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Italy presents a great diversity of people; food and wines; iconic architecture; footprints of ancient and medieval civilisations and a huge variety of scenery ranging from almost desert to lofty mountains. There is no one thing or region that defines Italy but in the north, its lakes reflect the magnificent Alps, so high they appear to puncture the sky!
On this wonderfully varied tour we explore Lake Como, one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, plus some stunning icons of northern Italy and Switzerland. Described by Wordsworth as ‘a treasure the earth keeps to itself’, visitors have been attracted to the lake for centuries in search of relaxation, culture and inspiration. Both Verdi and Rossini worked in lakeside villas here, together with countless poets. Its atmosphere is one of an eerie, near-silence, broken only by the rhythmic lapping of gentle waves on the lake shore whilst above, birds of prey soar on the numerous thermals generated by the gentle mountain breezes. The scenery is just awesome with the mirror-like, deep blue waters reflecting the surrounding hills and snow-capped peaks dotted with tall, typically Italian, ochre and magenta coloured buildings and opulent villas lining the lakeside itself. Majestic mountains rise almost vertically towards the deep blue sky with the lower slopes covered in lush vegetation, adding an invigorating aromatic backdrop to a most harmonious scene.
For a contrast we visit nearby Lake Maggiore too, almost Mediterranean in character and lined by verbena, palm and orange trees, and a string of 19th century picturesque towns creating a true ‘belle époque’ atmosphere. Then just to the north is of course Switzerland with the most dramatic alpine scenery on the planet, and at its heart, chic St Moritz. We explore this too, also taking a trip on the nearby iconic Bernina Express, one of the world’s most scenic rail journeys through the gorgeous Poschiavo Valley.
In designing this tour we really feel we have selected the very best of this wonderful area for you to savour at your leisure.
You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Milan from where you will be taken to your choice of hotel. The rest of the day will be spent at leisure, allowing you time to settle into the hotel and start exploring if you wish.
Lake Como, one of the deepest in Europe, has been beloved of romantics since the famous Roman chronicler Pliny wrote of its luxuriant beauty and it has inspired some of the best works by greats such as Verdi and Rossini. A favourite of Shelley and Wordsworth, the delights of Lake Como are many and varied and this morning you can enjoy one of its many highlights, a private boat and tour of the beautiful, 18th century Villa del Balbianello, one of the finest villas surrounding the lake. Originally built for a cardinal, it features a renowned collection of art and historic furniture, ironically much of it English, including an oak bureau from Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory. The gardens are equally stunning, being a series of manicured terraces full of fragrant roses and colourful borders, dominated by a classic three arched ‘loggia’, and all creatively planted using the rugged topography to great effect.
The boat then takes us to the elegant and exclusive resort of Bellagio which, with its idyllic location on a promontory on the lake, is often described as the most beautiful town in Italy, and when you see it you will almost certainly agree! Once the haunt of European monarchs, today the attractive, pastel-coloured buildings, faded by decades of sunshine, line the lake shore and narrow cobbled streets and lanes climb their way to the hilly centre. Awash with colourful flowers Bellagio cannot be bettered for a long lazy lunch in one of the many lakeside restaurants, followed by a stroll perhaps amongst the many typically formal Italian gardens so beloved of romantics over the centuries, sprinkled as they are with fine, 18th century sculpture. Spend the afternoon exploring at your own pace before returning to your resort by boat when you wish.
(Subject to available boat timetable)
Today, we enjoy a contrasting day of spectacular scenery and extraordinary Swiss engineering. Firstly we ascend up the Valtellina, a classic alpine valley with soaring peaks rising steeply on both sides to Tirano, where we board the famous Bernina Express. One of the slowest ‘express’ trains in the world, this remarkable Swiss train twists upwards in an amazing sequence of spirals, loops and tunnels to the summit at Ospizio Bernina, the highest through station in Europe. Here, you are surrounded by stunning vistas over snow-clad peaks and ice-cold glacial lakes which strikingly mark the watershed between Mediterranean and Black Sea river systems. We descend sinuously through pretty pastures and dense pine forests to the ostentatiously chic resort of St Moritz, home of the infamous Cresta Run toboggan track, where there’s time for a spot of window shopping or perhaps afternoon tea and cake. Listen carefully and you may notice a rather unusual tongue: here, in this tiny corner of Switzerland, the locals speak Romansch, an ancient and little known Latin language. We return through yet more spectacular scenery to Lake Como for dinner.
Today we visit nearby Lake Maggiore and its most attractive lakeside town, Stresa, which owes its origin to the days of the ‘Grand Tour’ when Europe’s 19th century aristocracy, having crossed the border from Switzerland, experienced their first taste of Italy! Unmistakably Mediterranean in character, its shores, lined with oleanders and palms, backed by classic belle époque hotels create an ambience of classic gentility. Take a stroll along its impressive palm-lined promenade and enjoy the fine views across the shimmering lake to the Borromean Islands just offshore. You can also take the short boat trip to Isola Bella, an island transformed by a 17th century count, from a barren rock into an amazing terraced garden. This stunning display has long been visited by the famous, amongst them Queen Caroline of England, wife of George IV, plus Napoleon and Josephine. For the literary enthusiasts, you can relax at the bar of the Grand Hotel, featured in Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’ and also frequented by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin.
Today you are free to explore as you wish. Enjoy a delicious Italian coffee in one of the pleasant cafés. Alternatively you may decide to take the boat to the lakeside town of Como or visit the gardens of Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo.
This morning we travel to Lugano, capital of the Italian speaking canton of Ticino which was seized by the Swiss in 1512 and has steadfastly refused any opportunity to revert to Italy ever since! It is absolutely fascinating, an eclectic mix of traditional Swiss values and the more laid-back Latin influences from across the border. The trains run on time and shops are just as chic, but there’s a distinctive Mediterranean feel unlike anything you’ll experience elsewhere in Switzerland. Tiny alleyways lead to unmistakably Italian piazzas, where you can relax over a typically Italian lunch, but like everywhere else in Switzerland, the traffic laws are obeyed without question - it really is a quirky blend! The town is a delight to explore being centred round the café-lined main square, ideal to people-watch whilst enjoying a superb coffee. Alternatively, you can explore the myriad of twisting lanes of the old town or the dense network of shops with their displays probably unmatched anywhere in the world. Lugano is a lovely place to idly wander, before we enjoy yet more outstanding scenery on our return journey to our hotel for dinner.
This morning we travel to Monza, a hidden gem south of Lake Como. While the town is best known for its racetrack, nestled within Europe’s largest walled park, it has a lot more to offer.
The Gothic cathedral is a highlight, with the beautifully frescoed Teodolinda Chapel housing a priceless Medieval iron crown believed to have been made from one of the nails used on Christ's cross, plus of course Monza Park. Commissioned in 1805 to exceed Versailles in size, this sprawling park includes several distinct areas: landscaped gardens and wild meadows surrounding the imposing Royal Villa in the south, a wooded area in the north, and course the home of the Italian grand prix, the legendary Monza Circuit, built in 1922, part of which is visible from the park itself.
We will have free time here to explore the town and park, or perhaps just experience this typically Italian town like a local would by enjoying a pleasant stroll, followed by a coffee in one of the pavement cafes dotted around the pedestrianised town centre. We return to our hotel in the afternoon
We return to the airport at the appropriate time for our flight home after a memorable and varied tour.
The price of this holiday is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room. Single and lake view rooms are subject to availability at the relevant supplement. The price includes:
Along with your experienced and knowledgeable tour manager and local experts, you’ll discover so much on our award-winning Classic tours, offering the best value for money way for you to explore the world.
Our tour managers have been rated as the best in the business for their knowledge and experience and will go above and beyond to ensure every aspect of your holiday runs smoothly – so all you need to worry about is your packing.
On a range of tours we are delighted to offer the option to travel in a small group of up to 25 people.
You’ll enjoy the same sociable atmosphere of a typical Riviera Travel holiday - but with a smaller number of travellers and a touch more exclusivity.
Available across our range of UK, European and select Worldwide tours; just look out for the icon on holiday pages.
UK Citizens do not require a visa to enter Italy or Switzerland however must have a valid passport. For the most up-to-date passport and visa information visitand
We are unable to accept responsibility if you are unable to travel because you have not complied with any passport/entry/immigration requirements.
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitability of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on the number of hotel stops and traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Milan Malpensa Airport||Cadenabbia Hotel & Menaggio Hotel||1 hr 30 mins|
|Regina Hotel||1 hr|
|Milan Linate Airport||Cadenabbia Hotel & Menaggio Hotel||2 hrs|
|Regina Hotel||1 hr 30 mins|
|Milan Bergamo Airport||Cadenabbia Hotel & Menaggio Hotel||2 hrs|
|Regina Hotel||1 hr 30 mins|
Lynne Adamson and Valerie Miller
Thank you for booking our trip to Lake Como. Our tour guide Matt made the trip fantastic. His humour, knowledge of the areas we visited and of the language was phenomenal. Matt is a real asset to Riviera, and did you proud. Man...
Barbara and Peter Skuse
Just returned from our holiday at the Grand Hotel with stunning views, great staff and very good food. It was a pity our room overlooked the busy and rather noisy road and we would have happily paid a little more for a quieter roo...