Let’s be honest, the Italian Lakes are as scenic as they are idyllic. Crystal clear water flanked by mountains and vineyards, mild climates, pretty towns, great food and fantastic shopping… these lakes have got a lot to showcase. The most popular times to visit are spring, through to autumn. May, June and September are all good bets. It will be warm, but not stiflingly hot and travel will be less expensive than in peak summer holiday time. Always a bonus! If you’re mad about flowers, head to the lakes in April and May, when the tulips, camellias and azaleas will be in full bloom. Sounds great, right? But which to choose! Here are our highlights to help you plan your perfect lakeside Italian villa holiday.
Best for: Glamour
This Italian Lake oozes showbiz appeal. Anyone fond of anything movie-related will have seen Lake Como shamelessly stealing the show. James Bond recuperated here after that scene in Casino Royale, Brangelina tied the knot here and yep, Mr Clooney himself owns a villa on its shores. Well, if it’s good enough for Clooney…
Lake Como, locally known as Lario, shows its flair for drama in the scenery. Sheer cliffs form the banks of the lake in several spots, while the Alps tower over it at the northern end. A boat trip is a great way to admire the views from the water and you’ll probably see some of the stunning Bell Epoque villas on the water’s edge. Being water-bound also means you’ll be avoiding the roads around Como’s perimeter, which can get really crowded in the summer time.
The gorgeous town of Bellagio, “the pearl of the lake,” is a great spot to visit, with its breath-taking Baroque gardens. Delightful cobbled streets and stairways make for a lovely afternoon of shopping, before a long lunch at one of the world-class restaurants.
Don’t miss the festival of San Giovanni in late June. The ruined church holds a mass in the atmospheric grounds, and thousands of boats are lit up by candlelight and fireworks.
Best for: Wine and outdoor pursuits
The largest of the Italian lakes, Lake Garda spans 370 km². It is bordered by three distinct regions, the rolling hills of the Veneto, the Lombard plains and the mountains of Alpine Trentino Alto-Adige. The lake has a unique microclimate, which gives it a balmy Mediterranean feel with olive groves, citrus trees and vineyards. All-star names like Valpolicella, Soave and Bardolino are a handful of the vineyards waiting to be discovered on Garda’s shores.
Both on and off the water, Lake Garda has plenty of sporting opportunities. The mountains and hillsides offer sublime hang-gliding, paragliding and mountain biking; while more gentle terrain has several beautiful golf courses. The lake itself offers every water sport you can think of, from windsurfing to pedalos. To ease any aches and pains, head to the town of Sirmione on the southern end of the lake for its natural thermal spas. The waters are sulphurous and contain bromine, chloride and iodine – well regarded for their healing properties.
Don’t miss Verona. Not strictly on the banks of the lake, but only a stone’s throw away is Shakespeare’s infamous Verona. Enjoy open air opera at the pink marble Roman arena in this beautiful and romantic city, surrounded by echoes of Romeo and Juliet.
Best for: Romantic hideaways
Lake Orta is a small, relatively undiscovered jewel in the Italian Lakes crown. It is enshrouded by lush woodland and overlooked by the snow-capped Alps.
In the centre of the lake is the island of San Giulio. Fall in love with its tiny medieval town with picture-perfect peach houses with wrought iron balconies lining the narrow, cobbled and car-free streets. It only has one restaurant and can be walked around quickly, but it’s worth dawdling to soak it in. You can reach the island by small ferry, which leaves from the square in Orta. Orta itself has a lovely market that has been there since 1228. The town square is a perfect place to relax and step back in time, and a meander through the pretty winding streets will reward you with unparalleled lake views.
Don’t miss Sacro Monte Di Orta. This sacred mount is dedicated to St Francis of Assissi. Its 20 chapels occupy a steep mount overlooking the lake. You can reach it by taking a small picturesque train ride from Orta.
Best for: Old world charm
Lake Maggiore is Italy’s second-largest lake, renowned for its elegant palm-lined promenades and pretty villages. We might even be so bold to say Maggiore is one of Italy’s most graceful and peaceful finds. Something totally unique to this Italian lake is that Lake Maggiore straddles both Italy and Switzerland – so you’re free to explore both corners to your heart’s content.
If you’re a sucker for architectural beauty, you’ll fall in love with this lake time and time again. The small quaint towns and villages add warmth and charm, and they are all so stunning they’ll make you gasp. If you’re after a little buzz, choose Verbania. Often referred to the garden on the lake, you won’t help but feel electrified by the atmosphere. And best of all, restaurants and nightlife flourish in abundance. For something a little quieter though, Cannobio is perfect. One’s things for sure, the quirky Swiss and Italian blend is a winner.
Don’t miss the Borromean Islands. The three small islands and two islets are one of the selling points of the entire region. Super accessible and you can visit them all except San Giovanni. Quirky fact; the Borromeo family – (our equivalent of dukes, duchesses and barons etc) have owned these islands since the 17th century.
For further inspiration, why not get a local’s perspective, have a look at some activities to try or swat up on a few more loved-up ideas. Once you’ve made up your mind, have a look at our gorgeous villa options, or give our lovely concierge team a call to get started.
Dive deeper into the Italian Lakes with our travel guide!