There are two ways to get to the ruins of the Castle Vezio, high on the mountainside above Varenna. One is by a footpath, said to take forty minutes to walk. We had hired a car, so drove up steep, narrow, twisting roads that would give even Lewis Hamilton a bit of a fright. But it was worth it for the view from the top.
Of course, you expect a view from a mountainside, but this one is stage managed to give you a dramatic shock. If you arrive by car, you park at a very small car park a little way below the castle, then make your way through the cobbled streets of an old hamlet and along a path through woods. That brings you to a cafe and ticket office. From there it’s only a few meters to the castle gate.
So far, you’ve had occasional glimpses of the Lake below, but nothing that can possibly prepare you for what you’re going to see next. You walk into the grounds of the castle and immediately find yourself on a small terrace facing an uninterrupted view of the central part of the Lake and down both the eastern and western branches. It’s a scene created on an epic scale – probably the only spot from which the Lake looks like a sea.
But as so often at Lake Como, it took a little bit of human ingenuity to perfect what nature has provided. In this case, it’s a simple, stone balustrade, consisting only of uprights and a top rail, so that you can see part of the Lake through it. It may not seem very important but it adds the human dimension that is so characteristic of Lake Como, without detracting from or spoiling from the spectacle that nature has provided.
It’s conventional to say of spectacular views that words can’t do them justice. On the terrace of the Castle Vezio, spectators seem to recognise that this is one of those situations and don’t even try to use standard English. All you can hear are grunts of amazement.
The castle itself is a small ruin – just walls and a tower, covering a few square metres. But just outside the walls is an area of perches where birds of prey are kept by a falconer who gives daily displays of falconry. We were too late to see the show and although there were perches for four or five birds, we saw only two. We wondered if the falconer was in the habit of taking a couple of hawks home with him, to guarantee himself a seat on the train.
Leaving the castle you can call in at a workshop in the hamlet that specialises in the production of a distinctive Raku style of pottery, before braving the road down to Varenna again. It’s not easy getting up to the Castle Vezio and down again. But it’s worth the effort.