Even if you’re not a “church person” this is one church that must NOT be missed and, in my opinion, is among the most magnificent in all Rome with its dazzling mosaics, frescoes and coffered ceiling. Tucked away from the more traditional tourist draws, Santa Maria in Trastevere is considered the first church built and dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is one of the oldest churches in Rome with its foundation dating back to the mid-300’s A.D.
Nestled among many wonderful shops, bars and restaurants in the charming old neighborhood of Trastevere, it makes for a great afternoon sojourn. The piazza in front of the chiesa can be a lively entertaining scene … Trastevere’s open-air great room, with an ongoing soccer game on the south edge and an ancient Roman fountain in the center where you’ll often find modern-day vagabond minstrels. Step inside and into the coolness and calm and prepare to be mesmerized … proving that all that glitters is not just gold!
Just beyond Bellagio is the medieval town of Varenna, with its quaint cobblestone streets, charming porticos, breathtaking scenery and laid-back ambiance, makes a perfect retreat from the more obviously touristed towns around Lake Como. Like a sentinel in the middle of the lake, Varenna is located at the “Y” intersection of the three branches of Lago di Como just beyond Bellagio, across from Menaggio and Cadenabbia/Tremezzo (with Villa Carlotta), and is perfectly situated for exploring the hiking and mountain biking trails of the Esino valley. You can discover a magnificent medieval fortress, the Castle of Vezio, set high above the lake where I encountered mysterious sculptural apparitions chilling out. But the jewel of the town is Villa Monastero which hosts a museum, an exhibition center and a quiet lakeside garden full of rare flowers and plants.
From Varenna’s pier and ferry station you can stroll along the romantic Passeggiata degli Innamorati (Lovers’ Walk) along the edge of the lake which leads to the center of the old borgo (town) lined with charming boutiques and lakeside bars and restaurants where the twilight is always magical.