Italy

Around the region

Milan is the most stylish of Italian cities; a fashion, art, design and gastronomic hub where the everyday is elevated to an art form. When the Milanese want to relax, the Italian Lakes – a fashionable travel destination since Roman times – are Milan’s playground. Scattered across Lombardy and straddling the borders with Piedmont and the Veneto, the most popular lakes – Maggiore, Orta, Como, Iseo, and Garda – are beautiful, their banks dotted with grand hotels, luxuriant gardens, and gourmet restaurants that satisfy the perfection-seeking Milanese. The region is also home to some of Italy’s most absorbing towns: Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Mantua and Verona, destinations that reward the curious visitor to this rich region of Italy.

Milan

Milan may have given birth to the world’s most iconic fashion houses and some of the planet’s most cutting-edge furniture, lighting and product designers, but it’s also home to some of history’s most important works of art and architecture, from Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper to the city’s splendid Gothic Duomo. Unlike Rome, Venice and Florence, Milan is not overrun with tourists, and its laid-back atmosphere, low-key neighbourhoods and pleasurable rituals, such as aperitivo hour, make it a delight to explore. Equally pleasing is just how close the nearby languid lakes and enchanting surrounding towns and cities are to this important travel hub.

Lake Maggiore & Lake Orta

With the Alps providing a dramatic backdrop, colossal old hotels gracing its shores, and four beautiful islands – the Isole Borromee – afloat on its tranquil waters, it’s no wonder Lake Maggiore has a certain grandeur the other lakes find hard to match. By stark contrast, its little neighbour Lake Orta is the most exclusive lake of all. Surrounded by undulating hills and wooded forests, and with pretty Isola di San Giulio a short boat ride away from the charming village of the same name, Lake Orta is the most enchanting lake in the region.

Lake Como

The quintessential northern Italian lake, Como is the most beautiful, most romantic and most glamorous of lakes, with its majestic mountains and shores lined with atmospheric old hotels, palatial villas, pretty lakeside parks and gardens, and superlative restaurants. Light planes fly overhead, speedboats whizz by, and ferries criss-cross the water, yet the lake has in no way given over completely to tourism. This is still very much a living, breathing lake with the elegant town of Como’s shops, cafés and restaurants frequented more by locals than tourists, and villages such as Varenna and Menaggio still retaining an authentic laid-back charm. Bellagio is one of the most popular villages, yet it also remains one of the north’s most delightful. Como is the must-visit lake if you only have time to visit one.

Lake Garda & Lake Iseo

The largest of the lakes, Lake Garda has a bit of everything for everyone. Its faded charm, historic hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants appeal to an older, more affluent traveller, while its water sports, good beaches and theme parks attract families en masse throughout the summer months. Gardone Riviera and Salò are the places to visit for refined hotels and restaurants and loads of lakeside ambience, while Sirmione’s traffic-free streets, striking castle and Roman ruins attract the sightseers, and Riva del Garda’s windsurfing is a magnet for sporty types. Not far away, low-key Lake Iseo, with its picturesque waterside promenades, pretty squares and plenty of camping opportunities, is the least tourist-driven of the lakes, making it the most alluring for some.  

Towns of the Po Valley Bergamo, Brescia, Cremona, Mantua and Verona are all conveniently located near the lakes, making great bases for day trips to the lakes when accommodation is hard to come by during summer or when hotels are closed during the cooler months. Boasting a beautiful medieval upper town and an elegant lower town, Bergamo is bang in the middle of all the lakes, between Lake Como and Lake Iseo. Only 50 km from Milan (handily located off the A4), Bergamo’s airport, Orio al Serio, is a bit of a hub for low-cost airlines. The closest town to Lake Iseo, Brescia is a hidden gem with elegant palazzi (palaces/mansions) and lovely piazzas that rarely get crowded with tourists, even during the peak summer period, and yet it’s conveniently located on the Milan-Verona train line. The small laid-back Lombardy cities of Cremona and Mantua ooze atmosphere and charm; both are connected to Milan, Brescia, Bergamo and Verona by train and freeway. Romantic Verona, the closest city to Lake Garda, is an excellent departure point for exploring this lake. Verona is home to the Arena, the legend of Romeo and his Juliet and the Scaligeri family,  and is truly captivating. History and romance, both real and imagined, ooze from every marbled street and cobblestone laneway.

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