think we would visit
  • Finding an awesome campground
  • Lake Como – where everything is “ten minutes, ten minutes” but rarely ever is.  It’s lake time here and it’s a place to linger.

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