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Holidays in the Italian lakes take you to a region of elegant charm and natural beauty, where historic lakeside villages lie below epic mountain scenery. Travellers have been coming here for decades in search of romance and outdoor adventures, to visit the area’s baroque palaces, explore winding mountain trails and soak up the chic but laid back ambience.
The Italian lakes reach from the River Po in the south to the lower Alps and the Dolomites at their northern end, and each stretch of water has its own distinct character. Lake Maggiore straddles the border of Italy and Switzerland. The spectacular water is home to five islands and 42 towns, and is scattered with palatial villas. Lake Orta is the smallest of the lakes, and has retained its authentic character by largely staying off the tourist map.
Lake Como has famous residents and film star looks. Lake Garda’s shores gradually change from gently sloping vineyards to the rocky mountain cliffs of the Dolomites. This dramatic backdrop offers some truly imposing scenery, with steep soaring peaks and razor sharp ridges. The unusual nature of the rock means the mountains seem to glow under certain conditions, especially at sunrise and sunset. Shades of pink and orange only serve to enhance the natural beauty of the grandiose surroundings.
At Citalia we have 90 years’ experience in helping people find their personal slice of Italian paradise, so you can savour your Italian lakes holiday and experience the area like a local. Whether that involves discovering a fine local restaurant, jet skiing around a lake, or just chilling out by the shore with a glass of the local tipple – it’s all down to you.
One great introduction for walkers is Lake Como’s Greenway Trail, an easy to follow 11km route along the less visited western shore of the lake. You’ll pass through a series of quaint old villages, one after the other, all offering unique little cafés and bars with views across the water.
Away from the famous lakes of Como, Maggiore and Garda, Lake Orta is smaller and less developed – but no less photogenic. The little island of Isola San Giulio, with its church and monastery buildings, is as picture postcard perfect as anywhere in Italy. And at the top of the lake, the town of Omegna is home to a delightful little harbour and a cluster of narrow cobbled streets, where you’ll find a handful of authentic restaurants.
Italy’s lakes and mountains are well connected by train to the country’s major cities, so an excursion to Milan or Venice is perfect for a day trip. There’s also plenty to see in the smaller nearby cities of Brescia, Bergamo and Verona. And if you fancy renting a car, the Dolomites have some of the most spectacular driving experiences in Europe, with steep hairpin bends and roads that cling to the cliffs.
You’ll be spoilt for choice in the Italian lakes, and an undeniable highlight is a visit to the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore. Two of them, Isola Bella and Isola Madre, are home to historic palacios surrounded by amazing landscaped gardens. They’re open from March to October and it’s well worth the short boat trip from Stresa. Make sure you take the first ferry across during the summer months to beat the crowds.
The lakes are home to some fine Michelin starred restaurants, but you can also eat very well at many of the region’s bars and trattorias. Provincial tastes vary considerably from Maggiore in the west to Garda further east, but you’ll usually find an emphasis on fresh local produce and simple, unfussy cooking.
Lake Garda is heavily influenced by the cuisine of nearby Brescia, so expect pumpkin ravioli and polenta side dishes, plus a bewildering choice of local cheeses – virtually every valley in this area make its own speciality. A few miles east, closer to Verona, they cook up a traditional horse stew and a donkey bigoli (a pasta dish with donkey meat). You can wash it all down with one of Garda’s hallmark wines, the red Lambrusco Mantovano or white Lugana.
Lake Como is particularly renowned for its delicious fish, and the locals go to great lengths to ensure stocks remain renewable. The perch is especially plentiful and it turns up in a popular local risotto, as well as being fried, baked and even caramelised.
Around Lake Maggiore, sweet honeys and cured meats are popular, along with unusual cheeses like Bettelmatt and Ossolano d’Alpe. If you have a sweet tooth, the lakeside town of Stresa specialises in Margheritines, which are light and crumbly little lemon biscuits.