As relaxing as a leisurely day out on the water can be, after eight hours in the hot Italian sun we were all ready for a cold beverage and a seat in the shade. We turned in our boat rental at the docks in the very center of Varenna’s small harbor, and were just about to make a group decision on what restaurant we would be getting that cold beverage from, when we realized there were an unusual number of people just milling about at the waterfront as if they were waiting for something. A quick word with some other tourists revealed that tonight, of all nights, was Varenna’s annual celebration of a prominent event in the town’s history: in 1169, a group of refugees from the Island of Comacina, which lies further south down the lake, was fleeing the aggression of the city of Como, which is situated at the very southern end of the west arm of the lake. Como had raided the island and burnt down their village, which was the exact same fate that Como had dealt to Varenna a half century earlier. Being thus bonded by tragedy, the towns people were more than happy to welcome the refugees and offer them protection, when other neighboring villages had turned them away.
The locals lit fires to help the refugees find their way ashore
Varenna now commemorates this event with a reenactment of the arrival of the refugee’s boats, followed by a pretty decent fireworks display. We love it when we stumble upon local festivals like this when we travel, and took advantage of the situation by grabbing a few pizzas to go, some bottles of cold beer, and snagging some choice seats right on the water where we could see all the action.
Ferry rides are fun, and hanging out at the local lido (community swimming beach) is definitely worth doing if you are visiting Lake Como, but we couldn’t rightly spend all this time and money to come to such an idyllic expanse of Italian water without getting out there on it and really giving it its due. So we arranged to rent a little motor boat, and set off early the next morning with a picnic, some vino, and our bathing suits. We spent about eight hours speeding up and down the length of the lake, stopping sporadically to jump in and swim, or just sit and marvel at the prodigious villas, with their manicured lawns and private beaches, that dot the lakes shores. It was the perfect way to get a true glimpse of this playground for the rich and famous, and a perfect way to spend our time on Lake Como, for as the Rat from Wind and the Willows says “There is nothing- absolutely nothing- half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
After a pleasant day strolling around the cobbled streets of Bellagio, drinking wine and tapas on charming restaurant patios, and popping into every shop with an interesting storefront (somehow we still managed to keep most of our Euros in our pockets, despite the constant tickle to the girls’ spending bones), we called the day a success, and hoped on the ferry back to Varenna. The ride was smooth, and the late afternoon light cast a perfect golden glow over the placid waters of the lake, and the grandiose villas that cling to its shore.
The ferry back to Varrena