ITALY AND THE NORTHERN LAKES

With a magnificent view of the Alps, the lakes of northern Italy are the scenic shores that many explore to take small holidays away from the cities. There are 3 main and most well known lakes and 2 additional ones that are less famous. Typically, non-European travelers visit Lake Como, many fixated on the possibility of seeing George Clooney if by chance he is staying in his property there. Most travelers coming from other European countries tend to visit Lake Garda, home of a small medieval shore town, Sirmione. Lake Maggiore is also quite popular and large; however most Italians go to the shore of Lake Orta when they need a water-related holiday. Lake Iseo is the last of the 5 we will mention in this article and is the least well-known but is still a great option for a lake vacation.

North Italy lakes map
North Italy lakes map

LAKE COMO / LAGO DI COMO

Who would pass up the opportunity to see the world-renowned actor, Mr. Clooney himself! Although you may not spot George, Lake Como is still a beautiful stop on your Italian holiday. It’s a very short train ride from Milan as it takes about 30 minutes. Remember when we said that Italians prefer going to Lake Orta? Well, the people of Milan flood to Como on the weekends or whenever they have time off from work. It’s just such an easy and quick trip so Lake Como is definitely worth visiting if you’re staying in Milan.

If you have a car, try driving along the lake shore for some spectacular views. If you’re coming by train, head into Varenna, a very small village on the coast with a ferry that connects all of the lake’s major towns. This special village is home to a small castle with a miniature olive grove growing next to the castle walls. Throughout the castle, you’ll find eerie statues in various places and poses. It’s a unique view of the lake and a quite interesting (and slightly frightening) experience on a foggy day.

Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy
Lake Como, Lombardy, Italy *

Bellagio is probably the most well known town on the lake due to its expensive shops and romantic atmosphere. From here, you can take the cable car to Brunate for a more panoramic view of Lake Como and its surroundings. The summer heat may be more bearable from up high as well! Monte Boletto is the perfect break from lounging on the lake shore for anyone who loves sports. Hike up there for a drop in temperature and some views of the lake. During the Christmas season, the town of Como hosts a lovely holiday market that draws plenty of attention despite the wind and slightly frigid temperatures.

LAKE GARDA / LAGO DI GARDA

Drive around this lake for about 160 km of lake-side views. The area around this massive body of water is home to plenty of amusement parks and other fun opportunities. On the Southern edge is Gardaland, an amusement park with 7 large roller coasters and 4 water rides. Although it doesn’t sit directly on the lake, it’s an easy trip from there for a day of excitement. Venice and Verona, two cities known for their romantic atmospheres, are also close to Lake Garda.

On the opposite side is Milan, so Garda is another easy day trip from northern Italy’s biggest city. A botanical garden on Mount Baldo can be reached by the lake-side town of Malcesine. This mountain is about 1220 meters high and will let you explore different views of Garda from higher altitude.

Sirmione Castle, Lake Garda, Lombardy, Italy
Sirmione Castle, Lake Garda, Lombardy, Italy *

Sirmione, an adorable, small, castle-walled town on the lake is a gem along the shore. The turquoise water, old stone walls, and blooming flowers make this village a must-visit if you’re in the area. Since it’s on the tip of a small peninsula, Sirmione has quite a few lovely beaches to relax in and enjoy the water or a pina colada during the warmer months of the year. Additionally on this bit of land is the residence of the Catulla family. Known better as the “Grotte di Catullo”, this villa was built between 100 BC and 100 AD, and was home to an important figure of the Roman empire. The area is now full of lemon and olive trees and it’s yet another spectacular view. This is Italy’s largest lake, so there’s plenty to explore!

LAKE MAGGIORE / LAGO DI MAGGIORE

Italy’s northernmost lake is that of Lake Maggiore, which dips into Switzerland at the northern end. This is considered one of the main three northern lakes, and it is quite popular among tourists.

Isola Bella, lake Maggiore, Lombardy, Italy
Isola Bella, lake Maggiore, Lombardy, Italy *

This lake has a unique and close up view of some of the finest natural areas. Everything from zoological and botanical gardens, to extreme sports, historical castles with newly grown mountainous vegetation, and more surround its narrow body. It is about 65 km in length and it’s the second largest lake in Italy after Lake Garda. Its northern position produces a humid subtropical climate, allowing for mild winters and summers, releasing heat in the colder months and giving way to a cooling water breeze in the warmer months. If you are an extreme sports fan or just enjoy an active vacation, Lake Maggiore is the destination for you.

Isola Bella Lake Maggiore
Isola Bella Lake Maggiore *

The Santa Anna Gorge creates the perfect spot for rafting and kayaking in the lake’s mild waters. The surrounding mountainous terrain is also a great area for mountain biking and hiking. The Mottarone Mountain provides a unique 360 degree, all-encompassing view, easily reached by cable car if you’re not up for the intense hiking excursion.

Villa Taranto Lake maggiore, Italy
Villa Taranto Lake Maggiore, Italy *

From here, you can see the various fortresses and churches built into the mountains that have been there for centuries. The town of Stresa is the most commonly visited by tourists for accommodation, but plenty of towns near this large lake are suitable for tourism and an overnight stay.

LAKE ORTA / LAGO DI ORTA

The Italian choice – Lago di Orta. This lake is typically the chosen spot for artists. Whether a writer, poet, painter, or practicing another of the creative arts, this spot is sure to inspire. The German philosopher, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, is said to have spent many years on the lakeside of Orta, producing the famous “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” between 1883–1885.

San Giulio Island
San Giulio Island *

The main attraction of Lake Orta is the island of San Guilio and for good reason. It’s the only island on the lake and carries a unique charm and view of the lake’s main shores. The “Sacred Mountain” / Sacro Monte gives way to an out-of-this-world view during the sunset and dusk. With the perspective from the island, you can see the shore, the mountain and the sky in a frame that no photo will do justice. Try out the favorite Italian lake vacation spot and see for yourself!

LAKE ISEO / LAGO DI ISEO

This hidden gem won’t be on your typical tourist map or itinerary suggestion. Lake Iseo is a small jewel, away from the crowds and tourists that the other lakes in this article come with. There is an island in the center of this translucent body of water. This is the largest lake island in Europe. Monte Isola is home to 1770 people and is compromised of 11 villages. A plethora of 15th and 17th century churches and indications of ancient Roman settlements decorate the island.

Monte isola Lake Iseo, Italy
Monte isola, Lake Iseo, Italy – photo by Sailko wikimedia

Cars are not permitted on the island, which forces people to travel with bikes and mopeds. But hiking is a great way to explore as well. Find your way up to the Madonna della Ceriola church of the 13th century through groves of olive and walnut trees. Be prepared to break a sweat but it is well worth it! Many Medieval towns dot the main lake shores such as Riva di Solto, Marone, Sarnico, and of course, the town of Iseo itself. Marasino and Sulzano host a ferry to the island so those are a must visit. However, all of these have their own charm!

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