Italian Lakes (2013)

INTRODUCTION: ORIENTATION

In this detailed guide to the region, the principal sites are cross-referenced by numbers to the maps.

While most visitors choose to stay on one of the Italian Lakes, one of the joys of the region is that it is small enough for you to visit the others, the great historic cities and the beautiful countryside between the lakes on easy day trips. It is only an hour by train from Desenzano del Garda to Milan.

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On the boat to Isola di San Giulio.

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Porta Brà, Verona.

Glyn Genin/Apa Publications

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Vineyards in Tonale, Val Camonica.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

Fabulous Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, grand opera and medieval mansions, makes an ideal base. Through the winelands of Valpolicella, you arrive at Lake Garda, the largest and most touristy of the lakes and a place of vineyards, lemon trees and olive groves, thanks to its balmy Mediterranean climate. North of here, a change of scene is provided by the mountains of Trentino, home of brown bears, hearty Germanic cuisine, gleaming ski slopes and the charming walled city of Trento. Further west are two appealing cities: Brescia boasts a clutch of excellent museums and is within reach of wild Lake Iseo, the Franciacorta winelands and the fascinating ancient pictographs of Val Camonica; while clifftop Bergamo is all Venetian walls and cobbled alleys.

Heading slightly northwest, the stars and their comet tail of celebrity spotters regard Lake Como as the jewel in the crown. Como, Bellagio and Menaggio are the biggest draws, but little-explored towns such as Varenna also offer vistas to swoon over. West again is pretty Lake Lugano, much of which is actually in Switzerland: carry your passport with you on forays into the glorious mountainous landscape around the lake.

Wedged in the triangle between Como, Maggiore and Lugano is Varese, with its gardens, hillside chapels and quiet charm. The shores of magnificent Lake Maggiore offer further treats for garden-lovers, not to mention an abundance of peaceful, palm-lined promenades and serene natural beauty. Nearby, magical little Lake Orta is well worth exploring, low-key and relaxed, with a jewel of a town in Orta San Giulio. Finally, metropolitan Milan provides an exciting start or finish to a Lakes trip: hole up in a designer hotel, treat yourself in a swanky day spa, or do as the locals do and shop till you drop.

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