The ethereal scenery and calm indigo water of Italy's Alpine lakes — Maggiore, Como and Garda — have had an irresistible appeal since Roman times, when aristocrats and artists began summering on their shores. Author and lawmaker Pliny the Younger wrote ecstatically of his view of Como, while the poet Catullus lived in his family’s villa at Sirmione on Lake Garda.
Eighteen hundred years later, the British Romantic poets, chiefly Byron and Shelley, put the lakes on the map as a mandatory part of the Grand Tour. Each generation falls in love all over again: Ernest Hemingway was besotted with Lake Maggiore; today, George Clooney has a villa in Laglio on Lake Como, keeping the region’s glamour current.
The lakes provide a perfect time-out during a tour of Italy, being less than an hour from Milan and about three hours from Venice, but they should also be considered a destination in their own right.
Read more about the Italian Lakes from our editor.
Our itineraries are for your inspiration. Please contact a travel advisor to customize this itinerary to fit your needs.
Once you arrive in Verona, pick up a car at the airport and drive for 40 miles through the countryside, pink and white with blossom, to Gargnano, a resort town on the western shore of Lake Garda. Check in to the 20-room Grand Hotel à Villa Feltrinelli. This spectacularly restored neo-Gothic hotel is set in tranquil grounds fronting the picturesque shores of Garda.
Ceiling frescoes, fine paintings and rare books accent the stately lounges and dining room, the latter extending out to a charming terrace. The property has a scenic waterfront promenade and a lap pool. The delightful restaurant serves traditional cuisine infused with modern influences and seasonal ingredients.
Lakeside excursions on a private boat are offered, and guides can be arranged for hiking and day trips to historic cities including Verona. Between 1943 and 1945, the Villa was the home of Mussolini and his family.
The following day, head west to Lake Como, a 130-mile, three-hour drive. The next stop on your journey is the 90-room Grand Hotel Tremezzo, built in 1910 on a steep lakeside plot.
The hotel’s grand and vibrantly colored public areas include a handsome billiards room, a huge lounge and an excellent bar that offers notable grappas. The main La Terrazza Restaurant provides sublime views of the lake and the town of Bellagio directly opposite.
Other facilities include three swimming pools, a flood-lit clay tennis court and a well-equipped fitness room. The impressive T Spa features customized treatments and a spectacular 50-foot indoor infinity pool that appears to merge with the waters of the lake. Adjustable water jets enable powerful swimmers to forge against a current. There is also a special Heat Experience featuring a Turkish bath, a Mediterranean steam room, a sauna with lake views, an ice fountain and a stunning Italian marble hammam.
Golf is available at the well-regarded Menaggio & Cadenabbia Golf Club just 3 miles away. Water skiing, sailing and windsurfing on the lake can readily be arranged. The stunning Villa Carlotta Museum and Gardens is a five-minute walk from the hotel and an excellent place to spend an entire day.
This morning, head south down the western shore of the lake, and stop for lunch at one of our favorite local restaurants, the idyllic Crotto dei Platani in Brienno.
Arrive at the 12-room Relais Villa Vittoria, an intimate peach-colored mansion, in Laglio by late afternoon. It was originally constructed in the 18th century by a wealthy family from Milan.
Facilities include a diminutive spa with a hot tub and Turkish bath, a small lakeside infinity pool, a spacious lounge with a grand piano and an intimate restaurant. (The hotel is closed seasonally from November to March but is briefly available from mid-December through the new year.)
From Laglio, drive 15 minutes south to the delightful town of Cernobbio.
Arrive at your destination, the 152-room Villa d’Este, which is set amid 25 acres of gorgeous gardens at the edge of Lake Como.
A 16th-century mansion and a more private Venetian annex contain the lodgings, which are individually decorated with period furniture, original oil paintings and silk fabrics. Some have balconies or terraces, and the property also houses four exclusive garden villas.
Dining options include an indoor-outdoor restaurant for Italian haute cuisine and a casual grill, plus poolside, lakeside and indoor bars.
Take advantage of the activities available, which include tennis, water skiing and sailing, plus a golf course 7 miles from the resort. Other amenities offered are a spa with an indoor pool and gym, a heated outdoor pool with a hot tub and a kids’ pool.
Contact a travel advisor to book your custom itinerary. Fill out the form or call (630) 734-4610.