The Perfect Time for: The Beauty of the Italian Lakes

Some days really remind me of other days – does that ever happen to you? Well, something about the sunshine today, and the fresh breeze and the mix of scents in the air – including the hint of something tomato-y being cooked next door, really reminded me of days spent in spectacular Sirmione on Lake Garda. And now, of course, I’m absolutely desperate to go back there. And not just to Sirmione, but to take the same trip as last time, taking our time to drive through the spectacular scenery of the region, almost circumnavigating three of the lakes – sort of dipping in and out of them, visiting beaches, beautiful towns and hamlets, eating extremely well, drinking all sorts of brightly coloured drinks in cafes and bars, and eating a rainbow of gelato.

Lake Garda

I have been back, with family, with friends, with a combination of both, and driven all over – and ferried all over too! But something about today took me right back to that first trip, and to the relaxed nature of our travelling and the friendliness we seemed to encounter – even in places like Bellagio, which are known for their elegance.  I did pack one really great dress, just in case we did anything ‘nice’, and I ended up wearing it more than anything else, which says a lot about the welcome we received and the way this trip made me feel: more confident and elegant than I did at home. So, later I will mix myself an Aperol Spritz, find a comfy position in the sun near to next door’s fence, and close my eyes and just remember…

But until then I thought I’d plan a new trip! With my appreciated hotel recommendations from the Hotel Gurus.  

Sirmione, Lake Garda

Sirmione occupies a spectacular peninsula jutting into Lake Garda. The spot is such a holidaymaker’s dream it’s been a resort since Roman times. As well as the incredible views there are Roman remains, a wonderfully preserved historic town, a 13th-century castle with a drawbridge, and a fortified harbour.

Where to Stay 

Villa Cortine Palace

If you can justify it you should stay at the Villa Cortine Palace, a palatial, 19th-century villa hotel with 54 rooms and an absolutely splendid lakeside setting. The facade is elegantly neoclassical, but inside the rooms are grand Art Deco in style with some beautiful frescoes, marble and parquet floors and antiques. There’s a private jetty, a lovely swimming pool and beautiful neoclassical landscaped gardens all around. Rooms start from €435 per night.

Villa Pioppi

Otherwise stay at the Villa Pioppi, an elegant seven room villa set within two hectares of beautiful parkland. There is a swimming pool, sun terrace and private beach. The rooms are large and some have lake views with private balconies. There’s also a lovely restaurant with a terrace, but you’re close to plenty of restaurants and cafes too. Rooms here start from €162 B&B per night.

Practical Details: Verona Airport is closest to Sirmione, and you can catch the train onwards from there. Milan Linate Airport is also an easy journey from Sirmione.  And of course it’s possible to travel by train all the way, it takes about 14hours.  

Cernobbio, Lake Como

Graceful Cernobbio with its pristine views of Lake Como is now probably best known for George Clooney. He has a villa in Laglio, which is just 10kms up the road and apparently he loves to come down to the water’s edge cafes at Cernobbio. This is where those lakeside scenes from Oceans 12 were shot. It used to be quite separate from the lake capital, Como, but it’s slowly being caught in the tendrils of Como’s residential suburbs which makes it quite convenient for visitors.

Where to Stay 

Villa d’Este

If you want to be right on Lake Como, try the Villa d’Este, one of the more traditional five star hotels, the kind with grand state rooms, chandeliers, heavy fabrics, private balconies and private boats. Supremely luxurious and romantic, and gloriously un-modern, although it does have every modern amenity you could want for. Rooms start from €590 per night including breakfast.

Villa Flori

Or like the Villa d’Este, Villa Flori is right on the water’s edge at Cernobbio.  As well as the unbeatable setting, Villa Flori has 52 contemporary chic rooms and suites, some with enormous balconies which hang out over the lake. Their restaurant offers alfresco dining from an Italian menu, plus there’s a lovely pool and spa. Doubles start from €217 B&B.

Practical Details: Milan Malpensa and Milan Linate are both about an hour from Cernobbio by train, or you can travel by train all the way via Zurich, which takes about 13hours.   

Lake Maggiore

The blue expanse of Lake Maggiore looks as if it’s been plucked right out of a fairytale: there are old castles and churches, and grand villas. And the pretty towns and resorts along its shores have the wonderful gardens to match the architecture, with Piedmont’s lower Alps and gentle Mediterranean climate creating lush conditions for some of the most beautiful gardens you could imagine.  

Where to Stay 

Hotel Verbano

The Hotel Verbano is on one of Lake Maggiore’s islands, and is a beautiful restaurant with 12 charming rooms with romantic terraces for soaking up the astounding views. This would be an amazing spot for a wedding or reception, with cream-coloured decor, brick fireplaces, wooden beams and rose-strewn terraces. You get to shore via a private boat from  the private jetty. Rooms start from €150 per night including breakfast.

Albergo Verbano

Practical Details: Zurich and Milan Malpensa are the closest airports to Lake Maggiore, and it’s about two hours travel from either to the lake.

Lake Orta

Lake Orta is the little sister of Lake Maggiore, separated by Monte Mottarone. Much, much smaller than the other Lombardy lakes, it may not just be size which has kept you from hearing of Orta, people who love the charm and serenity of this lovely lake are reticent to wax too lyrical about it! Orta’s lush mountain setting, fair weather and beautiful architecture are cut from the same cloth as her neighbours. There’s a beautiful island in the lake’s centre, sometimes shrouded prettily in mist. It is this mist, and the way that the light here seems to change almost constantly, which makes Orta seem most magical.

Where to Stay 

Villa Crespi

If you’re here for the views, one of the best places to stay on Lake Orta is the Villa Crespi. This wonderfully grand villa is an exciting place to approach, but when you arrive you’ll probably only have eyes for the views from the lovely terraces. The restaurant has two Michelin stars, so this is also a must for foodies. Rooms start from €250 per night.

Hotel Il Giardinetto

Or another top foodie destination on Lake Orta – and this time a bit friendlier on the wallet – is the Hotel Il Giardinetto. This restaurant with 59 rooms is right on the water. In fact its sun decks and terraces actually hang over the lake. With rooms starting from €129 per night and a gourmet menu, this is also incredibly good value.

Practical Details: Milan Malpensa airport is just 40kms from Lake Orta.  

About Us The Hotel Guru has done your hotel research for you. We’ve commissioned a collection of leading travel writers and journalists to offer their recommendations on where to stay, found out all the important, and minute, details about each property, and then cross referenced that with guides we respect.  So if having a hot tub is important to you you can search by that, likewise pet-friendly properties and hotels with a great wine list.

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