An ancient Cistercian monastery, Villa Monastero, owned by the Province of Lecco is one of the main features of Varenna. The village of Varenna, dating back to 769, is widely known as the “pearl of the lake” and has a rich history due to its strategic position in the “Y” of Lake Como. Whether you choose to visit Villa Monastero or not, you should still take the ferry or taxi boat to Varenna (if you’re not staying there, that is) and luxuriate in the relaxed, rustic atmosphere, enjoy the restaurants and cafes, the art galleries, shops, and the “not to be missed” waters’ edge walkway.
The Villa Monastero itself is just a ten minute walk from the ferry terminal (turn right as you disembark) in an enviable position with its panoramic views of the lake and mountains complemented by the glorious gardens which surround it. The Villa, which was first mentioned in documents dating back to 1208 when it was the Monastery of Santa Maria, has been open to the public, as a museum, since 2004 and is also a conference and exhibition centre. However, it is the extensive gardens that people truly enthuse about. The gardens extend right down to the waters’ edge and stretch for perhaps a couple of kilometers along the waterfront. You can hear the water lapping against the walls and steps as you wander along the pathways. Very relaxing!
The variety of trees, shrubs and plants is testament to the micro-climate of the lake and almost every species appears to thrive in this location. As you take a peaceful stroll through the gardens you will come across sculptures, structures and fountains, as well as places to sit, and perhaps have a picnic (in the designated areas), while you admire the landscape. The gardens of the Villa Monastero are reasonably easy to navigate for visitors of all ages and levels of mobility; not too many tricky steps or very steep paths.
The Villa is presented in an eclectic style as a result of refurbishments done at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century. The building is open to the public as a museum and houses furniture, antiques, tapestries and art accumulated over four centuries by a succession of owners. There are 14 rooms which are fully furnished, again in an eclectic manner. Of note are the grand staircase, the so-called “King Farouk” or Pompeian” bathroom, and examples of marble, ceramic and stucco work. The interior may be of interest to some but in my view it does not compare with the impressive gardens or its immediate surroundings.
Go as early in the morning as you can and imagine the gardens are your very own – the gardens open at 9:30am in Summer. Check the Villa Monastero website here for further details of timings, entrance fees and events. You can also call +39 0341.295450.