Como and Maggiore are the elegant ladies of the Italian Lakes, each with its own unique atmosphere.
Colourful Lake Como is the glamour puss of the two. Its three slender arms of glacial water reach through the Grigna Mountains in a fjord-like landscape that’s attracted Europe’s rich and famous for centuries. These well-heeled visitors built the lavish palaces and gardens that still dot Como’s southern shores. They were designed to impress from the water and the best way to see them is by boat trip, passing one of George Clooney’s summer pads, and villas and views that have been used for countless film settings.
Once you’re back on shore, take in the dramatic landscape from one of Como’s pretty harbour towns – a jumble of churches, piazzas and brightly painted fishermen’s houses that cling to the cliff face. Bellagio is known as the pearl of the lake for its cobbled streets, Baroque gardens and views out onto all three of the lake’s channels from its position on a promontory. It’s also the perfect place to stop for lunch. Try the local speciality, missoltino, a salt-cured fish that’s traditionally served grilled, with polenta and a glass of young red wine.
To the glitz and glamour of its dramatic neighbour, Lake Maggiore brings a timeless grace. For centuries, the wealthy Borromeo family embellished its shores, which stretch up into Switzerland and are lined with palms, promenades and world-renowned botanical gardens.
Nearby Milan has always brought visitors to the towns of the Italian Lakes, and no more so than in Stresa. Its waterfront palaces and elegant square blend with pedestrianised streets and a bustling open-air market where you can try the local meats, cheeses and wines. Across the water, you might spot the Santa Caterina del Sasso monastery perched on a rocky crag. It was reputedly built by a local merchant to settle a promise he’d made while being rescued from a storm.
Take the Mottarone cable car up to see 360-degree views of the lakes and your gaze is likely to settle on the Borromean Islands below, a short boat ride from Stresa. The Borromeo family brought only the best architects, botanists and artists to decorate this lush lake archipelago. White peacocks walk the tiered gardens of Isola Bella, whose grounds and palace were designed to resemble a ship sailing through the waters. And there’s no better way to lose an afternoon than in the characteristic village alleys and tiny traditional shops of Isola dei Pescatori.
Gardens, lake islands and villas dripping with history. Como and Maggiore show you the best of Italy, whichever you choose. To make the most of your time on the lakes, we’d recommend a stay in the Hotel Regina Palace in Stresa, Lake Maggiore or the Hotel Grand Cadenabbia in Cadenabbia, Lake Como.