I Laghi Italiani

Italy is blessed with amazing lakes that are postcard-perfect, each with special characteristics and beauty created by Ice Age glaciers that carved out the Alps. Two of the most famous are Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, but other lakes in the region have their own charms.

The biggest crowds visit the lakes in Piedmont, Lombardy and Veneto in July and August. For a calmer atmosphere, consider an Italian lakes vacation in May, June or September.

Lake Como

Lake Como is probably Italy’s most famous lake, attracting the rich and famous among the many tourists. Charming villages and majestic villas are scattered on the lake’s shoreline, hemmed in by mountains. Tourists wander through the alleys of these villages, or hike on trails such as Wayfarer’s Path, which runs between the historic hamlets of Varenna and Bellano. The Como Cathedral is a must-see, and a funicular brings visitors to the village of Brunate high above the lake.

Some of the Neo-classical villas and grand gardens are open to the public for tours, including Villa del Balbianello in Lenno (often seen in movies), Villa Melzi d’Eril in cypress-lined Bellagio, and Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo.

Lake Maggiore

The second largest lake in the lakes district is Lake Maggiore, once popular among European nobility. It is quieter than Como, and offers many outdoor activities such as kayaking, rafting, and mountain biking. The slender lake features the Borromean Islands – Bella, Madre and Superiore – owned since the 16th century by the aristocratic Borromeo family. Tourists can visit the island’s villas, palazzi, and terraced gardens.

A cable car takes visitors up Mottarone Mountain to view the gorgeous panorama and take a stroll in the Botanic Garden of Alpinia. Tourists also enjoy Villa della Porta Bozzolo and Villa Taranto of Rocca di Angera, two medieval fortresses on the shore.

The Colossus of St. Carlo Borromeo, one of the largest statues in the world, is in the town of Arona. Visitors seeking quieter vacations head to the tranquil lakeside villages of Cannero and Cannobio.

Lake Garda

As Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda is popular among Europeans and outdoor enthusiasts, and is a popular central place to stay for tourists who want to explore the lakes region. It has several villages in its shorefront hills that have lidos (beach clubs), castellos, and lively plazas.

Tourists enjoy the Botanic Garden on Mount Baldo, nearly 4,000 feet above sea level, and Arco Castle, a 12th-century medieval fortress built on a rock spur. The Sirmione region has the famed Grotte di Catullo archaeological site and the well-conserved 13th-century Castello Scaligero.

Lake Iseo

Lake Iseo is a tranquil hidden gem in the Lombardy region – and that means smaller crowds. The highlight is Monte Isola, Europe’s largest lake island, accessible by traghetto ferry from several towns on the eastern shore. Once there, visitors can climb up to Madonna della Ceriola, a 13th-century church at the island’s highest point 2,000 feet above sea level.

Around Lake Iseo are a variety of places to visit, varying from towns with elegant piazzas to rustic fishing villages. Tinca al forno – baked fish with bread and polenta – is a local specialty in the town of Clusane, and the hill region of Franciacorta is famous for its fine sparkling wine.

Lake Orta

In the Piedmont region is the hidden gem of Lake Orta, with cobblestone streets, old basilicas, and rich history. The medieval village of Orta San Giulio is both artistic and historic, with a pretty piazza overlooking a marina. Sacro Monte di Orta, a UNESCO World Heritage site, has religious artwork and chapels. The Painted Walls of Pogno are an open air art gallery of murals.

Lake Varese

For those seeking solitude, the small area around Lake Varese highlights the pristine alpine foothills at the base of Mount Campo dei Fiori. Visitors can relax at one of several beach clubs, or rent bikes to cycle the winding 20-mile trail along the shore.

For a bit of tourism, visitors can check out Baroffio Museum with its wide, art-focused collection, or take a ferry to the islet of Isolino Virginia, an intriguing historic site where the material remains of a pile-dwelling civilization were found and preserved in an archeological museum.

Want to learn more? Click here for a special video presentation on this subject.

The Italian Cultural Foundation at Casa Belvedere is a not-for-profit organization that celebrates everything Italian by sharing stories such as this, and offering exceptional public programs: Language and cooking classes; art and photo exhibits; film festivals; opera luncheons and casino nights; Italian car shows and fashion shows; live concerts and theatrical performances; guest chef experiences and wine tastings; bocce and bingo (tombola); and much more. Casa Belvedere (house with a beautiful view) has established itself as a vibrant and buzzing cultural center in New York City. For more information, visit casa-belvedere.org.