This review shows how the trip on board a Trenord regional train on the highly scenic railway line between Milan, Varenna and Tirano is like.
After a brief train ride from Bergamo to Milan, it was time to commence my journey in earnest.
From Milan, I would take a Trenord regional train to the town of Tirano on the border with Switzerland.
These Trenord trains are not only filled with passengers traveling to and from Tirano, but also with those embarking from Milan to explore the breathtaking towns along the shores of Lake Como such as Lecco and Varenna.
Located in a beautiful mountain valley, Tirano is the terminus of the standard-gauge railway line from Milan but also marks the starting point of the famous narrow-gauge Bernina Railway that winds its way into Switzerland.
The train ride from Milan to Tirano is known for its stunning scenery, with picturesque views of Lake Como and Alpine valleys along the way.
The train journey to Tirano starts at Milano Centrale, Milan’s highly impressive main railway station.
Inside the Trenord train
Trains on the line from Milan to Varenna and Tirano are operated by Trenord using modern rolling stock.
Italian regional train tickets, including the Trenord services north of Milan, are known for their affordability.
A one-way ticket from Milan to Varenna costs €7.10 in second class or €10.50 in first class, whereas a journey from Milan to Tirano would be €12 in second class and €18 in first class.
Ticket prices remain fixed whether purchased online in advance or at the station shortly before departure.
It’s worth noting that not all trains on this route offer first-class seating as some are second-class only.
Although there isn’t much difference in seat comfort in my opinion, first class tends to be less crowded.
With an Interrail or Eurail pass, no additional supplement or reservation is required to ride the Trenord trains, allowing you the convenience to simply hop on board any train of your choice.
As seat reservations are not offered, there is no risk of these trains being fully booked.
While you have the flexibility to take any available seat when you board these Trenord trains, it’s highly recommended to opt for a seat on the left-hand side when traveling north from Milan to Tirano in order to enjoy the best views of Lake Como.
While the train has a toilet and there are power sockets in both classes, there are no other facilities on board, so it’s recommended to bring your own water and food.
Milan to Varenna-Esino
Train RE 2826 – Departure: 1.20pm – Arrival: 2.24pm
Duration: 1h04m – Distance: 71 kilometres
Instead of heading straight to Tirano, I had planned to make an intermediate stop in the picturesque town of Varenna during the afternoon.
After taking some time to relax on the shores of Lake Como, I would then continue onward to Tirano on the same railway line.
The views during the initial half hour or so aren’t the most spectacular.
As you leave the extensive suburbs of Milan behind, you will still pass through a highly urbanized landscape, including cities like Monza, known for its racing circuit that hosts the annual Italian Formula 1 Grand Prix.
Although my train was absolutely packed on this beautiful Monday in June, I was fortunate that the seat next to me in first class remained empty.
Shortly before you arrive at the station of Lecco you will get your first glimpses of Lake Como when the train crosses a bridge over the River Adda.
At this point, the mountains that form the formidable backdrop of Lake Como come into view as well.
Lecco serves as an important railway junction, with a line branching off towards Bergamo.
While not as picturesque as Varenna, the small city of Lecco can be a pleasant stop during your journey if you have the time to spare.
Being an important regional hub, Lecco offers a local vibe distinct from more touristy towns on Lake Como such as Varenna and especially Bellagio.
Along Lake Como
After the stop at Lecco, the train journey becomes increasingly scenic.
At this point, the railway line hugs the eastern shore of Lake Come, so do make sure you are sitting on the left-hand side of the train when travelling north to Tirano.
The views over the mountainous shores of Lake Como are among the best you can experience in Italy.
A few minutes before reaching Varenna, you can already catch a glimpse of the town jutting into Lake Como ahead of you.
As the train passes through a railway tunnel, it slows down and directly enters the small station of Varenna-Esino as it emerges outside.
At this point, I disembarked from the train along with several dozen other passengers.
From Varenna-Esino station, the town center of Varenna is just a 10-minute walk away along a clearly marked path.
In my opinion, Varenna is the most pleasant town to stop over when traveling by train between Milan and Tirano.
I will provide detailed information about my experiences visiting Varenna in the next chapter of this trip report.
After a couple of hours in Varenna it was time to continue my train trip to Tirano.
Arriving early at the station of Varenna-Esino is hardly a crime as there is a charming bar located inside the station building.
As I waited for my train to arrive, I treated myself to an Aperol Spritz on the outdoor terrace of the bar.
Varenna-Esino to Tirano
Train RE 2832 – Departure: 5.25pm – Arrival: 6.52pm
Duration: 1h27m – Distance: 84 kilometres
Onward to Tirano
Although the platform of Varenna station was full of people, it turned out that most of them were waiting for the southbound train back to Milan.
When the train from Milan to Tirano emerged from the tunnel and stopped at Varenna station, only a handful of passengers boarded the train.
Fortunately, the train was only about half-full, which allowed me to easily secure a good window seat.
Up until the station of Colico you can still enjoy some beautiful views over Lake Como from your left-hand side.
Once the train departs from the town of Colico, the railway line follows the course of the River Adda all the way upstream towards Tirano.
At the beginning of the journey, the river valley is quite wide.
However, the mountains at both sides of the valley do offer some pretty views.
Between Morbegno and Sondrio, the valley narrows and the mountains rise in height.
From the window, you can catch glimpses of quaint mountainside villages, each with its own tall church tower.
As the train nears the station of Sondrio, you can spot the Convent of San Lorenzo and two castles towering above the town.
Soon after leaving Sondrio, you’ll notice the mountainsides becoming much steeper.
A number of slopes have been terraced and converted into vineyards, adding to the picturesque scenery along the way.
Arrival in Tirano
While the sun was gradually setting behind the mountains, the train slowed down as it approached the outskirts of Tirano.
As the train rides into Tirano, you can already see some Rhaetian Railways narrow-gauge trains parked in railway yards on the left-hand side.
The Trenord station in Tirano for trains to Milan is conveniently situated right next to the Rhaetian Railway station, where you can catch narrow-gauge trains heading into Switzerland.
Indeed, many travellers come to Tirano by train specifically to experience the famous Bernina Express, a scenic railway operated by the Rhaetian Railways that runs between Tirano in Italy and Chur in Switzerland.
After a night’s sleep in town that would also be my plan for the following morning!
Taking the train from Milan to Varenna and Tirano makes for a scenic railway journey along the shores of Lake Como and through the mountainous valley of the River Adda.
The Trenord trains operating this route are cheap and surprisingly modern and well-equipped for a regional service.
However, during weekends and the peak summer season, these trains can become quite crowded.
Whether you are traveling directly between Milan and Tirano to connect to the Bernina Express or exploring the picturesque towns along Lake Como, this train journey will surely be a memorable experience.
Trip report index
This article is part of the ‘Scenic Trains Around Switzerland and the Italian Lakes‘ trip report, which consists of the following chapters:
1. Bergamo: A Visit to Lombardy’s Beautiful Hilltop Town
2. Travelling From Bergamo to Milan by Train
3. From Milan to Varenna and Tirano By Trenord Regional Train (current chapter)
4. A Varenna Visit: A Day Trip to Lake Como’s Most Beautiful Town
5. Tirano: The Italian Gateway to the Bernina Railway
6. Bernina Express Train: Guide to Switzerland’s Most Scenic Railway
7. Review: Swiss InterCity (IC) Train Chur to Zurich and Basel
8. From Zurich to Geneva on a Swiss ICN Tilting Train
9. Cheap Geneva Hotel: Stay Across the Border in Annemasse!
** rest of the chapters to follow soon **