Italian Lakes (2013)

EDITOR’S CHOICE

The finest views, prettiest villas and gardens and best family outings – here are suggestions for the best of what to do and what to see, at a glance.

Where to See

Leonardo da Vinci. Leonardo’s faded masterpiece, The Last Supper , at the Church and Convent of Santa Maria delle Grazie in Milan, is one of Italy’s most visited sights. For more information, click here .

Giuseppe Verdi . The great composer lived and worked for most of his adult life in Milan, premiering all his great operas at La Scala. For more information, click here .

Gaetano Donizetti . Born in Bergamo and a prolific operatic composer, Donizetti worked all over Europe before returning to his home town to die. For more information, click here .

Romeo and Juliet . They may be fictional, but they supposedly lived and died in Verona. Both the famous lovers have houses and Juliet has a tomb, carefully chosen by the tourist office. For more information, click here .

George Clooney . Gorgeous George owns the Villa Oleandra at Laglio on Lake Como and is a regular visitor, along with many A-list pals. For more information, click here .

The Versaces . Gianni Versace chose to be buried at his beloved Villa Le Fontanelle at Moltrasio on Lake Como. The family are still regular visitors. For more information, click here .

Hermann Hesse . The Nobel prize-winning writer and painter lived in tower rooms in Montagnola near Lugano from 1919 to 1931. They are now a museum to his life and works. For more information, click here .

Sacred Sights

The Sacri Monti . Now a Unesco World Heritage site, these sacred mountains in Orta (for more information, click here ), Varese (for more information, click here ), Ghiffa, Lake Maggiore (for more information, click here ) and Ossuccio, Lake Como (for more information, click here ) form a glorious procession of chapels leading pilgrims to hilltop churches.

Santa Caterina del Sasso , Maggiore. Getting to this cliffside hermitage requires strong knees, with a choice of 80 steps up or 267 steps down. For more information, click here .

Milan Duomo . A fabulous Gothic confection of a cathedral where you can dance among the gargoyles. For more information, click here .

San Tomé , Bergamo. An enchanting medieval round chapel in the woods. For more information, click here .

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Sacro Monte, Varese.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

Family Favourites

Go for a ride. Head to Gardaland, Italy’s largest theme park. For more information, click here .

Make a splash. Choose a waterpark near Lake Garda or Milan. For more information, click here .

Go on safari. Parco Natura Viva is one of Europe’s best animal parks – complete with dinosaurs! For more information, click here .

Get wet. Take a towel and head down to the lake for a swim. Choose from hundreds of kilometres of shoreline and hundreds of lakes.

Go fast. Hire a speed-boat by the hour or day or from any of the main resorts.

Reward yourself. Sample the delicious delights of Italian ice cream at a local gelateria .

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Chill out with the chimps at Parco Natura Viva.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

Art – Ancient and Modern

Mart . Rovereto is an unlikely place to find world-class modern art from Warhol to Rauschenberg. For more information, click here .

Villa Panza, Varese . Perfect painting if you like your canvases monochrome – modern art in an 18th-century setting. It works. For more information, click here .

Pinacoteca di Brera . Superb Milan collection of grand masters from Tintoretto and Titian to Canaletto. For more information, click here .

Val Camonica , Brescia. One of the world’s greatest and oldest art collections, some 140,000 petroglyphs carved over 8,000 years. For more information, click here .

Arcumeggia , Varese. Since the 1950s, many artists have been adding murals to the streets of this mountain village, creating an extraordinary outdoor gallery. For more information, click here .

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Petroglyphs, Val Camonica.

Fototeca ENIT

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Gardaland thrills.

Getty Images

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Lugano waterfront.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

Waterfront Wandering

Lugano City. An Art Nouveau horseshoe crescent of glittering glamour beneath towering mountains. For more information, click here .

Salò . The longest waterfront on Garda and the most pleasant to walk. For more information, click here .

Sirmione. Shuffle along behind the rest of the world in this charming but overcrowded tourism jewel on Lake Garda. For more information, click here .

Pallanza . Stroll in the gardens, then admire the sunset in this quiet resort on Maggiore. For more information, click here .

Varenna . Oleanders line the path in this prettiest of Como towns. For more information, click here .

High Points

Monte Brè , Lugano. Take the funicular or drive up seemingly endless hairpin bends for staggeringly beautiful views over Lake Lugano and the city. For more information, click here .

Monte Generoso . Since 1890, a cog railway has been hauling tourists up to the top of this mountain near Lake Lugano with unparalleled 360° views from the top. For more information, click here .

Monte Baldo . Expect long queues to get up the cable car near Malcesine on Lake Garda, with its spectacular views and mountain biking in summer, and ski slopes in winter. For more information, click here .

Monte Mottarone. This picturesque ridge between Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta boasts superb views up into the Alps – sadly the cable car has been out of order for a while but there are walks to the top for those keen and fit. For more information, click here .

Rocca di Manerba . Much shorter and harder work than the cable-car runs, you need to climb this rocky promontory that towers over the Manerba coastline of Lake Garda, with lovely views and wild flowers as the prize. For more information, click here .

Monte San Primo , Lake Como. On a clear day they claim you can see from Mont Blanc to Milan Duomo from this peak, which is prime ski territory in winter. For more information, click here .

Pick a Palazzo

Villa Carlotta , Como. This elegant 17th-century mansion set in lush formal terraced gardens was given to Albert of Prussia’s daughter Carlotta as a wedding present. For more information, click here .

Villa del Balbianello , Como. An 18th-century villa that has featured in Star Wars and James Bond films, housed monks, military and explorers. For more information, click here .

Villa Cicogna Mozzoni , Varese . A seamless Renaissance villa with formal gardens kept much as they were over 400 years ago. For more information, click here .

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Villa Carlotta.

Dreamstime

Gardener’s World

Sigurtà. Hire bikes or take the little train to get round the huge park south of Lake Garda without wearing your feet out. For more information, click here .

Isola Madre . An idyllic island garden on Lake Maggiore, with lush tropical planting and English design. For more information, click here .

Giardino Botanico Fondazione Andre Heller , Gardone. An imaginative small garden on the west shore of Lake Garda, borrowing themes and planting from around the world. For more information, click here .

Giardino Alpinia. Huge mountains and tiny plants combine to make this Alpine garden on Monte Mottarone above Stresa one of the most unusual in the region. For more information, click here .

Villa Melzi . This stunning 19th-century garden on Como combines English informality with oriental exoticism. For more information, click here .

Villa Taranto . A magnificent Scottish dream of a garden at Pallanza, Maggiore. For more information, click here .

See also Gardener’s Glory photo feature, click here .

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There are 360° views from the summit of Monte Baldo, on Lake Garda.

iStock

Diary Dates

Milan Fashion Week. Twice a year the fashion caravan lands in Milan. This is really for the trade and is invitation only, but there is a real buzz in the air and celeb-spotting is rife. For more information, click here .

World Fireworks Championships. Omegna, on Lake Orta, goes one further than most towns to celebrate its local saint’s day with a two-week pyrotechnics championship. For more information, click here .

Sounds of the Dolomites. Several weeks of free music from June to August, from symphony orchestras to world music, in inspirational settings in the Trentino mountains, reached by cable car. For more information, click here .

Mille Miglia. Italy’s oldest and most prestigious car rally, from Brescia. For more information, click here .

Centomiglia. The biggest regatta on Lake Garda and the most important regatta on any lake in Europe. For more information, click here .

Estival Jazz. A long-established free, open-air jazz festival in Lugano and Mendrisio, attracting the biggest international names. For more information, click here .

Palio del Baradello. Como’s colourful two-week historic celebrations of the defeat of Milan by Frederick Barbarossa in 1159. For more information, click here .

Arena Festival. A sensational summer-long opera season in Verona’s Roman amphitheatre. For more information, click here .

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Giardino Botanico blooms, Gardone.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

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The World Fireworks Championships on Lake Orta.

Fotolia

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Lake Garda, a perfect blend of Alpine and Mediterranean scenery.

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Cycling on the lakeside at Toscolano-Maderno.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

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Approaching Isola dei Pescatori, Lake Maggiore.

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