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Lake region (Como, Garda, etc), Italy

Great Destination:

Value for Money:

Total Stars:

Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Thomas Edison’s movie studio shot the 1902 “Moonlight on Lake Maggiore” at the lake.
  • Mussolini and his mistress were captured and killed in 1945 on the shores of Lake Como.
  • Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake, with a surface of 143 square miles.
  • Giuseppe Verdi composed part of his opera, “La Traviata,” at Cadenabbia on Lake Como.
  • Alfred Hitchcock shot scenes for his first movie, “The Pleasure Garden” (1925), at Villa d’Este.

Playground for the ages

What could be more glorious than vacationing in Italy with mountains and lakes for a playground, castles and village piazzas to explore by day and fine Italian dining with a local Bardolino wine to enjoy by night? Travelers of all personality types seem to agree that very little beats a destination like that, and so they give top ratings to northern Italy’s lake country. It stretches across parts of Piedmont, Lombardy and Trentino and encompasses numerous lakes, but the largest and best known are Como, Garda and Maggiore.

For centuries, the rich and famous have come here to play or to retreat from hectic lives. Today’s not-quite-so-rich and not-so-famous tourists can do the same, choosing accommodations as different as a pensione and a luxurious former villa. One such villa is the Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli in Gargnano on Lake Garda, where Mussolini lived late in World War II.

For the active, the lakes offer sailing, waterskiing and windsurfing. The mountains, depending on the season, provide choices for biking, hiking and skiing.

But visitors at any point on the personality scale find something to love, from the look of cypress trees, bougainvilleas and dramatic mountainous backdrops to medieval churches meant to be discovered and quaint town centers perfectly suited to whiling away a slow afternoon.

Choice towns include:

  • Stresa (Maggiore), noted for its grand 19th century hotels and access to three picturesque islands: Bella, Madre and Pescatori.
  • Bellagio (Como), loved for its beauty and location at the point where Como splits into two parallel lakes.
  • Cernobbio (Como), location of the most famous of villa hotels, the Villa d’Este, where even those who can’t afford the tariff may have a divine dinner and walk the gardens.
  • Riva del Garda (Garda), with a stunning wall of mountains at its back, a medieval piazza in the heart of town and a fort dating from the 12th century which is now a museum.
  • Sirmione (Garda), a luscious little town dating from the Roman era, located at the end of a narrow peninsula and most noted for a gleaming white-stone medieval castle.

Things to do for Venturers

  • For the ultimate in flexibility, drive to your preferred destinations along the sometimes challenging roads that skirt the lakes. Alternatively, hop from town to town by ferry.
  • There are hundreds of miles of cycling routes. Explore the areas near and between the lakes on two wheels. That might require a mountain bike, depending on your route.
    Or, make like George Clooney and sightsee on a motorcycle.
  • Explore the nightlife in the livelier towns along the lakes’ shores though this won’t match life in the big cities.
  • Among them, the lakes offer just about any water sport you may hope for. At Lake Como, go waterskiing or hone your sailing skills. Learn to sail if that is not already in your skills set.
  • Similarly, choose your water sport at Lake Garda: sailing, scuba diving or windsurfing, among others.
  • See some of the area from the sky. There are several places for paragliding in and around these lakes.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Have a dinner you will never forget at the Villa d’Este. You may have a chance to buy a cookbook, too.
  • Have a look inside the fort in Riva del Garda, which dates from the 12th century. It is the Civic Museum today. Also, head to the Bastion, built in 1508 on the slopes of Mount Rocchetta, for view of the city and Lake Garda. There are numerous historic fortresses, castles and churches to divert the history buff building a holiday around this lake.
  • Amuse yourself with this: See statues of Pliny the Elder and Pliny the Younger, both pagans, bookending the door to the cathedral in the town of Como. They were born in the area, but Pliny the Younger had judged Christianity a harmless superstition.
  • In the mountains around Lake Maggiore, you have the gamut of winter choices: downhill or cross-country skiing, snowboarding and snowshoeing.
  • Plan an itinerary around festivals that appeal to you. One examples is the Lake Maggiore Jazz Festival in summer. The Palio del Baradello (medieval games and pageant) in Como in September is quite another thing.
  • Ride a horse for a few hours or a day. Also, two-day trips are available at Domodossola in the Lake Maggiore region.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Stay in the villa where Mussolini once lived, meaning today’s Grand Hotel Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda. Or, you could opt for one of those grand hotels on Lake Maggiore.
  • As in many lakeside towns, there are villa gardens to be visited in Bellagio on Lake Como.
  • While away an afternoon over coffee and pastries in the squares of charming Riva del Garda or in any number of piazzas in the region’s lakeside towns.
  • Have Bardolino wines with dinners. It is a good wine made in a town of the same name, near Lake Garda.
  • Play golf. There are quite a few courses around the lakes though not in the more mountainous parts of the region.
  • Have a mud bath, or a hydro-massage or simply a soak in sulphurous warm waters at spa facilities in Sirmione, site of natural thermal springs on Lake Garda.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Italian Government Tourist Board at www.italia.it and choose your language if necessary.