Wednesday, November 17, 2021

10/11/21: Varenna-Bellano & Back via Wayfarer's Path

A view of Varenna's tranquil river and Lake Como beyond:

Contrada del Porto was one of the many extremely narrow lanes connecting Varenn'a upper town with its harbor.

There was never a reason to consult a ferry schedule if heading south from Varenna to one of the other communities on the lake as the ferries seemed to run in that direction almost nonstop. Demand obviously was much lower for people wanting to go to Bellano and other towns further north as there were only a few northbound ferries a day.  

Water taxis were another option for getting around on the lake but we never felt the need or desire to check them out. 

As we headed to Bellano, the first town north of Varenna on the east shore of Lake Como, we were again reminded of the beauty of the Swiss Alps in front of us. Switzerland is so close to the towns along the lake, many Italians living in the lakeside towns commute to Lugano in southern Switzerland to work.

We could have taken a train to reach Bellano to begin our Wayfarers' Path back to Varenna but the ferry seemed 'the thing to do' while visiting Lake Como and we also would be taking lots of trains in Italy later on the trip. 

If you're into lavender, be sure to head to Bellano as you'll be happy as a clam!

The monument in the square by the dock honored Tommaso Grossi, an 18th-century poet born in Bellano. 

Bellano's inner harbor and ...

its lakefront promendade.

When the Gothic-style Sts. Nazaro and Celso Church was built in the 14th century, it was dedicated to St. George. After the church was shortly thereafter partially destroyed by the flooding Pioverna River, it was rebuilt and re-dedicated to the two saints. When the village church was rebuilt, the right nave or aisle was made larger because previously it was determined it wasn't stable and would have fallen down.

It was heartwarming to read that two priests in September of 1943 helped a group of Jews and Allied former prisoners of war who had come to Bellano escape to nearby Switzerland.

After climbing a couple of hundred steps from the harbor, we were about even with the rooftops and were rewarded with a glimpse of the lake in the distance. 

Atop another steep hill stood the Church of St. Rocco that was built in 1489, consecrated in 1502, and became the seat of the Cofraternity in 1587 until it was disbanded in 1786. The church was restored in 1969 but then became a War Memorial. It was closed.

The 'pillars' standing sentry outside the church were actually leftover 20mm bombs from WW I.

As we climbed further was the town's main attraction, the Orrido di Bellano, a small canyon that was formed through erosion started 15 million years ago by the turbulent waters of the Pioverna River. Caverns in the canyon became a source of inspiration for writers including one famous spot called Ca del Diavol or Devil's House that evoked fears of the devil and satanic rituals. We could have followed a walkway into the canyon but were content with this look from above.

Steven and I had come to Bellano to hike the Sentiero del Viandante or Wayfarer's Path that followed the footsteps of ancient Romans and used to be the only footpath connecting the isolated villages on the eastern shore of Lake Como by land.

The white upside-down Y in the sign marking the Sentiero or trail mimicked the shape of Lake Como. 

We sure had to be eagle-eyed not to miss the trail marker on the ground as we were accustomed to having markers at eye level.

I think we both relished the opportunity to take a break from the climb and gaze out at the vast panorama way below us.

Being in Italy, I probably shouldn't have been surprised seeing a chapel while hiking in the mountains but I was. Next to an olive grove was Cappella dell'Addolorata that only dated from 1935. 

We had achieved a 1,000-ft. elevation gain when we reached the footbridge. 

All of a sudden, the path was strewn with thousands of chestnuts which were so soft underfoot!

We figured this was likely an ancient mile marker.

What was likely an old farmhouse appeared to have been deserted.

According to the Italian-language sign, I was able to figure out this next little chapel was constructed in 1400, and then restored by the Alpine Group in Perledo in 2003. It honored the memory of the 100,000 Italians who lost their lives in WW II's Russian campaign from 1941-1943.

I don't recall our seeing anyone on the path until this point where we spotted two obviously collecting chestnuts in the forest. I wondered if they were for their personal use or whether they were going to sell them.

In what seemed like the middle of nowhere was this church and cemetery. Both were closed. 

You can see and perhaps 'feel' how high we hiked to get this fabulous view of the lake!

Not for the first time that day did we wonder why we had chosen to hike from Bellano to Varenna as it was all uphill as opposed to the mostly downhill trail in the opposite direction!

What an idyllic spot for a home but a nightmare driving up the rutted, rocky road! We heard guides in Varenna tell their groups that George and Amal Clooney lived on the lake so I wondered where their Villa Oleander home was!

Varenna, far, far below us. 

Once we reached the lake again, we were able better to appreciate the pretty strenuous hike we had just completed with 3,000 vertical ft in elevation gain because of all the switchbacks. I realized then how much more I enjoyed the much flatter hikes in Switzerland's Berner Oberland as they were like a walk in the park compared to the Bellano to Varenna hike!

Next post: Crossing the lake to and fro by ferry and touring the magnificent Villa del Balbianello.

Posted on November 17th, 2021, from Positano just before heading to Sorrento, the northern terminus of the famous Amalfi Coast Road.


  1. Gorgeous lakeside vistas under brilliant blue Italian skies.. how lucky are you both ? xo

    1. Lina,

      You're so right - we are incredibly lucky to be able to enjoy such incredible vistas not only here in Lake Como but throughout this wonderful trip. I kept wondering whether your brother George also did the Wayfarers' Path hike when he summered in Varenna?

      Hugs always, dear one

  2. I wouldn't say no to living in a villa on the lake. Very beautiful, indeed.

  3. Can't imagine many people saying no to the option of living on Lake Como either, Paul!