Decadent evenings in Michelin-starred restaurants and days spent sailing the shores on a luxury yacht… there’s nothing quite like the glamour of holidays in the Italian Lakes
The moment you dip into your floating swimming pool on the edge of Lake Como you realise that sometimes the best summer holidays aren’t about the beach. Imagine a fairytale world of lemon trees and bougainvillea, where castles and Italianate gardens sit on their own islands and chalky-coloured houses almost fall into vibrant blue glacial waters. Holidays to the Italian Lakes feel like a deliciously clandestine north Italian affair, yet scattered across Lombardy they are surprisingly close to Milan, Verona and the Swiss Alps.
It’s all about fresh-from-the-lake fish straight onto your plate in elegant restaurants against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains, crisp white wine enjoyed on a yacht as you sail down the wind, and those very European narrow pebbled shorelines where sunbathers relax, intermittently paddling in the deep blue. Expect hot sulphur springs and Roman Ruins in seductive Sirmione, Belle Époque spas and decadent hotels dripping in glamour in Lake Como and sleepy fishing villages juxtaposed with wild beauty in Lake Maggiore. The famous breeze of Lake Garda is a delight for windsurfers, but the surrounding mountains and water keep the heat in, ensuring sun-kissed strolling along cobblestoned streets.
There’s that ‘dolce vita’ macchiato for breakfast, seafood brunches under olive trees in a glorious garden and starry evenings in Michelin-starred Moorish Palace restaurants. Studded with the private homes of European aristocracy and Hollywood celebrities and punctuated with luxurious resorts, spiring cedars and age-old churches and palaces, this is how the Italians do idyllic lakeside living.
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Best time to visit Italian Lakes
• The best time to head to the lakes is from April to October when days are brighter and sunny
• During the summer months the number of visitors rises, especially during August when most Italians go on their holidays; the lakes' water is generally warmer in July, August and September making these the prime swimming months
• There is often rainfall during the summer and nights are cooler than you might expect following hot days
• From November to March, lakeside beaches and outdoor swimming pools are not always open and the temperature can fall quite low; temperatures fall to single figures between December and February.
Italian Lakes holiday highlights
On the largest of the lakes – Lake Garda – you can enjoy a huge range of scenery surrounded by city gates built by the Venetians. The north has higher mountains on the narrower part of the lake and the south is flatter, home to pebble beaches leading down into the water, and those famous Bardolino vineyards. Explore Sirmione’s 13th-Century cobbled streets, the Roman ruins of Grotto di Catullo and the thermal baths and hot springs. Action-packed Lake Garda offers the perfect climate and props for windsurfing, paragliding and kayaking while its northernmost points are idyllic for mountain hikes and climbs. You can cross town to town by ferry to make the most of all the distinctive character on offer. And if you fancy hopping on the train, you can be in Verona in half an hour.
Lake Como is where the jet set and the Milanese like to hang out. Take the funicular to the top of Brunate Mountain for panoramic views of the lakes and Switzerland, hop on board a boat to the exclusive village of Bellagio, and visit the stately Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo. Grand Hotel Tremezzo has a floating pool in the lake and is the perfect spot for aperitivo as the sun sets on shimmering waters.
From Lake Como, take a boat trip to the Borromean Islands, home to three tiny islands and two islets. On Isola Bella you’ll find a magnificent Baroque Palace and renaissance tiered gardens where peacocks like to roam. Head to the resort of Stresa for cobblestoned streets, spellbinding views and plenty of café culture, shopping and art galleries, and take a cable car to the summit of Mount Mottarone for both Lake and Alps views.
Where are the Italian Lakes?
In the north of Italy surrounded by mountains that edge into Switzerland, just half an hour from Verona and close to both Milan and Venice.
Hiring a car is one of the best ways to make the most of exploring all that this region has to offer. But even without a car, the Italian Lakes are easy to navigate. You can criss-cross through all the towns and resorts in the Lakes by ferry or private boat. Exploring on foot is simple when you reach each resort or town, as most are quite small. There are also buses and taxis.
Expect everything from bespoke Italian suits and Lake Como silk scarves to Garda wines and grappa. Head to organic rustic shops to pick up picnics of freshly made pasta, cheeses and hams, as well as award-winning whites and sparkling wines. The Italians love to snooze though – so it’s best to visit shops before noon and after 3.30pm. Half an hour outside of Como, you’ll find the Armani Outlet, a great place to pick up heavily discounted designer clothes.
Food & drink
Fresh lake-to-table trout and laverello sautéed in butter and sage, lemons, strawberries and peaches on a plate, and that famous Italian gelato… the Italian Lakes don’t disappoint when it comes to food and drink. The extraordinary setting means all kind of fresh produce is readily available – flavoursome mountain cheeses, olives and Bardolino wines. Expect seafood risotto, thin-crusted pizza and an abundance of fresh fruit and vegetables. Wild boar is an autumn favourite, polenta is a popular side and sun-dried shad is a generations-old regional dish.