When you think of Italian lakes, is Lake Como the first that comes to mind? Well, there are plenty more! Here’s a look at six stunning lakes in Northern Italy.
The lakes of Northern Italy are just as stunning (and blue!) as the Italian seaside. Thanks in part to George Clooney, visitors flock to Lake Como in droves to see firsthand the majestic surroundings that captured the heart of the Academy-Award-winning actor…and perhaps to even catch a glimpse of the movie star himself.
Now don’t get us wrong: Lake Como is an absolute stunner and we encourage you to go there. However, there’s plenty more where that came from. The southern edge of the Alps is covered with a series of glacial lakes, which, in typical Italian fashion, invite you to experience la dolce far niente as well as various activities. Here, in no particular order, are six.
1. Lake Garda
Italy’s largest lake spans Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino-Alto-Adige. With nearly fifty towns to suit every taste and fancy, Lake Garda is truly the lake that keeps on giving! Sirmione, known for its thermal waters, eighteenth-century castle and Roman ruins, is well worth braving the crowds for. Stroll the Medieval streets of Malcesine then take the cable car up Monte Baldo, see the famous lemon groves in Limone sul Garda or admire the art and architecture in Riva del Garda. Among the lake’s five islands is Isola del Garda, home to a thirteenth-century monastery founded by St. Francis of Assisi. And if sleeping in the great outdoors is your thing, there are plenty of campsites around the lake.
2. Lake Maggiore
Italy’s second largest lake borders Switzerland and at certain angles, its already majestic backdrop is made even more picturesque when its offset by the snow-capped Swiss Alps. Visit the botanical gardens of Villa Taranto in Verbania and the town of Stresa, and hop on the Lake Maggiore Express. The train makes its rounds through many of the charming lakeside towns. Of the lake’s eleven islands, the Borromean Islands (Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori) live up to all the hype and more. You can reach them easily via hydrofoil.
3. Lake Orta
Monte Mottarone separates the small but beautiful Lake Orta from Lake Maggiore. Nestled into a landscape of fir-tree-studded cliffs and hills descending into a valley, Lake Orta is interspersed with chestnut and beech forests. Isola San Giulio sits in the middle of the lake seemingly overflowing with densely packed historical buildings. The Basilica di San Giulio is named after the Saint Giulio of Navarro, a Greek transplant who settled on this island during the fourth century. It’s said he had to cleanse the island of snakes and dragons before the church could be built…Which he succeeded in doing, obviously, because I didn’t come across any. Relics of his are preserved in the crypt. Gastronomy-minded travelers will want to visit Villa Crispi to dine at Antonino Cannavacciuolo’s two-star Michelin restaurant.
4. Lake Lugano
Lake Lugano stretches between two countries, with about two-thirds falling in Switzerland. The bizarrely shaped lake is surrounded by breathtaking mountains, including Monte San Giorgio, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The natural landscape teeming with rare plants and caves is one of the most important paleontological sites for everything from dinosaurs to marine animals and monster insects. Mediterranean flora and enchantingly beautiful villas bedeck the picturesque lakeside villages. You can admire the varied lakefront on a boat trip or navigate the narrow, winding road to Morcote known for its breathtaking views.
5. Lake Iseo
Comprising 25,000 square miles, Lake Iseo, near Bergamo, is home to the largest island in European inland waters. The lake fell onto the world’s radar in 2016 with “The Floating Piers”. THIS installation by Christos and Jean-Claude allowed more than one million visitors to walk on water between Sulzano, Peschiera Maraglio and the island of San Paolo. Nowadays, mass tourism is again turning its back on this idyllic lake that exudes the quintessence of tranquility and spectacular scenery complemented by rugged cliffs. In addition to the quaint village of Peschiera Maraglio, the church of Madonna della Ceriola, a popular pilgrimage site, on the lake island Monte Isola warrants a visit as well. Evenings are best spent relaxing with a glass of wine from the nearby Franciacorta wine region.
6. Lake Varese
Situated between gently rolling hills and guarded by a steep mountain ridge at its northern end, Lake Varese is a relatively unsung gem that’s just under 6,000 square miles in size. You don’t need to be a pilgrim to enjoy the journey to Sacro Monte di Varese, which belongs to the UNESCO-protected Sacri Monti, and to draw in peace and relaxation with every breath. Architect Giuseppe Bernasconi constructed 14 different chapels that line the path. The tiny island of Isolino Virginia was already of great importance in the times of our ancestors as evidenced by discoveries of Neolithic pile dwellings, jewelry and tools. Some of these are on display in the Prehistoric Museum. In addition, an outdoor nature trail illustrates the area’s prehistoric origins.