Venice's canals, Rome's art-filled museums, and Tuscany's rolling countryside lure millions of travelers each year, but the country's beautiful lakes also inspire numerous getaways. Packed with lush coastlines, mountainous backdrops, and towns filled with impressive villas, the various lakes are some of the most scenic in the world. Add in delectable Italian cuisine, historic sights, and majestic churches, and they create the ultimate Italian escape. Read on for the best lakes in Italy to start planning your bucket-list trip.
The well-known and posh Lake Como is located in northern Italy’s Lombardy region. Shaped like an upside-down “Y”, the lake is known for its breathtaking backdrop of lush hills and setting against of foothills of the Alps. Its coastline is dotted with charming, ancient villages, upscale hotels, and gorgeous villas with impressive gardens, and top destinations include Bellagio, Como, and Varenna. The lake has drawn well-heeled Europeans for hundreds of years, and gained more widespread popularity as celebrities like George Clooney have flocked to the area. Travelers can spend their days seeing the lake by boat, exploring the striking architecture of villas, and eating delicious cuisine on food tours, plus there are numerous historical sights like the Cathedral of Como and Chiesa Santa Maria del Tiglio in Gravedona.
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The largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda is between Venice and Lake Como, about a two-hour drive from both. In addition to offering gorgeous scenery, the are offers everything a traveler to Italy could want: wineries and quaint farm stays, historic castles and ancient ruins, magnificent churches, scenic hiking, and windsurfing to the region’s unique winds. Numerous fine-dining Italian, Mediterranean, and seafood restaurants line the lake, plus affordable pizza eateries and gelato shops. Popular cities to spend time include Riva del Garda at the northern tip — baroque churches and sailing are not to be missed — Salo, which has a lovely lakefront promenade, and lemon-producing Limone sul Garda.
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Spanning the border between Italy and Switzerland, Lake Maggiore measures 40 miles long and is the second-largest lake in Italy. A frequent haunt for wealthy Italians, the lake is lined with upscale villas with well-manicured grounds showcasing the region’s lush vegetation caused by a mild climate year-round. Stresa is a popular town to visit, particularly as it offers ferries to the Borromean Islands — a collection of three islands within the lake that are owned by the noble Borromeo family from Milan. Isola Bella ad Isola Madre both house stunning formal gardens and opulent palaces with antique furnishings and paintings from the last few hundred years.
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4. Lake Orta
For a less crowded, miniature version of neighboring Lake Maggiore, the eight-mile long Lake Orta is a pretty area surrounded by wooded hillsides. Its largest town is Orta San Giulio, which is built onto a promontory and features Sacro Monte di Orta, a sacred complex dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi with 20 chapels that date from the 16th to 18th centuries. A short boat ride away is Isola San Giulio, which is a small and quiet island housing a beautiful monastery, Catholic church, and just one restaurant. The lake also includes the small beach of Spiaggia Miami, and numerous restaurants and gelaterias.
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5. Lake Iseo
Set between Lake Como and Lake Garda, a 90-minute drive from Bergamo, the once looked-over Lake Iseo has been gaining prominence over the last several years. The fourth-largest Italian lake, it has a length of 16 miles and offers a coast with medieval towns, plus proximity to the Franciacorta wine region, which has become popular with sparkling wine drinkers. One of the medieval towns is Iseo, featuring a lovely cobbled piazza, winery, and churches with beautiful frescoed interiors. From here, travelers can also take a ferry to Monte Isola, a relatively large lake island with several churches dating back hundreds of years, a castle, and lakefront eateries and bars.
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