Italy's rich cultural heritage and deep and romantic history is a major ingredient to its popularity with tourists. The history of this country, memoirs about it, travel guides, poems, and more, revolving around this country are some of the top selling subjects in literature. Understanding Italian history will deeply enrich an experience here. The Italian culture is colorful one and has been shaped by centuries of intriguing kings and rulers, revolutionists, and above all, powerful Romans. Reading up on Italian history and culture will definitely enhance your experience in Varenna.

You may want to start as close to the beginning as possible, in that case go with history and "The History of Italy" by Francesco Guicciardini and Sidney Alexander, or if you want a quick and more basic read, go for "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Italian History and Culture" by Gabrielle Ann Euvino and Gabrielle Euvino.

For a more specialized book on this region, the following guide will provide a lot of useful information, "Lombardy and the Italian Lakes" Dana Facaros.

On a linguistic note, you may want to pick up a few words and phrases in Italian, a good book to help you do so is "Rick Steves' Italian Phrase Book and Dictionary" by Rick Steves.