Our Anniversary to Italy: Part 13 – What to do in Varenna, Italy

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Emily Jablon:  Daraius and I went to Europe in September to celebrate our 2nd anniversary for ~2 weeks.  It was my first time in Italy so I was very excited!  In Italy, we visited Varenna on Lake Como, Milan, Venice, and Rome.

Since we were in Europe, we visited a friend in Strasbourg, France and also spent a night in Zurich.  We started our trip with a one day layover in Chicago to see friends!

Activities In Varenna Italy

Daraius and Emily at Cooking Class

Our Anniversary To Italy – Trip Report Index:

This post will highlight various activities in Varenna, which include:

Activities In Varenna

1.   Villa Monestero

In the evening, we went to Villa Monastero which was a grand old villa with beautiful gardens.  Daraius loved walking in the gardens!

If you stay in the Villa, you don’t pay the 5 euro (~$7) fee to enter the garden or 8 euro (~$11) fee for entrance to both the garden and museum.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily at Villa Monestero

The gardens were very beautiful and well maintained, and had pretty views of the lake.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Beautiful Gardens of Villa Monestero

The gardens were expansive, and you could spend at least an hour walking.  They stretched all the way along the coast of the lake.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Gardens Went all the way to the Lake

There was beautiful architecture that highlighted the garden’s natural beauty.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Architecture Highlighted the Garden

There were pretty sculptures throughout the grounds.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Garden Also had Pretty Sculptures

Many varieties of flowers and plants could be found.

Activities In Varenna Italy

There Were Various Flowers and Plants

It was very peaceful.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily at Villa Monestero

I went into the villa and explored all of the rooms and bedrooms, while Daraius preferred to walk in the garden.  There was a monastery on the land previously, but a wealthy man purchased the land and tore down the monastery and built the present villa.  Only a small part of the original monastery was preserved.

The villa is decorated with opulent Baroque Italian furniture, and was in good condition.  There was an old bathtub, which I particularly liked.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily Liked the Antique Bathtub

I also enjoyed the view from the master suite, but the terrace was blocked off and in disrepair.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The View From the Master Suite

2.   Ferry Boat Cruise Around Lake Como

After lunch, we went to the ferry stop

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Varenna Ferry Landing

and got on a boat that stopped at the different villages.  The Rick Steves’ Italy guide suggested hopping on and off boats as they stopped at the different towns.

It cost 3.7 euro (~$5) for a 1-way ticket or 15 euro (~$20) for a 1-day pass which lets you hop on and hop off the boat anytime.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily on the Ferry

We stopped in Menaggio, Bellagio, Lenno, Trezzano, and a few other towns.

We enjoyed seeing the small villages nestled in the mountains from the boat.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Small Villages Nestled in the Mountains

I loved how the buildings don’t overshadow the natural beauty of the surrounding mountains.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Buildings Didn’t Detract From the Beauty of the Mountains

Everything was so beautiful and peaceful.  The towns looked like the perfect place to just relax!

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Town Looked Relaxing – if Only we Owned a Boat

There were also some mansions along the waterfront.  Daraius and I dreamed it would be our retirement home one day!

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Future Retirement Home of Daraius & Emily!

It was difficult finding out the ferry schedules since the time tables were very confusing.  Luckily, Daraius figured it out.  But we did miss one of our stops becasuse we were not by the door of the boat waiting several minutes before it docked.

3.   Exploring Bellagio

We got off at Bellagio…

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily at the Bellagio Dock

and went exploring.  There were lots of shops along the waterfront, and hotels too.  We went into town and up the stairs…

Activities In Varenna Italy

Shops and Hotels Along the Bellagio Waterfront

wandering through the town.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily in Front of the Carezza Lingerie Shop

Pasticceria Gelateria Caffe Bar Sport

We went back through the town and stopped at a gelateria called Pasticceria Gelateria Caffe Bar Sport.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily in Front of Pasticceria Gelateria Caffe Sport

Inside, there were lots of cute chocolates and candies…

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Shop had Cute Chocolates and Candies

and I thought it was a perfect place to get some gifts for friends and family back in the US.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily Picked up a few Gifts

I also got a chocolate gelato ice-cream and Daraius got a granita.  A granita is an Italian-style flavored ice drink.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Daraius and his Granita

We chatted with the owners who told us about how his father started the shop and that the recipe for the gelato was their father’s.  They also explained that their granita machine was 43 years old and how they used to hand grind the ice and the gelato before the machine!

They asked where we were from, and were familiar with Kansas.  We chatted about Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Another View of the Future (Dream) Retirement Home of Daraius & Emily

Afterwards, we continued walking along the narrow cobblestone streets and made our way to the dock for our boat back to Varenna.

4.   Authentic Italian Cooking Class At Ristorante Il Caminetto

On our last day in Varenna, Daraius had a surprise for me.  He didn’t give me any hints, only that we had to be at the town plaza at 10:00 am.  I had a couple of hunches.  My first hunch was a cooking class and the second was hiking.

This was one my 2 hunches from the Rick Steves’ Italy guidebook.  But I knew it was not hiking when he told me I could wear any kind of shoes.

In the morning, we walked to the plaza after having breakfast at the hotel.  It was a 20 minute walk to the ferry pier.  We waited for a few minutes and then a van came to pick us up.  I still wasn’t 100% sure of our destination, until we went up the mountain alongside windy roads, and finally stopped at a restaurant.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The View From Outside the Restaurant Where we had our Cooking Class

The Ristorante “Il Caminetto” building looked like someone’s house.  It actually was the chef’s house and he ran a restaurant and cooking class on the 1st floor and lived upstairs!

The cooking class costs 50 euros (~$68) and includes transportation and a VERY heavy lunch and afternoon snacks and drinks.  You meet at 10:00 am at the ferry dock and are dropped back at ~3:30 in the afternoon.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Homey Exterior of the Restaurant

We entered the restaurant and were immediately greeted by the owner, Chef Moreno.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Daraius, Chef Moreno, and Emily

Here’s a video of the chef making Tortellini!

The inside of the restaurant was very welcoming.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily Inside Ristorante Il Caminetto

There were italian cookies and water waiting for us.  The chef came around and introduced himself and asked us if we wanted anything to drink (coffee, tea, soda, etc).  I got a cappuccino.

Activities In Varenna Italy

A Little Snack Before Cooking Class

The chef started off by showing us how to make fresh pasta by taking durum wheat flour and mixing it with eggs.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Chef Moreno Getting Ready to Make Pasta

He formed a volcano with the flour and then hand mixed the eggs.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Chef Moreno Making a Flour Volcano

During his class, he stressed the importance of feeling the food with your hands and fingers and that good cooking was to “make love” to the ingredients!

Activities In Varenna Italy

Chef Moreno Putting Love Into his Cooking

He chatted about what it was like growing up in Italy.  And how his family went to the US to live, before returning to Italy to care for their parents.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Chef Moreno Told us his Story While Making Fresh Linguine

We also learned how to make tortellini and were able to take part in this lesson ourselves.

In between his stories, we learned about how to make the ricotta cheese filling (mince garlic, mix in the ricotta, and add the fresh herbs).

Activities In Varenna Italy

Ricotta Cheese Filling for Tortellinis

The chef put the ricotta cheese filling into rolled-up parchment paper.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Parchment Paper Filled With Ricotta Cheese Filling

Then squeezed the perfect amount onto each pasta square

Activities In Varenna Italy

Chef Moreno Squeezing Ricotta Cheese Onto the Tortellini Squares

Then we got to shape the tortellinis!  Our tortellinis weren’t perfectly shaped, but we enjoyed learning how to make them.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Daraius and Emily in Front of Their Freshly Made Tortellini

Then it was time to make sauce for the pasta.

The chef showed us the various ingredients of sausage, peppers, onions, tomato sauce, herbs, and tomatoes for the sauce.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Pasta Sauce Ingredients Included Onions, Sausage, Tomatoes, and Peppers

He chopped up the ingredients…

Activities In Varenna Italy

Chef Moreno Chopping Ingredients for Pasta Sauce

and then cooked it all together!

Activities In Varenna Italy

Chef Moreno Cooking the Pasta Sauce

It looked, and smelled, delicious!

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Pasta Sauce Looked Delicious!

It was also fun to chat with the other people taking the class with us.  There were two Americans working in Germany who were on holiday with their parents in Italy.  Another couple had their own organic vegetable garden and inspired me to try to grow my own!

After eating the pasta, we were served some sliced meats, cheese, and bread.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Cheese, Salami, and Prosciutto Platter

I really liked the meats, cheese, and breadsticks!  Next we were served pancetta wrapped cheese which we had earlier made.

This was delicious but we imaged that it was very fattening!

Activities In Varenna Italy

We had Delicious Pancetta Wrapped Cheese

We also learned about the history of the restaurant.  And how the chef’s family used to carry all of the water to their home because they did not have running water.  They even had a farm in the back of the house!

Eventually, the small restaurant was converted into a larger one, which is what we saw today.

There was also a nice selection of wine.  We were served both red and white house wine throughout our meal.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Ristorante Il Caminetto had an Extensive Wine Selection

We then had our second course, which was the linguine with Italian sausage and tomatoes.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Our Second Course of Linguine, Italian Sausage & Tomatoes

Everything was so fresh and it really tasted homemade – nothing like the dried uniform pasta we see in the US with canned sauces.

Activities In Varenna Italy

It Doesn’t Look Like it, but Daraius Really Did Enjoy his Linguine

You could taste the fresh garlic, basil, and tomatoes.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily With her Linguine

We were getting full, but had to eat what we had cooked!  So we ate some tortellini with zucchini, sage and butter.  It was delicious.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Tortellini was Delicious!

Chef Moreno then served us Limoncello and made us some espresso.  I asked if sambuca (a digestive liquor) is common in the bars, and he offered a taste from his bottle that he had in the restaurant.

Activities In Varenna Italy

The Chef Gave us a Taste of His Sambuca

It was anise flavoured but sweeter, and it was delicious to sip on slowly.

After lunch, the chef dropped us back to Varenna with stops at the Ferry dock and in the town square which was near our hotel.

5.   Finding Fiumelatte

After the cooking course, we walked to find Fiumelatte, a small river near our hotel.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Emily at the Fiumelatte Sign, but There was no River…

We walked along the coast and peered down into the beautiful and expansive gardens of Villa Monestero.  We saw a family by the beach, with the father feeding the baby with a bottle, and the mother relaxing.

We saw some old Italian flats along the coast that were locked up and in disrepair, and wondered why no one lived there and why they were not for sale.  The views were quite amazing!

We couldn’t find Fiumelatte, so we asked for directions in a store.  We were warned that there might not be much to see because it was dry.

After meandering through the cobblestone streets, and walking up and down, we finally found the stream.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Finally! We Found Fiumelatte!

Just as was predicted, the river was dry.  But there was a small trickle of water.

Activities In Varenna Italy

There Wasn’t Much Water in the Fiumelatte

We continued to follow the path across the bridge, and continued back towards our hotel.  The path was made of dirt and stone, and I wasn’t sure exactly where it would take us.  It was fun to explore though, and we went through a short tunnel.

Activities In Varenna Italy

We Went Under Tunnels

We saw another old abandoned house, went past a very, very small train station, passed some grape vines, and saw a cemetery.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Our Walk Took us to a Cemetery

There were fresh flowers by the graves.

Activities In Varenna Italy

Flowers in the Cemetery

It would be a nice place to be buried, with the beautiful lake below!

Activities In Varenna Italy

Having This View for all Eternity Wouldn’t be so bad

We continued on, and were pleasantly surprised to find that our hotel was nearer that we thought!

Bottom Line

Varenna was Daraius’ favorite town in Italy!  He loved the peaceful lake views, the friendliness of the people, the boat rides to different towns and eating lots of food at the cooking class!

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37 responses to “Our Anniversary to Italy: Part 13 – What to do in Varenna, Italy

  1. Looks like you guys had a lot of fun thanks for sharing. LOL@your retirement home pictures.

  2. Thanks for the detailed report. It brings back many memories of our trips to Lake Como. Looking forward to reading about the rest of your trip!

  3. Andreas Wiedenfeld

    My wife and I followed Rick Steves advice in 2009 and did his best of Italy in 21 days tour but took four weeks to do it. Certainly one of the highlights was Varenna and its environs. Thanks for sharing the pictures, was great to reminisce. I don’t remember the hotel gardens and museum so maybe they added them recently. In any case, a lovely lovely spot! We got the cheaper room downstairs so your room a view were better but, what the heck, you were in Italy!

  4. I am loving reading about your trip. We were in Milan and went to Lugano (on Lago Lugano) in Switzerland 20 years ago. I thought we were done with Italy (partially because we were pickpocketed in Rome). Your pictures and commentary are inspiring me to return to Italy to spend some time in Varenna. The lake and the small villages are beautiful, and the cooking class looks like so much fun. Thank you for sharing your experiences with us! Would love to go visit you at your future retirement home!!

  5. Looks like you guys had so much fun. I love how you report on the destination too and not just the flights/hotels. It gives a very real aspect to it which is great! 🙂

  6. These trip and foodie reports are really quite amazing and getting better every time. It’s gotten to the point because of so many travels and great photos you should consider sharing these trips outside of the credit card blog. Maybe a travel show via You Tube and a TV show down the line, DVDs, who knows! or at least a travel blog where you could put all your travel stories in one spot.

    Now if you do choose to move these travels to the next level, a la video, you would certainly need a videographer/photographer so you and Emily could enjoy your travels hands free. Hmmm….

  7. We loved Lago di Como.. We spent 5 nights in Bellagio and also did the cooking class.. l

  8. That just made it on my travel bucket list. SO ROMANTIC!

  9. Daraius — What kind of camera do you use for all of your photos?

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  20. Hey Darius,
    I love your site, it’s so helpful!
    Quick question: I see that better rooms aren’t usually available to be redeemed for points, so how do people stay in the best rooms on points? Is it that they book a regular room on points and get upgraded because of status?
    Thank you.

    • @Lively @R. Miller – You should come visit us in a few decades!

      @Denise L – We only went to Varenna on Lake Como, but would like to visit other towns in the future.

      @Andreas Wiedenfeld – Sometimes Rick Steve’s packs a lot into one day, so it is nice to take longer to do his suggested itineraries.

      @SOLTATIO – We had a great time in Varenna, and our only regret is that our trip there was so short.

      @Kent C – Thanks! I’ll admit to being a TERRIBLE videographer.

      @FlyingDoctorWu – Did you do the cooking class in Bellagio or in Varenna?

      @Jenny – It was very romantic and relaxing!

      @Nick – I prefer a small Canon S100 and Emily prefers a larger Nikon D5000.

      @ Nate – Using status is one way to get upgraded to a better room. And some hotels (like Hyatt) do let you use extra points to book a suite (though it may not be worth it all the time).

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