The Glittering Great Lakes of Italy

ItaIy’s lakes are amazing. If you’re only familiar with regions like Sorrento and Puglia where everything is so typically Italian, then you’ll be surprised by northern Italy. There’s a huge influence from bordering countries like Switzerland, Germany, and France, but then there’s still Italian culture! Both Lake Como and Lake Garda are scattered with little waterfront towns, all of which have their own character - some are sleepy and some bustle with visitors year-round. If you like your wild swimming, then you’ll especially love it as there are designated areas to swim on the lakes.  
Lake Garda is huge and everything feels spread out. The region is rugged and outdoorsy, with many hiking trails to discover. Particularly in the summer months, Lake Garda becomes an adventure playground for watersports - you’ll find kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, wind sailing, and even jet skiing. I’d suggest you make the most of the ferries to get around, rather than relying on the surrounding motorways, which take you away from the lakeside beauty.
Lake Como, on the other hand, is really polished. It’s probably my favourite lake as it’s smaller than Lake Garda and feels more traditional, and for want of a better word, quaint. I found that the service is especially attentive in Como - they literally bend over backwards to do anything for you. Because of the mountains, the views are epic too, reminding me of a Norwegian fjord.  

“One of the hoteliers told me that ever since George Clooney bought a villa here in 2002 Lake Como has increased in popularity!”
Placeholder image
Lake Como and Lake Garda really are so different. I can completely understand why our guests choose to combine a holiday here - and flying into Milan and out of Verona is the best way to do this. While there, I took advantage of the proximity to these amazing cities and enjoyed a great day sightseeing in Verona, visiting Juliet’s Balcony and the Arena di Verona, which I highly recommend.  
Placeholder image

When to Visit

July and August are hot, humid and can be really busy, so I’d recommend travelling during June, September, or October, which is when I visited. This time of year is peaceful, with mild, pleasant weather, so much so that I saw people still windsurfing on Lake Garda! While this is typically off-season and you get the sense of everything winding down, everything is still open, and you can easily get around even though the ferries go to their winter timings and are less frequent.  

Getting Around 

The ferry service that criss-crosses the lakes is fantastic, and you can buy passes that allow you to hop on and off. Most of the ferries can be caught right outside your hotel, or no more than a five-minute walk away. If you hire a car, then you can hop on the ferry with it too. Many of our guests use transfers to reach their accommodation, however I hired a car, and it was surprisingly easy to drive around using the sat nav. (If you’re a wine lover, I recommend arranging a tour of the lake’s lovely vineyards through your hotel, as that’s the only time I’d say you don’t want to drive!). The roads are a mixture of windy mountain roads with wonderful views and motorways. We stopped off at a service station to have a bite to eat and were blown away with the delicious fresh, homemade dishes of lasagne and risotto. There was obviously an Italian mama in the back cooking with love. You wouldn't get that in the UK! 
Placeholder image

Lake Como  

Of Lake Como’s towns, I really like and recommend Bellagio. I absolutely love Grand Hotel Villa Serbelloni, which is located on the edge of Bellagio but still near enough to amble into town. The hotel name is accurate as it’s very grand and historic - what I’d call high ticket - even boasting its own Michelin-starred restaurant. I love that it has its own private jetty, and it was amazing to see a couple board their boat from here - I wish it had been me!  
Bellagio epitomises the luxury lifestyle of Lake Como, with incredibly sophisticated boutique shops. The pretty streets are cobbled, narrow and hilly, with plenty of little traditional eateries and bars right on the waterfront so you can enjoy the lake views.  

Because of the location, the meals are generally hearty fayre, like risotto, lots of meat and mountain cheeses, as well as lots of freshly caught lake fish. You always find pizza and pasta on the menu too. 

If you want to experience the golden age of travel, then I recommend Hotel Villa d'Este in Cernobbio. It has such an old-world charm and feels incredibly formal, as if you were journeying on the Titanic. The mosaic gardens, grounds, and the views from the rooms are all incredible.  
There’s one place I wish I’d visited but didn’t get a chance to, which was the small town of Varenna. It looks so gorgeous from the lake, like something out of a film!  

In Menaggio, I discovered my personal favourite hotel spa at the historic Grand Hotel Victoria, which is Lake Como’s largest spa. It recently had a major renovation and has pristine interiors and high-tech gadgets that brilliantly blends traditional features with contemporary chic. This hotel feels trendy, so naturally attracts a lot of fashionable people!  
I’d return in a heartbeat to Grand Hotel Tremezzo in Tremezzo, because it has all the original Belle Époque interiors running through the hotel, which makes it really glamorous. The grounds are amazing, with garden terraces cut into the hill, and there are three swimming pools in total, two outdoor and one indoor. There’s a delicious new restaurant called Giacomo al Lago, which is an offshoot of an esteemed eatery in Milan. 

Lake Garda 

Of all the towns in Lake Garda, Sirmione is my favourite. It has that classical Italian vibe with mostly pedestrianised lanes, all of which are filled with beautiful historical architecture, and lots of gelaterie and bars. Plus, there’s the beautiful castle that you can wander around.  

A lot of the hotels use natural, mineral-rich thermal water, so there’s a real spa culture in Sirmione, with wonderful treatments and outdoor pools that are naturally heated all year round. I’d love to return for a winter spa break!  

In Bardolino you'll find another spa hotel, Hotel Caesius Thermae and Spa Resort, which is popular among Citalia guests. I’d also recommend Corte Valier on the outskirts of Bardolino, as it’s really peaceful, with lovely grounds and a terrace that overlooks the lake. Plus, there’s live music on certain evenings.  
Don’t miss the small harbour town of Riva del Garda. We climbed the giant bell tower, which I highly recommend for gorgeous bird's-eye lake views.  

In Riva del Garda, Du Lac et Du Parc Grand Resort is stunning and great for families, with an established kids’ club and games room. Definitely the main draw is its nature and gardens, which looks like something out of a fairy-tale.  

From the main road, you’d think it was a commercial ski resort, but from the back it’s out of this world. There’s direct access to a small beach, with mountains as your backdrop. While it’s not a private beach, you’d have a job finding it if you didn’t know it was there. 

Suggested Destinations & Trips

Call us today to speak to one of our Italy Experts for further travel advice, hotel recommendations or to begin planning your next Italian holiday.
Feefo review image

What our customers think

We have been helping our customers discover the real Italy for 95 years now. Our experience and expertise, together with our attention to detail and personal touch, really does make us the leading Italian holiday specialist.

Request Your Quote
Request a Brochure