The Most Romantic Place: Varenna, Italy

February 4, 2016

 

With Valentine's Day just around the corner, I've been thinking about romantic places. If you're with the right person, it could be just about anywhere. If pressed to choose one destination, however, I would return to Varenna, Italy, a small jewel of a town overlooking Lake Como. 

 

It was in October, when my husband and I climbed off the commuter train from Milan at Varenna’s nearly empty station and darted through pelting rain. We threw ourselves and our bags into a cab that deposited us an eighth of a mile from where we began, near a ramp, its sharp descent forbidden to vehicles. We had to laugh.

 

“Lean back,” Christopher said, as my suitcase nearly escaped while I struggled to maintain my footing on the slick stones.

 

When we reached the bottom, thankfully without mishap, we turned onto a pathway along a lemon-colored, stucco wall draped with ivy. We continued until we found a door flanked by nodding hydrangeas and palm, and entered the Albergo Milano, dripping puddles on the tiled floor.

 Sitting area in the hotel's lobby. A painting of Albergo Milano's current owner hangs on the wall.  Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

Savory promises wafted from the hotel's kitchen. The clerk smiled from behind the desk and led us up winding stairs to our room, number sei. “A gift from your friends,” she said, gesturing toward a table where chilled champagne sat in a silver bucket. Did I mention we have terrific friends?

 

The clerk slipped away and we gravitated toward the French doors. We pushed the latch open with an intake of breath, a duet. On the balcony, we hovered above Lake Como, rippled and gray. We saw the opposite shore dotted with the towns of Bellagio and Menaggio, their backs to the mountains with peaks obscured by veils of cloud and sheets of rain. 

Lake Como. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

The hotel cat joined us and wound itself through our legs.

 

We had dinner reservations, recommended even in the off season, at the hotel’s restaurant, La Vista. Had the weather been fine, we would have sat on the terrace overlooking the lake, but the large windows provided assurance of unobstructed views during breakfast the next morning.

Dining at La Vista. We enjoyed superb meals. Photo by Diana Dinverno 

 

 Chocolate, raspberries, and a sprinkle of pistachio. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

In the morning, we walked to the town's piazza with its leafy sycamore canopy. In the summer, the town bustles with visitors, but in the autumn we found only a few travelers, mostly Americans, mingling with the locals.

 Exploring Varenna. You can see our hotel in the background on the left.

 Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

 

 Piazza San Giorgio. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

Continuing a short distance, we arrived at the Villa Monastero where we spent the rest of the morning wandering in its exquisite, terraced gardens. For the most part, we had the place to ourselves.

 At the entrance to Villa Monastero's gardens. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

 We made discoveries at every turn. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

 In the gardens. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

Grapefruit still on the trees in October. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

 Mr. Darcy, is that you? Photo by Diana Dinverno.

 

 

Photographs fail to capture the full beauty of this place. 

 

After lunch, we hiked up to the Castello di Vezio, a medieval castle, but it closed as we arrived. The walk back to town gifted us with more stunning views.

Lake Como through the trees. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

 Lake Como. Photo by Diana Dinverno

Sentiero del Viandante (Path of the Wanderer). Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

 

 Varenna, Italy. Photo by Diana Dinverno

A veiw from our walk to Varenna. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

We stopped at another lakeside hotel for an aperitivo on its terrace to watch the theatrics of the evening sky.

Early evening  on Lake Como. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

The following day, we took a cooking class at the Ristorante il Caminetto with Chef Moreno.  

The class, although mostly demonstration, gave us opportunities to roll up our sleeves. We left well fed and with a notebook of authentic Italian recipes.  

 

Chef Moreno told us that his family, going back 500 years, has lived in the building that houses the restaurant. That's commitment. 

 

At twilight, we walked along the promenade.

 Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

The next morning, we watched gardeners cut back the limbs of the piazza's sycamore trees in anticipation of the winter. It was time to go.

 

As we stood waiting for the train, we lamented our departure. “We’ll be back,” Christopher said.  

 

I suspect we will.  My husband is a romantic. 

 Our final cappuccino before we boarded the train to Milan. Photo by Diana Dinverno

 

What is your favorite romantic destination?

 

Wishing you, and those you love, a happy February! 

 

 

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