27 June 2018 by Kiera Greenwood
When holiday-makers call for romance, culture and effortless style, Europe puts its best foot forward in the form of Italy’s boot-shaped land. And, it’s here, in this country's charming north, that idyllic waters flanked by majestic mountains prove summers aren’t always best spent on a beach… For an authentic Italian escape dripping in glamour, it doesn’t get much better than a trip to the country’s enchanting lake region. So, we’ve picked out the top three lakes to visit this summer that will have you living la dolce vita, because if anyone knows how to live the good life, it’s the Italians.
‘A lake as beautiful as the beginning of creation’, stated DH Lawrence during his six months stay on Lake Garda – a stay that was only meant to last a day.
The largest, and perhaps the most famous, of the lakes is of course Garda. Skirted by olive trees, lemon groves and traditional vineyards, this balmy weathered lake has drawn discerning travellers from near and far for centuries. Its breezy waters make it somewhat of a hotspot for water sports lovers, whilst foodies and oenophiles head here for the award-winning olive oils and wines. But, even without its specialist attractions, the pretty shores of this lake have something for everyone. The meandering cobbled streets of beguiling towns are perfect for picturesque strolls, whilst for the more energetic, mountain hikes bring incredible views.
Split by three distinct regions – Lombardy, Trentino Alto-Adige and the Veneto – Garda is vast and varying with respective distinct allures. Lombardy’s seductive charm is headlined in Garda by the impossibly scenic Sirmione. Located on the tip of a peninsula that juts off of the lake’s southern bank, this historic spa village is still popular for its ‘healing’ hot springs today. Alongside its chocolate-box appearance, Sirmione is best known for Rocca Scaligera, a fairy-tale-like thirteenth-century castle, and Villa Romana, impressive Roman ruins that are stunningly back dropped by the lake’s sparkling water – both are open to the public and are definitely worth the visit. Make your stay in Sirmione unforgettable with an opulent stay at the stunning Villa Cortine Palace, where lavish design meets laid-back, lakeside living.
Sirmione's streets form a maze that you want to get lost in
Journey up the western shore, and you will find yourself in Gardone Riviera – a chic, elegant resort punctuated by sumptuous villas, lush gardens and luxury hotels. Reflecting its picture-perfect setting is the Grand Hotel Gardone, Lake Garda’s first hotel and a firm favourite with the late Winston Churchill – stay here for four-star luxury in the form of top-class amenities and plush interiors. Lake Garda’s eastern bank lies in the region of Veneto. Verdant hills are peppered with silvery olive groves and, perhaps most notably, this shoreline is home to the lake’s namesake town, Garda. The perfect spot for people watching, Garda town epitomises typical lake living.
Move right on up to the lake's northern portion, and you'll find the water lapping up on the shores of Trentino Alto-Adige where the slightly wilder landscapes never fail to draw nature and water sports lovers alike. Here, the wind-rippled waters and forest-fringed waterline put canoeing, windsurfing, biking and hiking at the forefront of Lake Garda's attractions.
It may be the smallest of the three lakes on our must-see list, but what Lake Como lacks in size, it makes up for in style. Known as being the most sophisticated of the Italian lakes, it’s not just savvy travellers that are drawn to its glittering waters, but a number of famous faces frequent here too. George Clooney, Madonna and Richard Branson – to name but a few – have all owned homes on the shores of this luscious lake. And, this isn’t a new fad either. Noble families, famous artists, royalty and even world leaders have been staking their claim on this lake for centuries.
Lake Como's back-drop of undulating mountains makes for a postcard-perfect scene
So, the question is, what exactly is the draw? Well, other than it being featured in one of the more recent James Bond films, Casino Royale, it is undeniably idyllic. Combine the snow-capped peaks of its Italian Alp back-drop, its crystal-clear glacial waters, mouthwatering gourmet offerings and heart-warming hospitality and go-figure. And, the best bit? Como's attractions look even better in person than they do on paper.
Each of its shoreline's picturesque towns having their own individual characteristics, and all offer a number of perfect ways to while away the day. Varenna, for example, is a tiny traditional fishing village located on the eastern shores of the lake that tempts with its authentically rustic charms, beautiful botanic gardens and sleepy village vibes. A day-trip, if not a stay here, is ideal for escaping the hustle and bustle of its grander neighbours. Whilst on the other end of the spectrum, there's the likes of chic Bellagio and glitzy Tremezzo. Although the very name instantly conjures up an image of dancing fountains in front of a grand neoclassical facade on the Las Vegas strip, Bellagio is in fact an elegant town located on the central point of Como's peculiar inverted 'Y' shape. Known as the 'pearl of the lake', this delightful destination entices with its stylish wine bars and gourmet restaurants. To the west, Tremezzo moves the glamour factor up by another significant notch which is largely aided by the fact that it is home to the Grand Hotel Tremezzo, the crème de la crème of luxury accommodation on Como – think A-lister guests and a floating swimming pool for only the most civilised of lake dips.
The views from Grand Hotel Tremezzo are unprecedented
But, if the crème de la crème of Como doesn't quite cut it for you, why not stay at not only the lake's, but Italy itself's, pièce de résistance? Voted by many to be one of the leading hotels of the world, is Cernobbio's Villa d'Este. Tucked away on the southwestern reaches of the lake, in-amongst 25 acres of perfectly manicured Renaissance gardens, this regal residence has been hosting Como's most prestigious guests since the late 16th century. And, as the age old saying goes; if you can't beat them, join them. Make sure that your stay on Lake Como this year is the embodiment of opulent, Italian lake living by booking a suite at this highly sought after accommodation.
Ah, Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake. Here, an essence of wild beauty comes together with the understated elegance of a time gone by to create a destination that is nothing short of enchanting – this is definitely one for the hopeless romantics.
Life on this lake is all about the simple pleasures – pretty fishing villages, good ol’ rustic Italian food, and an abundance of unruly flowers offset by perfectly manicured renaissance gardens. Come spring, which is the most popular time to visit, Maggiore is in full bloom. Bright camellias and commanding hydrangeas bring a vivid splash of colour to the promenades and gardens whilst a plethora of magnolia trees see the lakefront blushing with a delicate splendour pronounced by their soft pink hues.
Villa Taranto's perfectly manicured gardens
Flora and fauna are so important to Maggiore that the idyllic lakeside town of Verbania – known as 'the garden on the lake' – even holds an official celebration of everyone’s favourite flower, the humble tulip. Hosted in the botanical gardens of the beautiful Villa Taranto every April, visitors can expect to encounter a near 20,000 bulbs forming a ‘tulip maze’ made up of 65 varieties of the flower – not only a treat for the senses but most definitely a spectacle to behold. But, if you’re not holidaying in Maggiore in April then not to worry; these gardens – the brainchild of a Scottish captain who settled here back in 1931 – have much to offer year-round. Although the landscaping is typically English in style, the gardens’ Italian setting is not to be forgotten with a myriad of statues, fountains, ponds, terraces and waterfalls all boasting an Italian air of sophistication. World-wide species are planted harmoniously here making it one of the most striking gardens in Italy. Entrance to Villa Taranto is around €10pp.
Verbania isn’t all buds and blossoms; it actually has its own sandy beach too – albeit a small one – making it the perfect spot for some lakeside relaxing. And, why not take your sun-soaking to the next level with a bit of private beach lounging as you experience the very best of Verbania with a stay at the Grand Hotel Majestic. Not only does it boast a sumptuously private slice of beach but its Belle Époque style and lavish interiors make the grand of this hotel’s moniker an understatement.
Using this historic classic as your base, make sure to venture out and enjoy the rest of what this incredible lake has to offer. From the Borromean Islands to Stresa’s pretty piazzas, Maggiore’s charms are endless.
Opt for a stay doused in romance at the Grand Hotel Majestic