Sunday, July 21, 2013

A Whistle-Stop Tour of the Italian Lakes

July 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Sites To See

One of the most beautiful regions in Europe, the Italian Lakes lie in the north of Italy, on the border with Switzerland. There are three main lakes: Lake Maggiore, Lake Como and Lake Lugano, as well as several smaller ones. The area is often called the ‘Lake District of Italy’, and is very similar, with stunning mountain scenery surrounding sparkling waters. It is made even more picturesque by the numerous traditional towns and medieval villages along the shores.

Lake Maggiore

The furthest east of the main lakes, Lake Maggiore is the longest. The top part of the lake lies in Switzerland. One of the lake’s bays contains the Borromean Islands which are made up of Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola Pescatori. All can be visited by boat and feature exotic gardens, an ornate Baroque palace and a colony of parrots. Overlooking the islands is the lovely town of Stresa, filled with tree-lined promenades and opulent villas. Roads around the lakes are narrow and winding, and when hiring a car it is best to choose a smaller one. National Car have a good selection designed to cope with the challenging roads.

Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen's Island)

Lake Lugano

The central and smallest lake, Lake Lugano, is very narrow, with a bridge connecting two of its towns, Bisonne and Melide. Most of the lake lies within southern Switzerland, including Lugano, the largest city in the area, where a five-day jazz festival is held every summer. The surrounding area has a great deal of natural beauty and there are many mountain trails that can be easily accessed. Porlezza, a medieval town with many religious antiquities, lies on the eastern shore, where numerous natural caves and grottos can be found. Featuring underground waterfalls, and filled with stalactites and stalagmites, these have been formed by underwater erosion.

Lake Como

Lake Como is the most westerly of the three main lakes, and has the deepest waters off the shores of Argegno. It has an unusual shape, like an inverted ‘Y’. Popular for centuries with the famous, from Percy Bysshe Shelley to George Clooney, Lake Como has many charming towns. Bellagio, known as ‘the Pearl of the Lake’, has a historic, medieval centre around an attractive cathedral. It is home to many beautiful villas and grand hotels, surrounded by parks and gardens, including the neoclassical Villa Melzi d’Eril and the Villa Serbollini.

The shores of Lake Como are dotted with many impressive buildings, such as Villa Carlotta in Tremezzo and Villa d’Este in Cernobbio, and numerous picturesque towns. Visitors to Lake Como’s many charming villages, such as Varenna or Chiavenna, will find cobbled streets, steep winding alleys and countless perfect views of the lake and surrounding mountains. On the western edge of Lake Como lies Sacro Monte di Ossuccio, a group of Baroque religious buildings along the hillside that is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Smaller Lakes

Further south lies Lake Iseo, attracting less visitors but with many pretty villages and waterside walks. To the west lies the tranquil Lake Orta, with an enchanting island containing a Benedictine monastery, Isola San Giulio, in its centre.

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