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Milan Day Trip -- Varenna

Hi all,

Sorry if the post gets duplicated, lost internet when I hit send, and cannot see it posting.

After two years planning a trip to France and Italy we are one of the many victims of the travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In the last stages of planning I used the advice given on this forum both to myself and other would be travelers (as well as the RS 2019 Italy guidebook). Based on many suggestions and our rethinking of our trip, we have made some significant changes. This brings me to my question.

We will be arriving Milan from Paris, and spending three nights. This will give us two full days as well as an afternoon (we plan on leaving in the morning). For reference, we will be heading for three nights in Venice, three in Florence, and five in Rome. In Milan, we are planning on rebooking the tour we had for this year to see The Last Supper and other Milano highlights. We will have the two afternoons to see Milano on our own. For the last day, I want to plan a day trip (which we can cancel if we feel like we would like to spend more time in Milan). Do you have any suggestions? On the RS website he seems enthusiastic about Varenna, but on the guidebook it says there's not much to do. We are looking to for scenery (both natural and architectural) to take a bit of a break from museums after Paris and before Venice, Florence and Rome. (In our group we have grandparents who are active and well travelled, parents, and two teens).

I truly appreciate any advice you may send our way.

Posted by
27405 posts

I don't know what Rick says about Ravenna in his guidebook, but the town has seven sites with magnificent mosaics (glorious even for non-religious me) and a lovely historic area. And it is flat. However, I don't think it's a viable day-trip from Milan--about 3 hours each way by train. Ravenna works better for those based in Padua or Bologna, or as an overnight stay. Even Padua is pushing it since there's so much to see in Ravenna.

As an alternative day-trip from Milan, I'd suggest Bergamo, a very atmospheric hill town that's only about 1 hour away. You take a funicular up to the historic district.

Another possibility would be Varenna on Lake Como, also about an hour away (to the Varenna-Esino station). However, I don't think that's really a day-trip sort of spot. Most people want to spend some time at multiple towns around the lake, and reaching them by lake boat or bus takes time.

Personally, I wouldn't choose 3 nights in Milan with so many other places to explore in Italy.

Posted by
33296 posts

Ravenna is all the way across Italy from Milan - much closer to Venice than Milan. That's a long way to see golden byzantine mosaics, as beautiful as they are - and they are. I visited Ravenna as a day trip from Bologna and I wouldn't have wanted to go further. We spent all day there.

The train schedules are all over the place and not reliable or accurate at the moment due to the world situation but I would expect when you travel it will be between 4 and 5 hours each way. There's no time to see the fabulous art.

A lot closer for a day trip would be either Lake Como or Lake Maggiore (and Isola Bella in the Borromean Islands).

Posted by
136 posts

Thank you to all that replied. I was baffled by the responses having checked on Google Maps before posting and realized that I wrote Ravenna when I should have written Varenna...

Suggestions still appreciated.

Posted by
884 posts

Is this an Emily Litella bit from Saturday Night Live?
Nevermind.

Posted by
7444 posts

How active do you like to be on this trip? Looking at your itinerary, you are focusing on the larger cities. There’s a lot of wonderful relaxing atmosphere in the smaller towns, if you are okay with a less active nightlife. One of my favorites near Milan is Stresa. Beautiful Isola Bella with the villa & gardens to visit, Villa Taranto gardens, etc. It’s an easy train ride from Milano Centrale Train Station, or if you arriving at the Malpensa airport for Milan, just reserve the Alibus, if you would like to stay overnight there.

Personally, after staying at 20 towns in Italy, i might skip Milan altogether and fly directly to Venice from Paris. You could see Venice and then pick another town in the Veneto or Tuscany region to stay, then head to Florence, etc.

Posted by
136 posts

Personally, after staying at 20 towns in Italy, i might skip Milan altogether and fly directly to Venice from Paris.

Thank you Jean. One of the reasons for this trip was that it would be to celebrate son's high school graduation, and daughters "quinceañero". The stop in Milan is for her. She really wants to see the fashion district. It's a compromise for all of the museums we will be visiting, (which she will appreciate, but not as much as us).

Will look up Stressa.

Thanks again.

Posted by
336 posts

We did 1.5 days (2 nights) in Milan before heading home to US. First afternoon we explored on our own. Second day we did a full walking tour that included "The Last Supper". The tour was very interesting. We ended the day with an evening show at La Scala (Rigoletto). It felt just about right for time spent in Milan. Varenna is beautiful, but I don't think it would be a great day trip. It seems more of a destination for a few nights of relaxation. Maybe try Como town. There is a funicular and a big market on Saturdays. Another day trip idea would be Lugano Switzerland by train.

Posted by
6370 posts

Just a boost for Milan: We spent 4 days there after a RS tour several years ago, and would gladly have stayed longer. I fact, when I find myself daydreaming about Italy, it's Milan I see! That surprises me.

There's lots to see there, and it's a good place to slow down and take your time. But then, aren't they all?

Posted by
16894 posts

Rick is enthusiastic about Varenna and it’s partly because there’s “not much to do,” other than to relax and enjoy the scenery and atmosphere. There’s plenty to fill a day. Hopping between a few small towns by local ferry, strolling through the towns, perhaps visiting a villa with garden, and definitely a gelato. On a clear day, you can see some snow-capped peaks, on a hazy day, it feels like many paintings and photos you may have seen.

Posted by
211 posts

The point of going to Varenna is to see Lake Como.

We stayed in Varenna for 3 nights May 2019 at a place called Michaelangelo's B & B in Lake Como last year. Kind of cramped; lots of stairs. What it had going for it was a rooftop patio, next to the church and bell tower, that had a to-die-for 210 degree view of the lake. Having breakfast on that pation in the morning was the best part of each day.

I think of Lake Como not of as a sight, but more of as a place to slow down and relax. It is not someplace I would think of going on a day trip.

There are no "must-see" sites in or around Lake Como. There are several nice villas to visit (one in Varenna mostly of interest for its gardens, others across the lake), and some nice "old town Italy" ambience. Its all very, very pleasant.

If I did it as a day trip from Milan, I would probably walk directly down from the railroad station to the ferry and head out on to the lake. Visit a villa, have a nice meal, walk around a bit more, and then head back home. That would be a full day.

Posted by
4916 posts

Varenna is lovely for the scenery across the lake. If you take a ferry from Varenna (to any other lake destination) you'll get stunning views looking back at the boats coming and going from Varenna with the hills as backdrop.

We stayed a few nights in Varenna and one day took the ferry to Bellagio where we walked through and beyond the town out into some lovely rural areas. We found a market and bought things for a picnic by the lake. Then took the ferry back to Varenna. Depending on which month you will be traveling, the days may be long enough to do this as a day trip and then take the train back to Milan.

I've read about (but did not take) a 5 mile hike on the Wayfarer's Path in the hills behind Varenna.

Also called “il sentiero del viendante” in Italian.
Along the mountainous slopes of Como Lake, an old mule track runs between the small towns of Varenna and Bellano. It allows the visitors to discover Lombardy’s typical landscapes while admiring the opposite bank of the Lake.

Posted by
11368 posts

You would go to Varenna to see Lake Como with the Alps in background, so jump on a ferry there that travels the lake’s mid section, Bellagio, Mennagio,Cadenabbia, Lenno, etc.

Posted by
321 posts

Hi tmalave-

We spent several nights in Varenna 20 (or 30?) years ago. We had an inexpensive room in the attic on the 4th floor floor of the yellow hotel ( Hotel Olivedo) located about a block from the dock on the lake. This was in mid September and (with no reservation) was the only room available in this hotel. In those days Varenna was a place to unwind. That appears to also be true today according to the 3 comments of Laura, Matt, and CW above. There was a small stone and cement path to follow along the edge of the lake to visit several of the nearby restaurants and watch the boats on the lake. Due to the shortage of Lira (see the $100 bill changing problem described below), we didn't take any boat rides on the lake.

A few details that stand out in my memory bank-

Most Italian banks wouldn't exchange $100 bills for Lira due to a surge in counterfeit bills. The owner of the hotel cashed several for me at a good rate so I could pay for the room, buy food and beer, and buy enough gas to get to Switzerland where we had no trouble changing dollars for Swiss francs

The evening meal we had at the hotel the second night was fantastic- fresh fish caught from the lake that day

Room was at the top of the stairs on the 4th floor- the owner helped with the bags

I had a business card from the hotel but I remember giving the card to a TWA pilot when he mentioned that he was planning a trip to the Italian lakes

Have a great trip next September (2021)!!!

Posted by
1626 posts

I second the suggestion for Stresa. Take the Alibus from Malpensa to Stresa. You can do a day trip easily from Stresa to Milan and back via train. We live in Verbania and have done day trips to Milan multiple times. To get to Venice, take 9am train from Stresa to Milan Centrale, then high speed to Venice and will arrive by 1 or 2pm.

With all your big city stops, give yourselves a break in a small town. All kinds of things to see and do via ferry- the islands, the Monastery, Angera Fortress, bucket Gondola in Laveno. You could even take the ferry to and from Switzerland. And there is great hiking also.

If you you like I can send you links in things to do.

Posted by
431 posts

I would also recommend Stresa and the Borromean Islands. We stayed there for three nights, and it was an easy trip from Milan by train, and then we took the Alibus to Malapensa airport for our trip home. One of our day trips was to Lago d’Orta, and Isola San Giulio, and that was really wonderful. If you’re just in Stresa for the day, taking the ferry to one, two, or all three islands would be nice. We went to Isola Bella and it was beautiful, with the added bonus of Chinese white peacocks! We had a special lunch on Isola Pescatore, and the whole ambiance of Stresa was just what we sought after the busy feel of Milan.

Laurie