Etched into the dramatic scenery of Italy, to the south of its northern alpine region, lie the country’s great lakes. These eight lakes have made Northern Italy a must-visit travel destination for locals and international travellers alike. With waterfront hotels, historic villages, spa towns, al fresco dining, and scenic boat rides, you can venture to any one of the major lakes - Lake Como, Lake Garda, or Lake Maggiore - and experience a refreshing, memorable holiday.
With opportunities to wade into the crystal-clear waters, or take a sunset stroll by the gently lapping tides, one of the best times to visit the Italian lakes is during the summer. Whether you fancy the bustle of these destinations during the height of the season, in July and August, or as the crowds thin out and temperatures ease (but still remain in the toasty early twenties) in September or even early October, you will find plenty of sunshine and delicious opportunities for aperitivo across these beautiful lakes.
From Lake Como to Lake Maggiore, here are our favourite things to do on a summer holiday across the Italian lakes:
Visit Northern Italy’s best wineries
Northern Italy is responsible for cultivating some of the nation’s most renowned red wines, so you can’t miss spending a day or two exploring some of the region’s best wineries. Valpolicella, a viticultural zone in the province of Verona, is just a stone’s throw away from Lake Garda. The region is home to the agriturismo farm of Costa degli Ulivi, which has pride of place on an elevated position fringed by vineyards and olive trees. Here, you can sample celebrated Valpolicella wines - and even olive oils! - and learn how these are produced with years of tradition. The Classico, Ripasso and Amarone varieties will be the wines you will want to take home with you.
Make a splash at Jamaica Beach
Desperate to cool off? Then one of the best spots in the lakes region has to be Jamaica Beach on Lake Garda. This sapphire-toned spot will transport you to somewhere in the Caribbean Sea, but be sure to head there early in the day, to secure a prized sunbathing spot on the rocks. You might like to follow it up with a visit to the nearby Scaligero Castle, a fortress in the historical centre of Sirmione.
See Lake Garda by boat
As the picturesque Lake Garda is 142.85 square miles in size and has a delightful array of more than 20 villages, the best way to see what the lake has to offer you is by boat. Take the Grand Circular Tour to feel the fresh wind in your hair, and experience the distinctive personality of each part of the colourful shoreline.
Spend the day in Bellagio
If it’s Lake Como which has captured your heart, base yourself in Bellagio. This gorgeous spot is often regarded as one of Italy’s most beautiful towns, with charming villas, fine dining options, and elegant gardens. See the sights on a short walking tour, or watch Bellagio’s come to life from your table at a local cafe or by wandering down the lakefront promenade.
Go island hopping
Usually, the sea is where you head for a dose of island hopping. But Lake Maggiore will grant you this experience, too. Isola Bella, one of the three main Borromean Islands, is a marvellous spot to spend the day. Here, you can marvel at the water gardens and lose yourself in the 17th-century Baroque palace.
A late dinner outdoors
When the days are long and the sun shines bright, you want to take in as much of it as you can. And in one of Italy’s best foodie regions, you will want a meal and some wine to pair with the view. For this, we would recommend heading to Lake Como, right to the water’s edge in the port town of Sala Comacina, where you will find the romantic, alfresco restaurant of Locanda La Tirlindana.
Alternatively, you can head to the western side of Lake Maggiore, and dine at Ristorante Milan for an incredible view overlooking the small harbour as you dine on local fish.