We’ll be the first to admit that we’re a little bit biased when it comes to the Italian Lakes — after all, who wouldn’t want to enjoy morning coffee watching the boats sail past their villa? Exactly.
Lake Como is certainly picturesque, with smaller towns dotted around its shores. It affords a lovely privacy, tucked away from the world, which is probably why its so popular with the rich and famous.
On Lake Garda, head to Sirmione early — it’s worth visiting but it gets busy during the day — and wander through the historical centre. We also highly recommend heading to Limone; it has a stunning waterfront of rich red buildings, with plenty of shops and cafes to help you wile away an afternoon.
On Lake Maggiore, we recommend exploring Verbania’s stunning botanical gardens, wandering through Stresa’s cobbled streets and strolling along Baveno’s promenade. You won’t be disappointed by the views across the lake.
An ideal place for thrill-seekers; you can enjoy windsurfing, go waterskiing or even head to the mountains for some canyoning or hiking. On Lake Garda, head to Riva del Garda to take advantage of the stronger winds there, or Torbole — where you’ll find a plethora of opportunities to hire your own equipment. Domaso is known as the windsurfing capital of Lake Como, but is also a popular destination for sailors.
If you’re an avid cyclist, Bellagio (on Lake Como) is the start of the route towards the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Ghisallo (the patron saint of cyclists). The hill has often featured in the Giro d’Italia, making it a popular challenge. Alternatively, head to Monte Generoso between Lake Como and Lugano (although if you’re not up for cycling, there’s also a train).
The peace and quiet
Away from the hustle and bustle of some of the tourist hotspots, it’s still easy to find some calm amongst the crowds. On Lake Como head to Tremezzo and the gardens at Villa Carlotta, where you’ll find 14 acres of Japanese maples, catcti, palm trees and orchids. Or on Lake Maggiore, head to the Borromean Islands where the gardens on Isola Bella are breathtaking in their beauty.
As with most Italian regions, the Italian Lakes don’t disappoint when it comes to local foods and delicacies. In Lake Maggiore, look for the local cheeses such as Bettelmatt, Formagella of Luino, or Ossolano d’Alpe — which are gorgeous when accompanied with the local honey — and the cured meats, raw ham and cured goat’s leg.
Lake Como is well-known for its Michelin starred restaurants, but many of the restaurants also specialise in rustic cooking. Try perch caught fresh from the lake, wild boar from the surrounding hills, and the frittell di mele — divine apple fritters which are unique to the area.
In Lake Garda, you’ll probably find an abundance of citrus inspired foods — from Limoncino liquor to lemon sweets. The area has cultivated its own lemon houses, which aren’t found anywhere else in the world, and makes the fruit a popular choice in dishes and drinks alike.
If you’re feeling particularly inspired by the local cuisine, book one of the many culinary classes hosted by the restaurants and food producers in the area. You’ll be able to get hands-on with the local produce before enjoying your creations with a glass — or two — for lunch.
It wouldn’t be a trip to Italy without sampling the wine. One Lake Como, travel to the north to find the specific wine-growing areas and on Lake Maggiore head to the Novara hills to find the full-bodied wines the region is famous for. On Lake Garda, the town of Bardolino is surrounded by vineyards and even boasts its own wine museum (the Zeni Wine Museum, a family-run winery which also runs guided tours).
Jo Mackay is Owner of Bookings For You. Bookings For You is a company offering apartment and villa rentals in Italy and France.