- Set among breathtaking scenery and fringed with charming towns, Italian lakes are some of the most beautiful areas of Italy.
- From tranquil Garda and romantic Como to majestic Maggiore, discover the beauty of the Italian lakes.
- Read our insider’s guide to help you choose the perfect lake to visit for your next holiday.
It’s easy to see why the Italian lakes feature on so many holiday bucket lists. Lake Garda’s beguiling beauty, Lake Maggiore’s serene setting, Lake Como’s romantic allure and Lake Orta’s seductive charm – no tour of Italy would be complete without visiting at least one of the country’s great lakes. Each has a distinct character, which makes it difficult to decide which of the Italian lakes you should visit.
The four best Italian lakes to visit
Lake Garda has captivated visitors for centuries. Hikers, swimmers, sailing enthusiasts and travellers who simply want to unwind in a beautiful tranquil setting fall in love with this Italian lake. The clean mountain air, striking blue water and charming villages add to Lake Garda’s appeal and make Italy’s largest lake a popular choice for an Italian lakes holiday.
Covering an area of 143 square miles and with a coastline of over 100 miles, the lake’s northern and southern shores are quite different. The dramatic, scenic north is more mountainous, wild and rugged, and attracts walkers and cyclists, with its section of narrow lake enticing windsurfers and adrenaline addicts. The flatter south is backed by cypress hills, olive groves and vineyards, and resorts here have more of a laid-back, genteel, seaside feel, with pebbled beaches providing easy access to the lake itself.
Regardless of where you choose to base yourself at the Italian lakes, the area is blessed with a pleasant microclimate for outdoor activities, keeping the temperature cool in summer and mild in spring and autumn. The climate is also ideal for growing lemons and on a Lake Garda tour, if you visit in the spring, fragrant lemon tree blossom will be filling the air.
If wishing to visit destinations on the shore of the ladle-shaped lake, Salò on the west is set in a pretty bay and has a grand promenade. Bardolino on the eastern shore is famous for its wines. Sirmione, home to the delightful Scaliger Castle, is a relaxing spot to experience Italy’s café culture. And Riva del Garda is awash with attractive Italian homes. Remember that day trips to Verona and Venice are options too.
One of the best lakes in Italy for a leisurely holiday is Lake Maggiore. Of course, visitors can still enjoy walking, mountain biking and boat trips, but the pace of life feels slower here, and elegant villages and towns on Lake Maggiore’s shores are peaceful. Worried there won’t be much to do? Far from it. If you’re a foodie fan, there’s a great choice of first-class restaurants. For culture vultures, museums are filled with paintings and sculpture. And if you’re a keen photographer, well, just look at your breathtaking surroundings.
Straddling both Italy and Switzerland, the majestic Alps provide Lake Maggiore with a staggeringly beautiful backdrop. It’s no surprise that composers, poets and writers found inspiration while visiting the Italian lakes, and European nobility flocked to Lake Maggiore’s sophisticated resorts to mingle with the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable and Princess Margaret.
Stresa, a stylish Italian location on the southeastern shore of the 35-mile-long lake, has a cobbled-street old town where it’s easy to transport yourself back to a glamorous bygone age. The destination makes a good base for tours of the Italian lakes and faces the stunning Borromean islands, where on Isola Bella you’ll find a jaw-dropping belle-époque villa. A ride up the Monte Mottarone cable car delivers panoramic views.
Villages further north such as Cannobio and Cannero Riviera, close to the Swiss border, are more sedate and near good walking trails. Cannobio has atmospheric narrow streets and a promenade fronted by old fishermen’s houses. Cannero Riviera is renowned for its colourful camellias, rhododendrons and bougainvillaea. It also has a unique annual citrus fruit festival.
If you’ve long wished to have an Italian lakes holiday, 2019 may be the year to visit the wishbone-shaped Lake Como. Although just 50 miles north of Milan, when you reach the romantic destination it feels as if you’ve been transported to another world, one where you can relax and admire idyllic lakeside settings. No wonder Lake Como is much-loved by the rich and famous, as well as anyone looking to live the high life.
Fortunately, travellers don’t need to have a fortune in the bank to enjoy a break beside Lake Como, and while opulent 17th-century villas line the shores, and designer shops fill the streets, there are good-value Lake Como tours on offer. There are many low-key traditional Italian towns and fishing villages to base yourself, and to enjoy delightful hiking paths – walkers will have plenty of options. Cypress-lined easy trails pass through quaint hamlets, near medieval churches and alongside magnificent manicured gardens. A more moderate energetic trek takes you to Cadenabbia, a favourite haunt of author Mary Shelley.
Being able to participate in recreational pursuits, both on and near the lake is one of the many draws of Lake Como. Extending some 56 square miles, it’s a paradise for water sports. The calm waters and welcoming breeze provide perfect conditions for windsurfing and sailing. Have a go at rowing too – it’s been a Lake Como tradition since the early 19th century.
If relaxation is more your thing, be lured by the café-lined promenade at Bellagio or the coffee bars at Varenna’s quayside. Como itself is also a photogenic location and dates back to Roman times. Must-see historical sites include the city walls and cathedral.
While perhaps not as well known as the other three Italian lakes, don’t overlook Lake Orta. Although only seven square miles, this small lake has heaps of charm and is a truly awe-inspiring destination. From the magical lakeside village of Orta San Giulio, with its myriad of lanes, half-timbered shuttered homes and Moorish palace, to the famous fresco-painted houses of Miasino, if you’re researching holidays to Italy, add Lake Orta to your list.
Plan your Italian lakes adventure
If you’ve got your heart set on visiting the unforgettable Italian lakes this year or next, Lake Garda holidays 2022 are an excellent way to travel to Italy. On a Lake Como tour, you can also spend time in Switzerland, and a Lake Maggiore and Orta excursion takes in a journey on the famous Centovalli railway too. For walkers, don’t miss Walk & Discover – The Italian Lakes.
If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.