With otherworldly vistas, superb cuisine, and excellent wine from local vineyards, Italy’s northern lakes are a suitably swoon-inducing setting for a summer holiday. Whether you prefer to live it up at the chicest places or simply bask in all that natural splendour, this region has something for everyone.
Best for: Celebrities and the one-percenters
What to see and do: Don’t be surprised if you spot George Clooney or one of the countless other Hollywood elites that frequent these supernaturally beautiful shores. Lake Como is perfect for those looking to soak in the scenery and enjoy living the high-life—at least for a few days. If lolling about with an Aperol spritz in hand is wearing thin, you could always admire the 14th-century frescos of Basilica of Sant’Abbondio or the intricate stone carving on the Duomo di Como.
Where to stay: If you’re staying around Lake Como, the chances are high that you’re not on a tight budget. Splash out on a night or two at the ritzy Vista Palazzo, Lago di Como. Even if you’re only passing through, stop by the hotel’s Infinity Bar for a sophisticated cocktail with an unbeatable view.
Nearest airports: Milan Malpensa airport is less than an hour-long drive from the lakeshore.
Best for: Roadtrippers
What to see and do: Driving around Italy’s largest lake is pure pleasure. Though determined motorists could race around the permimetre in a day, taking a more leisurely approach allows time to marvel at the Dolomites in the distance. Stop in Riva del Garda, a bougainvillea-draped village towards the north, and Sirmione, a fortified town to the south centred around the 13th-century Scaliger castle.
Where to stay: While the southern part of Lake Garda feels like a beachy Italian resort town, the north exudes a more sophisticated vibe and boasts spectacular views of steep cliffs rising from the waters. Built around the turn of the 20th century, the Hotel Bellariva once used to host German ambassadors. Today, it’s a charming 23-room boutique that offers plenty of pampering for a comparatively reasonable price.
Nearest airports: Both Verona-Villafranca and Brescia-Montichiari airports are within easy driving distance of the lake.
Best for: Travellers who want it all
What to see and do: With one foot in Switzerland and the other in Italy’s Piedmont region, Lake Maggiore has something for everyone. Start your journey on the Swiss side in the jewel-box town of Locarno, which hosts one of the region’s most prestigious film festivals, then savour the breathtaking scenery as you drive down to Italy. Make time for a stop at the Borromean Islands, a cluster of three islands and two islets in the western part of the lake.
Where to stay: Aristocrats have been coming to these shores for rejuvenation for centuries, so it’s only fitting that the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees features a world-class medical spa. After a soothing massage, take time to wander the premises and admire the Murano glass chandeliers, as well as the gardens littered with marble statues and intricate mosaics.
Nearest airports: Fly into Milan Malpensa, then make a beeline for the water.
Best for: Those who prefer the road less travelled
What to see and do: Though popular in its own right, Lake Iseo has avoided the throngs of tourists that head to other parts of the region so far. Hop a ferry from the village of Sulzano to Monte Isola, a rocky island in the centre of the lake, and spend an afternoon wandering the pine-shaded paths that cross its interior. Cars are strictly forbidden on Europe’s largest lake isle, meaning there are no roaring Ferrari engines in the background to disturb the tranquility.
Where to stay: Wake up every morning surrounded by lush vineyards at L’Albereta Resort, a plush wellness retreat with a 2,000-square-metre spa.
Nearest airports: Most travellers opt to land in either Brescia-Montichiari airport or Milan Bergamo.
What to see and do: The paths that wind around these shores are perfect for outdoor sports enthusiasts and even better for an active honeymoon. Mountain biking remains the favourite activity of many here, but there’s also plenty of room for scenic hikes and even horseback riding through the fairytale countryside.
Where to stay: Yes, it’s a splurge, but the incomparable Villa Crespi might be one of your only chances to stay in a scintillating Moorish palace. Especially if you’re travelling with a special someone, book a table at the hotel’s sumptuous Michelin-starred eatery.
Nearest airports: The lake is easily accessible by car from Milan Malpensa airport.