Getting Lost in the Alpine Foothills (Varenna, Italy)

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Getting lost in a foreign country is part of the fun he said. It’s only 4.5 km from Bellano to Varenna, it can’t be that bad, he said.

Well, he wasn’t completely wrong- but don’t tell him I said so.

Sentiero del Viandante is a hiking trail that runs along the eastern coast of Lake Como, traveling 45km from Milan, Italy, to Valtelina Italy, which borders Switzerland. We weren’t going to hike nearly that far though (not my kind of crazy). We just wanted to travel from Bellano to Varenna, about 10% of the trail. According to Silvano, our airbnb host, it was “easy” because it went horizontally across the mountain instead of requiring hikers to go up and down.

It sounded doable when Silvano talked about it. Honestly, the majority of the trek wasn’t so bad- we crossed a stream, saw some waterfalls, and not one but two shrines to the Virgin Mary. Considering how isolated the hike felt, I was surprised at the shrines, which were recently tended. There was even a small pipe providing drinking water for hikers. Abandoned buildings were regularly spaced along the path, but these shrines were well cared for.

By the time we got to the graveyard, we started to get confused. There were two branches- one that led uphill, to a road, and another that led downhill, to a small town. According to google, the town was Gittana, about half way between Varenna and Bellano. Google recommended we take the road into Varenna, and like the gullible fools we were, we did.

The road was narrow, often going down to one lane where cars would play chicken to see who could get through the passage first, beeping the whole way. Not the best situation to be a pedestrian- especially when there was a total lack of guard rails. This was a common problem in mountainous regions of Italy. Joel and I debated which side of the road to walk on (if we got hit by a car, which would be worse- getting squished between the rock face and the vehicle, or getting thrown off the side?) before deciding to walk along the cliff side and pray.

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Where we would have fallen to our doom
We made it though, with a minimum of grabbing the side of the hill to avoid a car. It only added an additional 6km to get to the Castello di Vezio. On the way we ate from a wild blackberry bush, and a fantastic restaurant built above a waterfall with the first toilet that was actually a fancy hole in the ground that I’d ever experienced.

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The restaurants restrooms next to the waterfall
The Castello di Vezio is a tower that dates back to the Roman era. Currently it serves as an aviary for birds of prey. The birds seemed unimpressed by all the visitors staring at them and taking pictures. There were also archery lessons going on while we visited. The climb up the tower was rickety and a little horrifying, but the view from the top was just spectacular. The Romans obviously had the right idea when they built the top, because you could see everything for miles, including the majority of the lake.

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The view from the tower of Castello di Vezio

Our next stop was Villa Monastero, straight down the mountain as the crow flies from Castello di Vezio. The gardens were especially pretty, flowers blooming everywhere and gorgeous greek style architectural features. A small temple with Corinthian pillars and exquisite statuary was a central feature, as well as a gazebo with an Indian feel that jutted over the lake. The museum was restored with rocco furniture from the 1800’s, including a sunken tub.

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Part of the gardens of Villa MonasteroOnce we left Monastero we walked down the Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lover’s Walk). This walkway follows the shores of Lake Como, with gelateria and other shops, as well as a carnival atmosphere where people just propped up tables to sell their wares. This was the first place where I got anti-buyers remorse- I wish I had purchased a pair of sandals from one of the vendors. They were made with elastic that had been braided in fanciful colors and designs and looked so comfortable. I figured I could find them online maybe, but I when I returned I couldn’t find anything similar.

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A narrow portion of lover’s walk

Once the rain started, we stopped in the closest restaurant to take advantage of their Appertivo special- a meat and cheese plate and some beer. The patio had a gorgeous view over the lake when the rain stopped. On our way back to the airbnb, we were accosted the train station by a bachelorette party. Apparently it is part of the culture that the Bride goes around selling fruit to passerby in order to raises money for the wedding. Joel bought a banana from her for 1 euro, and we both had a good laugh.

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The bride to be with her tray of fruit. 

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