Lake Como is an incredibly beautiful area. There are plenty of stunning Italian country
villas which offer those million dollar views of the lake and mountains. The
Navigazione Lago di Como Auto Ferry
provided us with
amazing views of various lake-side villages; Menagio, Bellagio, Varenna, Fiumelatte, Tremezzo -
I could go on and on, but you get the idea right?
Just to make the geography clear to everyone; we drove to Lake Como from Switzerland, however, our hotel was in Varenna which is on the eastern side of the Lake. Because our drive from Grindelwald brought us south on the Italian A2 to the Lugano area on the western side of Lake Como, we needed a way to get to Varenna that did not involve driving around the southern end of the lake. Research showed that taking the auto ferry across the lake from Menaggio was probably the easiest route - and the most entertaining!
It is also worth noting that after we crossed the mountain pass on Switzerland Route 11, we then drove through the World's longest & deepest auto tunnel ("Gotthard"). At 16.9 kilometers in length, it is the fifth longest auto tunnel in the world.
Getting around Lake Como is done much simpler via ferry boats, as the Italian city streets are very narrow and parking is infrequent. If you have never driven in Europe, Italy is not a good place to give it a try! In our case, we parked our rental car in the hotel parking lot, and took the ferries around the Lake. Given that it is over 170 kilometers if you drove around Lake Como, makes a 4 kilometer ferry boat ride (Menaggio to Varenna) seem much more preferable doesn't it?
Before you look at the pictures and read about this portion of the trip, lets first talk about some interesting Lake Como facts:
- Lake Como is Europe’s deepest lake (425 meters) and the bottom of the lake is more than 200 meters (660 ft) below sea level.
- It is the third largest lake along the southern alpine margin lakes with a perimeter of 170 kilometers.
- Lake Como is about 29 miles (47 km) long and up to 2.5 miles (4 km) wide, with an area of 56 square miles (146 square km).
- Lake Como is of glacial origin, dating back to the last Ice Age, around 10,000 years ago. Its famous ‘Y’ shape was formed from the movement of an enormous glacier, which also displaced the huge mounds which now form the promontory, known as Bellagio which divides the two ‘legs’ of the lake.
- In 49 BC Como town came into its own under the rule of Julius Caesar, who populated the town with its first 5,000 inhabitants and named the lake Larius (a name still seen in many guises today along the lake).
- The Romans built the Via Regina, which is still one of the two main roads running up the western shore of the lake. Under Emperor Augustus Lake Como was an important trade route between the Po and the Rhine Valleys, with tradesmen crossing the Alps into Switzerland.
- It wasn’t until 1859 that Lake Como became part of Italy under the House of Savoy after Giuseppe Garibaldi defeated the Austrians at the battle of San Fermo.
- For you WW2 enthusiasts reading this, Mussolini was executed near the village of Dongo located in the northwest area of Lake Como.
Ferry Terminal Menaggio
A nice change of pace after driving here from Grindelwald, Switzerland ! We had departed Grindelwald
about 7AM and it is now after 2PM, and the "traffic caused tension" from driving all of those city
streets to get here is making me glad to be out of the car.
Click here to go to a Google Images set for the Menaggio Ferry Terminal and Lake Como.
Crossing the Lake: On our way to Varenna
We are looking forward to getting the luggage into the hotel room and then heading out to do some exploring.
It isn't obvious in this picture, but these are very small ferry boats. It held fewer than 15 vehicles, and it was able to do that only by careful positioning & parking by the crew.
From Switzerland, we drove on the Italian E35 autostrade to the Lugano area, where we got onto the SS340 to Menaggio. This was a very challenging drive, as the SS340 was frequently a narrow two lane road with numerous side streets. There are not many street or highway signs, so you have to be utilizing your mapping Application, or you will never find the Auto Ferry dock in Menaggio!
After a "false stop" (there is more than one Auto Ferry dock), we arrived and are now waiting for the Auto Ferry to Varenna. You never have to wait very long for another ferry to show up, they are frequent!
However, you must pay attention to where each Auto Ferry is going, otherwise, you might wind up in Tremezzo when you really wanted to go to Varenna! Not to worry though, each boat crew shouts out what their destination is before they load cars or passengers.
Castello di Vezio
Posing with the statues; If you saw the "Amazing Race" several years ago,
Castello di Vezio is the place in Varenna
where all the teams had a competition.
The Castle is located on a hill behind our hotel, in fact the walking path to go up the hill is adjacent to the hotel.
Click here to go to a Google Images set for the Castello di Vezio and area.
Castello di Vezio Statues
Those statues are made out of wire, paper and plaster. The wire frame gives the statues
their basic form, and the paper and wet plaster are applied and allowed to dry to achieve
the final form.
Bellagio is on the right side of this picture and Fiumelatte is on the left, approximately 6 kilometers from Varenna.
Exploring Castello di Vezio
Castello di Vezio was built in the late 11th-early 12th century and was restored several times in the following centuries. In the late 19th century and in 1956 remains of tombs from the Iron Age, as well as weapons and armor were found in the area.
Ferry Boat to Bellagio
The local fishing community pulls their boats out of the water and onto that small beach in the center of this picture. The main part of the town of Varenna is to the right in that picture, approximately 1 kilometer past the fishing boats.
On the Lake: Ferry to Bellagio
We are on one of the lake ferry boats, which has just departed the Varenna dock and are on our way to Bellagio. Such a beautiful morning, that we decided that we needed a selfie to remember that beautiful backdrop!
It isn't a very long boat ride from Varenna to Bellagio (1.9 miles) , and riding the Ferry Boat there as a pedestrian is preferable as we don't have to find parking, nor drive on the narrow Italian city streets.
The ferry boat is just arriving at the Bellagio dock, you can see another ferry just about to depart the dock. In fact, our Ferry Boat has slowed to a crawl to wait for the dock area to clear so that we can pull in.
Approaching Varenna Docks
The ferry boat captains always were quick & efficient in getting the boats docked & unloaded. One of the crew
would then go ashore and yell out their destination so that everyone waiting for a ferry knew whether to board
Our hotel is in the left center of this picture, it is the first building to the left of the dock (yellow exterior green awning at the lower right of the building). We were on the third floor, right side center window, so we had an excellent view of Lake Como.
Click here for the hotel website.
The hotel served breakfast each morning. Breakfast was
included in the room price, and the espresso and fresh pastries were good.
See how rapidly the hills behind the hotel rise? Castello di Vezio is at the top of those hills, so this picture should give you an even better idea of how steep the walk was to get to the Castello di Vezio!
Side View Of The Hotel Olivedo
The Cavallino Ristorante Trattoria dei Pescatori is to the right. The tree covered area is their
outside seating area.
See the white awning just in front of the hotel? That was where the trail started for our hike up to the Castello di Vezio. That trail was a challenge, due to heat wave that was taking place plus the steepness of the trail !
Steep Cobblestone Path To Castello Di Vezio
This trail was very steep, and
it was very hot that day! There is another path, called the "Scabium" which is described as
"gentler" but since this path was adjacent to our hotel, we decided that it was going to be our
route - however - we became convinced that this trail was really meant for goats or donkeys!
Halfway up this path, was a spring fed water "shed" and that water was ice cold. We weren't sure about drinking it, because the building (shed?) it was in looked ancient, but the water was very clear.
View of Castello Di Vezio from Ferry Boat
On the way back to Varenna from Bellagio, we noticed that we had a great view of the Castello di Vezio from
the ferry boat. This picture gives you an idea of how high above Varenna the Castello is.
See the area below the tower on the left center of this picture? That is where the unusual statues were located.
Distant View of Castello Di Vezio from Ferry Boat
The Castello di Vezio is at the top center of the image, as seen from the ferry boat. The mountains surrounding Lake Como are all limestone and granite mountains rising to a height of 2,000 feet in the south and more than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) in the northeast.
Strolling around Bellagio
Before we started to walk about Bellaggio, we decided to take one of those touristy small train car tours around the peninsula. This worked out quite well, because the tour driver obviously knows Bellaggio a lot better than we do, and we saw quite a bit more than we would have if we had been walking.
Strolling around Bellagio
This is the bell tower of the Basilica of St. James in Bellagio. Click here to go to a good website for a more in depth description of this beautiful Basilica.
Shopping in Bellagio
We had lunch at the Splendide bar (a Lakeside Restaurant), and then decided to walk about the Bellagio streets, maybe do a bit of shopping, or should I say "window shopping" as most things we saw were expensive.
As we were waiting for the Auto Ferry to arrive at the Bellagio dock, we walked over to this park area next to the dock. At the end of the park area was Lido di Bellagio where people were swimming.
Lungolago Europa Park
As we walked back to the Bellagio docks (center of the picture). As you can see, it was a beautiful day, Lake Como was placid and there were a lot of boats all over the Lake.
Waiting for the Ferry in Bellagio
This was a beautiful day for exploring, we had just completed our exploration of Bellagio and were now waiting for the Varenna Ferry to arrive.
Tip: It is really quite nice not having to drive about these little towns, and not having to hassle for a parking place. Using the Auto Ferries as a pedestrian is simple, you buy your ticket for your destination and then walk onboard when that Ferry arrives.
Varenna Lake-side Walkway
We were on our way to the Il Molo Restaurant, which is one of the first sidewalk
restaurants nearest the large tree in the right center of this picture.
This walkway along the lake connects the area of Varenna where we were staying at the Hotel Olivedo, to the other end of Varenna where there were more restaurants & shopping.
This picture displays the sidewalk restaurants along the edge of the lake.
Varenna Lake-side Walkway
One of the lake ferry boats gliding into the Varenna dock as we were walking to dinner. There are several ferry boat companies operating on the lake, so their arrivals and departures are frequent. And as I said previously, riding these boats and not driving your car is a great way to see the area.
Il Molo Restaurant Varenna
I had lasagna and it was excellent, we both had prosecco and
Celeste had salmon salad which she said was very good. Not only was the food here quite
good, their sidewalk seating gave us a great view of the Lake and
the sunset, the vibe was tranquil.
Not sure if you can tell or not, but Lake Como is in the right center background of this picture, beyond the people seated at the next restaurant from where we were seated.
Click here for the restaurant website.
Cavallino Ristorante Trattoria
We ate here several times, and had ice cream sundaes after we completed our hike to the
Castello di Vezio. Everthing we had here was very good, which includes; Chianti, linguine
with clams, fresh baked bread, etc.
You will find a wide range of opinions about this restaurant if you utilize Tripadvisor, our review gave it high marks, but your mileage may vary from what we experienced.
Click here for the restaurant website.
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