My first day in a new place I always seek out the highest point for a lay of the land. In Varenna, that means trekking to Castle Vezio. Vezio is a village on top of the unnamed mountain / hill behind Varenna and the Castle on top is now a lookout point and falconry. I’d read about a side path down from the Castle with supposedly “spectacular” views of the lake that I was looking forward to, as well.
As I finished my bresaola pizza at del Sole, the owner asked me what my plans were for the afternoon. It was a sunny Palm Sunday and the restaurant was bustling with locals after mass. I told him I was going to go up to Castle Vezio and asked if it was a difficult hike.
“Beh, no – 15, 20 minute walk”, he said, and gave me directions to the path. I thanked him, paid and walked outside, taking a left down the main road from Piazza San Giorgio. The wind was strong and chilly; I wrapped my sweater around me tighter and thought about going back and getting a heavier jacket.
The road between the piazza and the train station is narrow and hugs the side of the hill. There’s a space about two feet wide on one side meant for pedestrian traffic, but you still feel like you’re liable to get hit by one of the cars speeding by around the curves. On my left was the lake and to the right were buildings perched on the side of the hill. I looked up and saw one of my favorite flowers creating an awning over the patio above. From there they’d have an absolutely gorgeous view of the lake.
The pathway up to Vezio doesn’t seem particularly well-marked. There’s a small sign at the base of it, but if I hadn’t known what to look for I would’ve passed right by.
See that cobblestone path leading up to the right? It looks like just another residential lane, but no – that’s the beginning of the walk up to Vezio. If you get to the road that leads off to the port on the left, you’ve gone too far.
Sometimes pictures are deceiving, but this is STEEP. Surely, though, this must be the steepest part. The guy at the pizzeria made it sound easy, like a walk in the park. (I almost made a really bad joke here)
And it did flatten out for a while. In the shade it was almost cold. But it had already been over 15 minutes since I left the Pizzeria. It can’t be that much farther…
And then the path steepened again. Twenty minutes later, I feel like I’m trudging up the hill and am really glad I hadn’t gone back to get my heavier jacket.
Who in the world would call this an easy 15-20 minute walk? Don’t get me wrong – its incredibly beautiful and a very pleasant trail, but you’re still walking up a small mountain (large hill – whatever; I grew up in Florida, anything higher than 10 feet is a big hill to me). People in LA think Runyon Canyon is a beautiful – yet sometimes strenuous – walk. The walk up to Castle Vezio beats it in both regards.
And then finally…
Vezio. It seemed like a quaint, old little town – and empty. I didn’t see another living soul. There’s a sign pointing to the right for the Castle.
I loved the glass-enclosed staircase three stories up on this building! Wondering why, though – it almost looks like they built a fourth floor and then realized they hadn’t built a way to get up there, so precariously hung a staircase on the outside of the building.
Right up this pathway on your right, on the way to the Castle, is a small (and I do mean small – 20 ft X 20 ft at best) ceramics and jewelry shop with work by local artisans. Definitely worth a look around
Right at the official entrance to the Castle is a small village church, Chiesa di Sant’Antonio Abate (same as Sorrento’s St. Anthony? There are several St. Anthony the Abbots…)
You can tell the size of the village by the size of the church.
The stained glass window was dramatic at the back of the church. I’m sure the bell, pig and fire give his identity and as I didn’t hear about them when researching Sorrento’s St. Anthony, I’m thinking this is a different one. (?)
Up the path to the castle, the view back to Vezio is stunning. But this is far from the most stunning view of the day (more to come of the walk back later).
Are you ready to go into Castle Vezio?