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Exploring the Italian Lakes

The Italian Lakes is a group of lakes on the border between northern Italy and Switzerland. Since Roman times the area’s serene beauty has attracted visitors. 

Although located on the south side of the Alps, the lakes enjoy a sub Mediterranean climate. Rainfall is heaviest in spring and autumn, summers are warm, and winters are cool. Summer is peak tourist time and accommodation prices shoot up. In spring, the mild climate produces displays of wild flowers against the backdrop of the distant, snowcapped Alps.

All four of these Italian Lakes are more than worth a visit all year round…


At 370 sq km, Lake Garda is the largest and its microclimate allows vineyards and olive groves to flourish. The town of Sirmione, with its natural thermal spas, is so popular during high season that cars are banned – best reach it by boat. 

Other towns to visit are medieval Malcesine and Riva del Garda which is surrounded by steep cliffs. The latter is a good base if you want to venture into the Trentino mountains. 

All these towns offer markets selling food, leather goods, pottery, tapestry, and clothing. For activities, you can handglide or go mountain biking. On the lake, water sports naturally dominate. And nearby Verona is reachable for a day trip. This beautiful city, immortalised by Shakespeare, is noted for open air opera in a Roman arena.


Como was used as a location for Daniel Craig’s first Bond film, Casino Royale. And its shoreline counts George Clooney as one its residents! It certainly has a Hollywood setting. The Rhaetian Alps loom and lush green hillsides run to Lake Como’s edge. 

‘The pearl of the lake’ is the town of Bellagio which sits at the point where Como forks east and west. On its cobbled streets are high-end shopping and renowned restaurants. And if you want to work off lunch, the hills above Ballagio offer numerous hiking trails.


Situated to the north of Milan, Italy’s second largest lake stretches over the border into Switzerland’s Ticino region. On the Swiss side, the town of Locarno has a funicular and cable car that travel up the mountainside to the resort of Cardada for views and hiking.

Lake Maggiore’s unique attraction is its Borromean Islands that sit off the town of Stresa. On Isola Bella, a summer palace was built by Count Vitaliano Borromeo in the 17th century. Isola Madre has a botanical park that was laid out in the 19th century that’s a haven for rare plants that thrive in the mild climate. Isola dei Pescatori is a working island that housed local fishermen. Some still ply their trade but the island is now more of a tourist haven.


The least discovered of the lakes listed. The town of Orta san Giulio offers a slice of the real Italy with its charming market that dates back 900 years. And the lake itself has beaches where you can swim in crystal clear waters. 

Like Maggiore, Lake Orta has islands that can be reached by ferry. San Giulio has cobbled streets and no cars to dodge. It’s known as the ‘island of silence’ due to its monastery, so visit with respect!

On the mainland is Sacro Monte di Orta, a pilgrimage trail dedicated to St Francis of Assisi. The uphill trail has 20 chapels whose sculptures depict moments in the Saint’s life. The views at the end are worth it whether you are devout or not.