Our visits to the Italian Lakes

In Europe, Italy, Our Journeys, Road Trips, Trip-Types, World Travel by Janis6 Comments

Where beauty, style and elegance converge

Oh, where to begin? This region of Italy is stunning, with its glistening opal waters to the icing sugar topped mountains reaching high beyond.

A dozen or so small boats in the picturesque little Harbour of Limone Sul Garda, on the edge of Lake Garda, with the backdrop of the mountains on the other side of the water.

The Little Habour at Limone-sul-Garda

Quick Links

Our love of the Italian Lakes began in 2015 when we toured Lake Maggiore and its Borromean Islands. Then onto Lake Como where Gary and I, cherished a relaxing day together on a hired motorboat and cruised amongst the mountainside harbours and the elegant, opulent villas.

A shot taken from a boat on Lake Como of a villa at the edge of Lake Como with the green mountains acting as a backdrop against a slightly grey and cloudy sky.

The view north over Lake Como

Then in 2019 we hit the open roads south journeying from the UK and toured the winding lanes and bored out arched tunnels around Lake Garda.
James Bond “eat your heart out”
I know there is so much more to see and do around the Italian Lakes; however, this is just our taster of ‘bellissima nord Italia’.

Lake Como

Just imagine it, the roof of your car is down, sunglasses donned, wind in your hair, and the dulcet tones of Dean Martin, yes, ‘That’s Amore’. Does it get any better?
This is precisely what we did when we arrived at Lake Como, yes, I know, it sounds a bit cheesy but, it had to be done.

Shot taken from a boat on Lake Como where the light fluffy clouds in a blue sky are reflected in the water of the slightly rippling Lake.  The vista is set against the mountainous backdrop and a small town on the right hand side edges into the Lake.

The idyllic Lake Como

There are so many locations to choose from around Lake Como; however, we selected to base ourselves in Menaggio. Menaggio is centrally positioned on the western shores of Lake Como. If you don’t arrive by car, this location gives you the flexibility to hop on a ferry and tour to other towns and villages. Bellagio and Varenna are just short distance across the lake.

One of Menaggio pretty Little squares, lined with restaurants, where all the buildings are painted different shades of ochre.

Menaggio on Lake Como

Menaggio is a charming, picturesque little town, we found it a delight to return back to of an evening. Take a stroll through the colourful lanes, enjoy a promenade along the lake shores and then endure the delicious decision of where to eat your freshly cooked pasta.

A helpful guide

If you're hooked like us and want to tour around the beautiful Italian Lakes in northern Italy, then take a look at this DK Eyewitness book.

This Top 10 Pocket Travel Guide is invaluable, I find them extremely informative, easy to follow and the pictures and maps tempt you into discovering more.

Take to the water

I must admit hiring the motorboat to tour around Lake Como was one of the highlights of the trip. It wasn’t cheap; however, it was Gary’s birthday, and we made a day of it.
We took our own Prosecco and packed lunch and just cruised around the lake, soaking up the magnificent scenery and admiring the multi-coloured steeped villages along the way. Take a look at our post ‘Splashing about on the Lake’.

A town on the edge of Lake Como with small harbour at the front and the church tower dominating the skyline against the backdrop of mountains under a lightly cloudy sky.

A town on the edge of Lake Como

Try and hire the boat for as long as possible, you’ll be amazed at how quickly the time disappears. Bobbing along without a care in the world becoming overwhelmed by how incredibly beautiful and large Lake Como is. And just feeling like a film star.

Janis at the controls of our hired speed boat on Lake Como, underneath the white shade canopy that provides protection against the sun.

At the controls on Lake Como

Talking of feeling like a film star, you can even play ‘spot the stars villa’.
As you can imagine with a backdrop like the Italian lakes and the exclusivity and privacy that it bestows. Quite a few of these exquisite villas are owned by the rich and famous.

The palatial style Villa del Balbianello in sandy ones with terracotta tiled roofs against the backdrop of the deep blue water and blue skies of Lake Como

The Villa del Balbianello on Lake Como

Although for any James Bond or Star Wars fans you may recognise ‘Villa del Balbianello’. This incredible villa was in Casino Royale and Star Wars ‘Attack of the Clones’. You can even go and take a closer look inside.

Hiring a boat

We hired our boat from AC Boat Rentals in Menaggio. They were very professional; we were able to book online and for the AS 530 ENICA which we hired you didn’t need a licence.

Lake Garda

The northern region of Lake Garda is breath-taking, the mountainous backdrop is a sight to behold.
We based ourselves in Limone-Sul-Garda on the north-western shores of Lake Garda. Personally, I believe it was one of the prettiest and most picturesque locations around the lake.

Looking back from the very north of Limone Sul Garda to the town and the restaurants that line the lakeside with the church tower dominating the skyline as dusk sets in.

An evening view over Limone-sul-Garda

The narrow lanes winding their way down through the old town to the harbour front were delightful. As the name suggests, this charming lakeside location had terraces of lemon groves, steeped around the bay.

Looking across the tiny harbour of Limone Sul Garda to the Restaurants in gift shops that line the streets of this pretty little town on Lake Garda.

The quaint little harbour of Limone-sul-Garda

Like so many of Lake Garda’s waterside towns, the streets are so narrow that they are exclusively for pedestrians, although you may see the odd scooter passing by. Which makes it feel even more unique.
I must admit that Limone-Sul-Garda can get quite busy with visitors during the day, as it has regular tour boats and ferries arriving. However, as evening falls the quaint fishing harbour and the charming lake view restaurants, ease to a slower pace. This is when you can enjoy your Aperol Spritz.

A selection of baskets outside a gift store in Limone sur Garda with a selection of all things lemony from sweets to soaps to bath bombs and much more

All things Lemony

Gary and I were also surprised at the restaurant prices, you could easily find high-quality homemade pasta and pizzas at around €8 to €10 with a vista to die for.

Have you heard of Trento?

If you’re visiting Lake Garda, why not allow an extra day and head north to the city of Trento. It is a beautiful city, not too many visitors have heard of it. It’s overflowing with incredible architecture and some delicious family-run restaurants.

Touring around Lake Garda

Exploring Lake Garda is pretty easy from Limone-Sul-Garda, as you can always catch ferries and head off on around the lake. We spent a leisurely afternoon visiting the striking harbour town of Malcesine just across the lake.

The pretty little lakeside town of Malcesine as seen from the water with boats bombing on the Lake and  with its Castle dominating the skyline.

The town of Malcesine on Lake Garda

However, if you fancy a little adventure of your own, fire up your Quattro and hit the road and tour the lake under your own steam. There’s nothing quite like driving through mountainous tunnels, that twist and turn with spectacular mountains views ahead.

Our car parked up in front of a cafe on the edge of Lake Garda.

The Audi RS5 parked up beside Lake Garda

We spent a day jumping out at different towns and viewpoints to soak up this region’s incredible history and architecture. We do wish we had more time, as three nights was not enough.

Overlooking a wide canal at Peschiera del Garda.  It is linked directly to Lake Garda and on either side of the waterway are moored individual small boats with outboard motors.

Peschiera del Garda

We managed to complete a whole loop of the lake; however, we had to pick and choose which places to stop at. There are so many delightful towns, and you just can’t help yourself wandering off in different directions to discover more.

A cobbled lane that runs through the old centre of Salò.  Lined on one side are tall, terraced buildings, with shops and restaurants in the base, and homes in the upper levels.

Strolling through Salò on Lake Garda

Looking through a darkened archway to a covered boat moored at the edge of Lake Garda

A view onto Lake Garda

Driving tip

When driving around the lakes, make sure you travel clockwise. This will ensure you’ll always be hugging the shores of the lake and experience unhindered views.

Lake Maggoire

During our visit to Lake Maggiore, we based ourselves at Stresa on the western shore of the lake. (I’ve just realised we always seem to be located on the west side of the lakes, a bit strange).

Sailing boats anchored on Lake Maggiore in front of a quiet town with its church tower clear on the shoreline.

The quiet Lake Maggiore

I’m not too sure if we were just lucky, however, this was another wonderful place to be situated. As not only does it have a picturesque town full of charming eateries, but it also has some beautiful islands in the bay to go and explore.

A small, wooden hulled, motorboat heading across Lake Maggiore where you see the mountains that edge the lake under a blue sky with occasional white clouds.

A motor launch on Lake Maggiore

The choice is yours

You have various options when visiting Italy if you’re travelling from the UK. Firstly, you can jump in your car and hop on Le Shuttle, this is our preferred option. As we love a road trip and touring the Italian Lakes gives you so much freedom.

Alternatively, if you are flying in, head direct to Milan, and check out the deals on Rental Cars they cover all budgets.

Borromean Islands

The Borromean Islands are made up of three islands and two small islets. During our stay in Stresa, we visited the Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori (also known as fisherman’s island).
Trips out to these islands run regularly through the day, they can get busy so head out as early as possible However, they are truly beautiful to visit.

The small island of Isola Bella as seen from the ferry.  This view is over the ornate tiered Italian gardens that are a feature of the island.

Isola Bella from the Lake

Isola Bella was once a small fishing village and then from 1631 to 1671 after the purchase by the Borromeo family, the island was transformed into a magnificent Palazzo with baroque gardens.
The ornate terraced grounds are stunning and planted with such vivacious colours. Be warned you may also be rubbing knees with a few elegant white peacocks.
Also, head down inside the palazzo caves they are like grottos.

Overlooking the gardens of Isola Bella from a high viewpoint to the lake beyond, and the town of Stresa on the right bank of the lake.

The gardens of Isola Bella

Isola dei Pescatori is quite a tiny island, it is only 375 metres long and 100 metres wide. As you can imagine, both of these islands are only navigated on foot, so all their produce arrives via boat.

A few small boats on the fishing island of Isola dei Pescatori

Isola dei Pescatori on Lake Maggoire

If you plan on enjoying lunch here, arrive early. Or like us just take a stroll around, it has some very quaint buildings along its one cobbled central lane and some beautiful views across the lake.

Lake Orta

We headed out and about in our car during one of the days at Lake Maggiore. We explored all around the beautiful lush mountainous countryside then onto Lake Orta.

A view of Lake Orta from the tree lined path that leads into Orta San Giulio.  In the distance you can see Isola San Giulio dwarfed by the hills that surround the lake.

Lake Orta

Lake Orta is a beautiful lake, and even on a busy day, there were plenty of quiet spots to be found. We strolled into Orta San Giulio on the eastern shores of Lake Orta, and it was such a lovely calming experience.

A historic square in Orta San Giulio, on the edge of Lake Orta,  lined with restaurants with al fresco dining areas our front with their parasols keep the sun off the dinners.

Piazza Motta in Orta San Giulio

Cobbled lanes weaved before us and tiny fishing boats were perched along the water’s edge. Then out in the middle of the lake was the eye-catching Isola San Giulio, another small island and full of so much character.

A boat returning from Isola San Giulio on Lake Orta where the convent and church dominate this historic little island.  Again the backdrop is green mountains.

Isola San Giulio on Lake Orta

When to go

I would just like to add that Gary and I have only visited the Italian Lakes in either June or September. I fully appreciate that the lakes can get extremely busy during high season. However, if time permits, these were really pleasant months to travel. Not too hot and not too overcrowded.

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  1. Sounds like a lovely trip. I think hiring a boat on one of the lakes is definitely money well spent, it gives a very different perspective of the area. #FarawayFiles

    1. Author

      Yes, it certainly does and it is so peaceful. If you’re brave enough you can even climb off and go for a swim.

  2. Great and dreamy guide to the all the Italian Lakes I so desperately want to visit! I like the idea of renting a boat, but would be quite intimidated with wear to dock it if we wanted to get out and about! #FarawayFiles

    1. Author

      It is a beautiful part of Italy to tour around, highly recommend it. If you wanted to get off the boat you can stop at one of the mooring points at the lake-side towns.
      Although if you just fancied a break to admire the scenery, head to an open part of the lake, turn off the engine and drift along, it’s heaven.

  3. Gah! Sooo beautiful! It has been a LONG time since I’ve been to Como and my husband and I were on backpacker’s budgets – so it would be amazing to go back and experience it again. We’d love to rent a boat to cruise around, we did that from Kefalonia in Greece, but it’s a great idea here too – such a different perspective of the lake from the water. Great guide of the gorgeous area. Thanks for sharing with #FarawayFiles.

    1. Author

      It is a stunning region to tour around on a road trip, you feel like James Bond winding through the lanes around the lakes. Hiring the boat was certainly a highlight and it’s great that you don’t need a licence for one that small.

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