Due to the lack of travel this past year, I’ve been going through my many many photos of Italy. It is truly one of the most beautiful countries in the world. And it doesn’t matter if it’s a hip modern city like Milano, breathtaking landscapes, the ancient ruins in Rome or love stories in Verona! And I’m not even mentioning the food or wine!
The lakes in the North of Italy are on the other hand magical. These oases of dark-blue-turquoise water at the foot of the Alps, surrounded by a green almost dramatic scenery are the place to visit during those hot summer days.
Best way to enjoy all these beautiful landscapes is to rent a car and just drive around stopping from time to time to take a few snaps and enjoy the views. The easiest lake to get to though is Lake Como, so I’ll start my journey there.
Discovering the Pearl of Lake Como – Bellagio
Lake Como is about 1h away by train from Milano and you have about 13 trains a day that will take you there. So I’d say a trip to Milano should most definitely include a quick jaunt to Lake Como. Most trips will indicate to go to Como and from there take a ferry to Bellagio, but that would mean you’d spent a lot of time on water. And while the views are absolutely spectacular, a 2h ferry ride seems to be a bit too long for me.
I would recommend you take the train from Milano to Varenna. The train ride takes about 1h and it costs only 7€. Not only it’s a charming little Italian town, but you only have about a 15 minutes ferry ride to Bellagio. The price for one way ticket on the ferry is 4.60€. Very important to keep in mind: don’t forget to check the schedules for the return ferry. For more information about the schedule and prices, check the Jaunting Tips section at the bottom of this post.
Bellagio is indeed the Pearl of Como. Portrayed as the escape for the rich and famous, full of glamour and superstars, you’d probably think “Hey I might run into George and Amal and we’ll share a prosecco”. Actually Bellagio is full of charm and just amazing to explore. From the busy narrow streets packed with cute stores, to enjoying a gelato along the shore. Exploring the streets and observing people is just so much fun. You will discover a lot of photographs offering the “diva experience”. I mean we are in Bellagio, might as well act like superstars.
And since I really love exploring, I’m going to give you a little extra tip. If you go to searching for I Ventri di Bellagio, you will discover a place that sells Christmas ornaments all year long. The special thing about them is that they are made from blown or fused glass and they are hand painted. The tradition of working glass in Bellagio is equivalent to that of Murano.
No need to tell you that catching the last ferry is totally worth it so you can catch the sunset and enjoy a lit up Bellagio when departing back to Varenna.
Having spent a full day exploring Lake Como, you could spend the night either in Milano or Bergamo and continue your journey to the less visited lake Iseo. This little gem is located between Como and Garda and it is the smallest of the northern Italian lakes. Being less know is actually kind of perfect. You can enjoy this amazing scenery of mountains dipping their feet in the lake and the small Italian towns without being suffocated by crowds.
You can explore Iseo either by car, going around the road hugging the lake, by boat, because the views from the water are just spectacular, or a mix of the two, so you can soak in as much of the region as possible. Either way, a good starting point is Sarnico. Sunken trees, beautiful waterfront and colorful villas bring out just the right amount of tease to get your exploring senses tingling.
Following the road, the next stop is Iseo, the town that has also given the name to the lake. This is also a great place to stay for a couple of nights and take advantage of the grass “beaches”, enjoy the landscape while paddling in a kayak, have a refreshing swim or just explore the area by bike.
Following the road you will reach Sulzano, from where you can take probably the shortest ferryboat to Monte Isola, the main attraction of the lake and the largest inhabited lake island in Europe. However if you would like to explore more, and have a longer experience on water, you can take a ferry from Pisogne, all the way up north. The advantage of taking a longer boat ride is that you can really take the time to enjoy the views. And on the way to Monte Isola you can admire the small island of Loreto. I wouldn’t mind having my own little castle and island in a middle of a lake, especially in Italy.
Coming back to Monte Isola, you will be surprised to know that is small island is car free. You can rent a bike or a Vespa to explore the 11 charming villages that are home to the almost 2,000 inhabitants. And with views like these… who would want to pollute the air.
Being a sunset chaser and all, I have to advise you… Before catching the last ferry, make sure you have your camera ready to capture some of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. The last rays of the sun fall over the mountain peaks and submerge the whole lake in this amazing warm light that make the landscape almost magical.
Water sports Paradise: Lago di Garda
I’m pretty sure Lago di Garda is no secret to anybody. However I am positive it can be a nice surprise to any visitor, new or returning. For me the feeling was truly water fun Paradise: from diving to wind/kite surfing and sailing you can enjoy a wide variety of sports. I don’t know about you, but I would relocate there for the summer. All those fun activities, add the charm of Italian towns and the delicious Italian cuisine, and I just found a new favorite place in the world.
Lake Garda is ideal to practice all the “wind” related water sports due to the reliable winds that are produced in the top part of the lake. The clear blue-turquoise waters and the wonderful mountain scenery make for an ideal surfing experience. And if you wonder about safety… jet skies and water skiing is not allowed in the top part of the lake.
After you had your fun on water is time to check out the land. Garda not only has a breathtaking scenery, it’s also surrounded by amazing towns. You could easily spend a few hours exploring the narrow streets of Sirmione, visit Castelo Scaligero and enjoy some gelato on the pebble beach.
However, Simirone is not the only town with a Scaligero Castle. A little more to the north you will discover Malcesine. Both medieval castles were built by de la Scala family from Verona, who ruled the area in the 13th and 14th centuries. Both fortifications are impeccable kept, but for me, the one in Malcesine has the better view due to it’s 31 m tower. Raised 70 m above the lake it will offer some of the best views of the lake.
Following the lake anticlockwise, from Malcesine you can make a pit stop in the most northern part of the lake in Riva del Garda. With two harbors, you will feel like in a miniature Monte Carlo, with hundreds of boats just waiting to set sail.
Continuing down back to the south you should plan a stop in Limone sul Garda, Toscolano Maderno and end the tour back in Desenzano del Garda.
Because there are so many things to do and see around lake Garda, I recommend you find accommodation and stick around for a few days. And the best way to experience this part of Italy is at an agritur. Fresh local ingredients, straight from the farm, homemade pasta dishes, friendly people and the perfect rustic setting above the lake. Sounds idyllic? That’s because it is. This is what Val d’Egoi has to offer. Here you will meet Beppe, who not only produces his own olive oil, strawberry jam and cold cuts, but he will also cook you the most amazing meals you will ever have in Italy.
Of course if you prefer a different type of setting, there are a lot of hotels around the lake to chose from, however, for the best view of the area, I recommend Hotel Paradiso. The terrace of the hotel has the best view of the lake. And with that you can enjoy an aperitivo, a glass of local wine or an amazing dinner.
If you enjoyed this little trip around the Italian lakes, make sure you check out also my Instagram for more beautiful pictures of the trip.
As beautiful as Lake Garda is, make sure you make time to also visit Verona. It’s not just about Romeo and Juliet. It is one of those perfect Italian cities you will fall in love with. And to get your feet itching, check out my tour of Verona right here.
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- Check ferry prices and schedule for Lake Como clicking here.
- You can find the schedule and prices for the ferries on Lake Iseo clicking here.
- Get accommodation above Lake Garda at Val d’Egoi agritur – agriturvaldegoi.com
- One of the best views above Lake Garda is from the terrace of Hotel Paradiso – terrazzadelbrivido.it