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An escapade to the Italian lakes

Fancy a romantic weekend? The Italian lake district offers an idyllic combination of nature and culture. A perfect climate, superlative landscapes, heavenly villas and lakeside leisure activities… From Roman emperors to George Clooney without forgetting Stendhal, these lakes have ever appealed to a discerning elite. So why not you?

Lake Como, a lesson in beauty


©POMPE Ingolf / hemis.fr

The vision of Lake Como is an ever-renewed miracle, depicted by the sumptuous vision of snowbound peaks set against a deep blue lake hemmed by lush green cypress and olive trees and dotted with rhododendron bushes… However, the beauty of its sleeping waters is deceptively immense: 46km/28.5mi long, 170km/105mi perimeter and 410m/1,345ft deep in places… A motoring tour of the lake, particularly in a convertible, is a delight as each bend of the road, rich in overhangs and tunnels, unfolds to reveal yet another unique panorama.

Como, exquisitely provincial


©lisa_I/iStock

Como delights first by its aristocratic charm. Despite its provincial allure, it also sports the hallmark of a well-heeled Milanese shopping district. Between a shopping spree and a nap in the sun, here are a few of the must-see sights: the 14C cathedral, the Broletto, an old 13C assembly house, Sant’Abbondio basilica, a masterpiece of Romanesque Lombardy architecture and Villa Olmo, an impressive 18C Neoclassical edifice, whose gardens command a fine view of the town and lake of Como.

Cernobbio, a genteel country destination


©imageBROKER/agefotostock

Cernobbio is famous for its lavish villas, among which the legendary Villa d’Este below. However, let’s not forget the Liberty-style Villa Bernasconi or Villa Fontanelle, which belonged to fashion designer Gianni Versace… At Laglio, 10km/6mi from Cernobbio on the road to Tremezzo, another lakeside villa almost as famous as that of Este, stands off the main tourist track, that of George Clooney. Unfortunately, the main S340 road runs just above the little town, which nonetheless fiercely defends its lakeside anonymity.

Bellagio, a monument to eternity


©deimagine / iStock

Bellagio rises up like a mirage, weaving a spell that ensures that the visitor will never want to leave. At the crossroads of three arms of the lake, pastel-coloured houses and gardens paint a watercolour portrait that is gracious to the point of graceful.


Lake Garda, a masterpiece of harmony


©Mauritius / Photononstop

Both alpine and southern, Lake Garda, the largest of the Italian lakes, is worth a journey in its own right. So mild is the climate olive groves and lemon tree orchards thrive on its banks, one shore of which is low and flat, while the other is sheer and grandiose, both are however dotted with timeless archaeological sites and lively holiday villages. This idyllic lake is a harmonious blend of contrasts.

Sirmione, as pretty as a picture postcard


©megula / iStock

The Sirmione peninsula, a long, narrow expanse of land that stretches deep into Lake Garda, is home to delightful holiday resort, whose small town is clustered around its fortress and 15C church, with at the end, a site of great beauty, home to the ruins of an immense Roman villa thought to have belonged to the poet Catullus…

Punta di San Vigilio, utter well-being

La Punta di San Vigilio
©Georges Rouzeau / Michelin

On the eastern shore of the lake, Punta di San Vigilio embodies Lake Garda’s romanticism with its olive and cypress trees. The unspoiled pristine landscape at the headland, which closes Mermaid Bay lapped by the lake’s crystal-clear water, extends an invitation to daydream...

 

Lake Maggiore, legendary dolce vita

Îles Borromée, Isola Bella
©R. Harding / hemis.fr

Lake Maggiore, inserted like a sapphire into the white snowbound Alps, cannot fail but conjure up superlatives. While not the largest lake of Italy, its mild climate, exuberant vegetation and sumptuous landscapes have ever inspired the rich and powerful to build castles and villas surrounded by lush terraced gardens. Grandiose Lake Maggiore will not only appeal to those of a contemplative nature as its shores, while perfect for lazing on the beach, are also rich in opportunities for water sports, walking and hiking, mountain-biking and paragliding.

Borromean Islands


©xenotar / iStock

The Borromean Islands are the quintessence of refined aestheticism. In the 15C, a large portion of the lake was gifted to the Borromeo family, who progressively bought all the islands of the small archipelago, since then called the Borromean Islands: Isola dei Pescatori, Isola Madre, Isola Bella. It was on the latter that Charles III Borromeo (1586-1652) had an amazing Baroque Lombardy palace built.

 


A few of the Lake District’s culinary delicacies
  • Risotto of perch fillets is a gastronomic classic of the region, particularly Lake Como.
  • Olive oil from Lake Garda (DOP) is produced at the northernmost latitude of the world thanks to the lake’s microclimate. Light and fruity, it is perfect with fish and in particular dotted trout, a species endemic to the lake and greatly sought after by gourmets.
  • The town of Bardolino, on the shores of Lake Garda, has given its name to one of Italy’s most famous red and rosé wines. Don’t miss an opportunity to sample this fine, dry, slightly bitter (amarognolo), and sometimes faintly fizzy wine.

 

Practical information

Lake Maggiore tourist office
Bellagio tourist office
Tremosine tourist office on Lake Garda

 

The tourist attractions mentioned

Lago di Como Lago di Como
Lago di Como
Como
1:00
Como Cathedral Como Cathedral
Como Cathedral
Como
0:30
Broletto Broletto
Broletto
Como
0:30
S. Abbondio (Basilique Saint-Abbondio) S. Abbondio (Basilique Saint-Abbondio)
S. Abbondio (Basilique Saint-Abbondio)
Como
0:30
villa Olmo villa Olmo
villa Olmo
Como
0:15
Villa d'Este Villa d'Este
Villa d'Este
Cernobbio
0:30
Lago di Garda Lago di Garda
Lago di Garda
Garda
1:00
Punta di San Vigilio Punta di San Vigilio
Punta di San Vigilio
Garda
0:30
Lago Maggiore Lago Maggiore
Lago Maggiore
Stresa
1:00
Isole Borromee Isole Borromee
Isole Borromee
Stresa
4:00