Visitor’s Guide to the Italian Lakes
The Italian Lakes are famous for their stunning scenery, but these days they’re often busy with vacationers. Certain resorts around Lake Como and Lake Garda in particular can be uncomfortably popular, especially in the summer high season. But it’s easy to slip away and find your own piece of Italian lakeside heaven – here are some ideas for secret hideaways all across the lakes region.
Photo courtesy of Thomas Mueller
Closer in geography – and spirit – to the Matterhorn than to Milan, tiny Lake Orta looks like an afterthought, a little croissant-shaped tarn in the far west of what’s usually thought of as Italy’s lake region. Here sits Orta San Giulio, the most bewitchingly beautiful lakefront village you could ever wish for. Narrow cobbled alleyways coil down the hillside, feeding into Orta’s pocket-sized main square, enclosed on three sides but open to the water, gazing across at an island church and convent just offshore.
Photo courtesy of Darkensiva
Although most visitors pack into the resort towns of Stresa, Baveno and Verbania, clustered around the island gardens of Isola Bella and Isola Madre, the best of Lake Maggiore lies further north. A stone’s throw shy of the Swiss border, the evocative ex-fishing village of Cannobio ticks all the right boxes, with a traffic-free medieval core clustered above a gloriously long cobbled lakeside square lined with terrace cafés and crowned by a Renaissance church on the waterfront. Boats drift to and fro, bells ring, all is tranquil.
Photo courtesy of Dirt
Lying two-thirds in Switzerland, Lake Lugano is often overlooked by visitors on Italian Lakes holidays – but the contrast is fascinating. Lugano itself is a sassy, lively city, less than half the size of nearby Como, but poised on a charming south-facing bay. Enjoy the dining scene and the splendid art museums, then take a funicular up to the summit of Monte Brè or Monte San Salvatore, twin sugarloaf mountains which soar above this wildly beautiful lake.
Photo courtesy of RainDog
Ideally located midway up Lake Como’s eastern shore, tranquil Varenna sees a fraction of the visitors who flock to the better-known resorts of Menaggio, Tremezzo and Bellagio. Life moves more slowly here: there’s not much to do but explore the high, narrow, stepped lanes which thread back from the little harbourfront promenade, finding a gallery here, a restaurant there. Stroll the Lovers’ Walkway, which hugs the cliffside just above the lapping waves, then take in a glorious panorama as the sun sets behind the mountains directly opposite.
Photo courtesy of Joss
Although lakes Como, Garda and Maggiore take top billing, make time to investigate the smaller lakes which dot the mountain valleys in between. Perched in the Alpine foothills between the cities of Bergamo and Brescia, little Lake Iseo offers a breath of fresh air and some beautiful landscapes. Iseo town is the perfect hideaway, where local life carries on more or less undisturbed. Roam by car, by bike or on foot around the pleasant, low-key holiday towns dotted around the lake – and congratulate yourself on discovering a hidden gem.
Photo courtesy of Mike F.
You might have thought there’s nowhere left to explore on Lake Garda holidays. Not at all! Though resorts such as Limone, Malcesine and Riva are firmly on the beaten track, the lake is large – and wild – enough to conceal plenty of hideaway corners. Not far south of Limone, tiny Gargnano can still be half-empty while its bigger neighbours are bursting at the seams. Set around a little harbour of bobbing masts, with its old lemon groves adorning slopes nearby, Gargnano has character in spades.