Italian Lakes (2013)

INTRODUCTION: A GLORIOUS LOCATION

Having emerged from the crash of tectonic plates and the grinding of glaciers, then endured the thunder of war, the waters of the Italian Lakes have now mellowed into perfect tranquillity.

The Italian Lakes are a place between – caught between the frowning ice-capped crags of the Alps and Dolomites and the lazy flatlands of the Po River Valley, between the Goths and Romans, the Venetians and the Austro-Hungarians, the Allies and the Germans, between the financial firms of Zurich and the industrial giants of Milan.

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Isola di San Giulio, the pearl of Lake Orta.

Getty Images

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Laglio, Lake Como.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

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Inspiration strikes as yet another artist falls in love with Lake Garda.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

Spread across the north of Italy and into southern Switzerland, most people know the four largest lakes – Garda to the east near Verona, Lugano, Como and, in the west, closest to Milan, Maggiore. Explore their waters by ferry, zigzagging between the windsurfers and dinghies to tiny fishing harbours and marinas fringed by geranium-clad gelaterie . But there are other lakes as well – literally hundreds of them, some such as Orta, Varese, Iseo and Idro still large, others as small as glacial ponds. Between them twist the tortuous sinews of the Prealps, their steep mountain roads always beautiful and dangerous and giddy, although motorways blasted through tunnels help speed you on your way.

Nearby lie great historic cities – über-chic Milan to the southwest, Bergamo and Brescia in the south, Verona to the southeast, Trento to the northeast and Lugano to the north. Throughout most of their history, the people of the lakes have kept their heads down as the cities around them roared and postured, squabbling amongst themselves, and hoping that the bigger battles would pass by leaving them to get on with earning a living and enjoying the good things in life. These they have in abundance, from the vineyards of Garda to the snowfields of Trentino, scenery and food that have drawn poets and painters, dropouts and dictators to share in the good life, and moved hardened cynics to flights of eulogy. After all the paeans of praise sung to the beauty of the lakes, there are no adjectives left – none are needed.