which would you pick....Varenna.....or Vernazza? Would time of year (season) matter? Why? How long would you stay?
The former is a picturesque quaint small fishing village on the shore of an alpine lake surrounded by mountains jutting into the lake, the latter is a picturesque quaint small fishing village on the shore of the Ligurian Sea surrounded by mountains jutting into the sea. Both are now known for the mass of weekend tourists visiting them than for their fish catch. The main activity is strolling around and admire the beauty of the town with its natural backdrop, enjoy the food and la dolce vita sitting down at the sidewalk restaurants or cafes, and maybe hiking nearby while looking at the amazing vistas. Some might also enjoy sunbathing on the rocky beaches or on their boats. There isn't much to them, except for the picture perfect bucolic beauty that make them a pleasure to the eyes, or as some Italians would call it, an 'orgasmo oculare'. Since all of the above activities are best enjoyed with nice weather, that is why most people would not consider going there on a gray day of winter. As to the length of stay, it depends on what your interests are. Visiting the town itself will take just a few hours at most, that's why most Italians will visit them as a day trip or a weekend trip. But if you enjoy hiking along natural paths, taking a boat trip, or spending time at the beach, you might be able to enjoy them for longer than just a day or two.
Time of year makes a huge difference. In either place, a lot of places are closed in the winter. We went to them one right after the other, 2 nights in Cinque Terre and then 3 in Varenna. It was early summer (first week of July) When we pulled into Varenna I was sorry we left Vernazza. The weather in CT had been gorgeous, and at Lake Como it was so hazy you couldn't see across the lake. The next day was hazy too and it wasn't until the 3d day that things improved. We really liked our hotel (Albergo Milano) and the food there, but overall we much preferred CT, although we didn't expect to after reading a lot of negative opinions about the area (saying it is too crowded and has been ruined). Maybe I just prefer salt air, but Varenna seemed hot, humid and hazy by comparison. And the lake water san't all that clean for swimming until we crossed over to Mennagio.
We've been to both. Time of year matters greatly. Vernazza (in the CT) really is at its best in sunny moderately warm weather. It would be hard to enjoy much if the weather weren't really nice. Varenna (on Lake Como), on the other hand, can be enjoyed more than Vernazza if the weather is gray. I would do either 2 or 3 nights in either place. More than that and I would start to get bored.
Absolutely loved Varenna. We originally were going to stay for 3 days...ended up staying 5. We stayed at the Eremo Gaudio which was fantastic. A lot depends on what you want to do. We had great fun taking the ferries to all of the villages and towns around the lake. Enjoyed hiking the trails around Varenna, relaxing by swimming in the lake, and of course going to the Varenna Caffe for Aperol Spritz and watch the world go by. You can do day trips to Milan and many other places from Varenna quite easily. We went in August...hot, but bearable. Our Jack Russell loved it there as well and was welcomed in all the restaurants, including La Vista, where he had an uneasy truce with the house cats that hung out on the terrace. From there we went to Venice...AHHHHHHHH!!! Loved Venice but the CROWDS. I wanted to jump back on the train for the peace and tranquility of Varenna.
We plan to go back for at least a week next time, if not more.
Jim, Both the places you mentioned are great, and I'd absolutely recommend both. Time-of-year would be a factor in visiting either place, as the experience wouldn't be as pleasant if the weather was miserable. In the Cinque Terre, many of the tourist facilities are closed in the winter (I suspect that may be somewhat true in Varenna as well), so that also has to be considered. The length of stay would depend to some extent on the planned activities. Varenna is a great place for a very relaxing holiday and savouring Il dolce far niente while watching the boats sail back and forth, along with a few day trips to Bellagio or other places along the lake. Some limited hiking is possible, either up to the Castle and Falconry or to the Fiumelatte (as I recall, there's a picnic table and stone BBQ there, so it must be visited by the locals at times). Vernazza could also be a relaxing destination if desired, sitting at one of the sidewalk cafés in the Piazza and watching the activity in the small harbour. The experience will be punctuated by the Bells from the Church, and the sounds of the local trains running back and forth. Vernazza could be a more active destination if you want to hike the Sentiero Azzurro (or some of the many other) trails in the area. It also provides some good opportunities for day trips by boat or train to Portofino, Santa Margherita Ligure, the other C.T. towns or Porto Venere. THIS Video will provide some examples of the atmosphere. The most important decision you'll have in either town is which restaurant to patronize each night, and what to order for dinner. I love good, fresh Pesto Genovese, so that would have a bearing on my choice of which place to stay if I could only choose one. Happy travels!
I still recall the best pesto in Varenna. Could eat it three times a day. Mmmm.
I've liked the responses so far, so passionate in the descriptions. Ken, wonderful u tube regarding Vernazza. Like others I've had the pleasure to see both and was curious which one the board liked and why. Without offending any of the posters it seems as though only men have responded, how about our ladies opinions?
Ahem . . . Female here. In the US, Sasha is more commonly a girl's name than the diminutive form of Alexander like it isin Russia.
Sorry Sasha, I've become friends with a Sasha from the Netherlands, happens to be a male.
Choosing one or the other really depends on personal preference regardless of gender. All those villages at the Cinque Terre or on Lake Como are very quaint and pretty. It really depends if you are a sea person or a mountain/lake person, assuming you are going in summer. If you like beaches and swimming in a body of water, I prefer the Cinque Terre. I remember spending a summer at Lake Como and Lake Maggiore and swimming there was not my cup of tea. But I enjoyed doing that in Monterosso, where I used to go almost every summer. But if you prefer hiking or a mountain environment, then Lake Como might be better.
I love riding the ferries on Lake Como. It is easier to walk in the villages there; except for Varenna, they are not as hilly as the CT villages. Casual walking is easy in Varenna, either along the coastal path or thru the town. Views are great in both areas. I was in Varenna in May one year; it was cool and rainy. I've been in Monterosso in the CT many times spring and fall. The weather becomes changeable (read stormy) in Oct-Nov. I didn't mind, since I wasn't hiking the CT trails. I've stayed as long as a week in both areas. There was more to do in the CT, since trips to the towns north and south of Monterosso are quick and easy. If you are interested in the CT primarily for the trails, check to see that they are open. Wet or rough weather can make the trails impassible. For Varenna and Lake Como, I would recommend sticking to summer travel. For Vernazza and the CT, I would choose to visit mid-April to late May, or mid-Sept to late Oct. That's just my preference.
We also encountered haze at Varenna. We were disappointed in the views, but it did make spending part of the day indoors at the cooking class offered by Il Caminetto more bearable. And the class was terrific. Only one other person has mentioned the haze, so maybe it doesn't happen often. But I noticed somewhere in his writing or maybe the show script Rick refers to "lazy, hazy Lake Como.". And a lot of the photos of the area have a dream-like quality from the slight haze, not the crystal claritynyounsee in photos taken in the mountains. We loved having breakfast and dinner on the deck at Ristorante La Vista, the restaurant at Albergo Milano. The food was excellent, and at sunset the haze images the scene all the better. On the other hand we loved our room at La Toretta too; sitting on our deck for breakfast was the best. Mand the swimming was great, as was the walk through the vineyards to get to the swim spot. My question to you is, which one fits better into your trip? They are both good choices, so maybe that could decide it for you.