Discovering Italy’s lake region
With a wealth of historical and cultural heritage, Italy’s scenic nature and breathtaking geographical beauty can often be overlooked in favour of its cities. In the north, the lakes region offers idyllic scenery and peaceful locations that are perfect for a weekend break surrounded by nature away from the madness of it all.
Whilst it may not be able to compete with the Berninis and Michelangelos found in Florence for cultural significance, north Italy’s picturesque lakes and mountain ranges are a perfect destination for outdoor weekend breaks with a difference. So why not leave the stuffy museums and collections behind next time you visit and instead head to north for a combination of nature and history that is sure to leave you coming back time and again.
Italy’s lake region, sometimes referred to as Italy’s Lake District, mainly refers to the area which borders Switzerland and where lakes Maggiore, Como and Lugano are found, located close to each other. However there is a fourth lake further to the south which is just as unmissable as the main three – Lake Garda. The largest lake in Italy, Garda is within easy reach of Brescia, Verona, Milan and Venice making it an ideal destination for those seeking a relaxing break in natural surroundings. You could also easily take a day off to explore the natural beauty of Garda in between bouts of sightseeing and shopping in Verona, Venice or Milan.
The climate in the region is pleasant year round, making it ideal for outdoor sports and activities. If you’re booking an adventure weekend in Italy you may want to avoid the colder months from mid October to mid April. Except, of course, if you come for the skiing.
So much water, so many activities to choose from…
Water sports are an obvious choice of activity when visiting the lakes. Water sports embrace the ethos of life on the lakes – you can go at your own pace and relax in the waters, taking in the beautiful scenery while enjoying a bit of exercise. With crystal clear waters, snorkelling and diving have come into their own at the lakes and Garda in particular is now a popular weekend diving destination for city dwellers and nature enthusiasts.
There are many diving centres located around the lakes. From windsurfing and sailing to peddle-boating and kayaking, there is a water-based activity for everyone and with over 30 species of fish, fishing is also a major attraction – just be sure to remember to get a fishing license!
Kite surfing is another activity which has taken up recently. There are options for beginners, intermediates and advanced lessons on the lakes, with gear rental shops aplenty. The Italian lakes are an ideal place in which to learn or enjoy kite surfing with their clear waters and breathtaking views.
Bikes, feet and horses
Cycling and mountain biking are both very popular weekend break activities around the lakes. In Lake Como, bikers cycle two abreast around mountain roads and through towns. When in Lake Como, be sure to don the proper gear – all cyclists wear lycras and protective gear and you would stick out like a sore thumb if you didn’t take their lead.
In Malcesine, Lake Garda, a cable car will take you and your bike to the top of Monte Baldo for breath-taking views over the lake before choosing from one of the many paths that lead back down to the lake. A perfect activity for cyclists of all levels. Bring your own bike or rent one from one of the bike shops around the lakes. Lake Lugano also offers plenty of cycling routes for experienced and novice cyclists.
A more unusual activity that is blooming on the lakes is horse riding. Many visitors plan short breaks to the lakes simply to experience the pleasures of riding amid breathtaking nature and scenery. There are over 20 horse riding centres on Lake Garda alone to choose from. Riding becomes more difficult the further north you go, as the mountains become rockier, while in the south roads are flatter and wider, making it ideal for those with little or no experience. Whichever road or direction you choose you’re sure to be rewarded with amazing views of the lake and its surrounding area.
Head into the mountains and breathe in the fresh air
If you’re planning a skiing weekend in Italy, the Dolomites mountain range offers fantastic ski slopes and runs of varying difficulty. Less popular with tourists than Italy’s Alpine resorts, the Dolomites are a great way to enjoy skiing in Italy without worrying about crowds. Skiing resorts and facilities are easily reached from lakes Maggiore, Garda and Lugano. For those planning to visit Lake Como skiing can still be enjoyed though you’ll have to go a little further away for it.
Rock climbing in the lakes is not for the faint-hearted with many of the surrounding areas offering sheer rock faces. Novice climbers need not worry though as there are less difficult options available which are perfect for those wanting to learn in a splendid environment. Arco in Lake Garda is renowned as a climbing spot, with over 2000 routes. Monte Baldo is also a great place for paragliding if rock climbing is too scary. The cable car makes things quicker and easier and you can jump tandem with an instructor or go at it solo.
Walking and hiking are also popular around the lakes, and with such spectacular views it’s no wonder why. A much more approachable activity for nature lovers of all ages, there are roads which encircle the majority of the lakes giving you plenty of choices and opportunities to explore the surrounding areas and discover your own unforgettable view points and favourite spots. The lakes’ walking paths make for wonderful and easy-going walking with a lovely view of the clear blue waters and mountains – perfect for unforgettable memories on your short nature break.
Lastly for something a bit more breath-taking, and certainly more dramatic, go up into the mountains. There are two cable cars that can take you up to the mountains around Lake Como offering walks from easy to challenging and there are numerous cable cars in Lake Lugano as well. Nature lovers will enjoy discovering the flaura and fauna and breathing in the clean, fresh air of the lakes.