The Stunning Contrasts of the Italian LakesItaly | Lakes District
I’m far from alone in loving the Italian Lakes.
Humans have found these lakes an inviting haven since their formation at the end of the last ice age.
Roman nobles were the first to turn to the Lakes for their leisure—well before Hollywood nobility moved in. (They were not discovered by George Clooney, despite what you may have heard!)
If one can set aside the lake’s natural splendour for a moment—for it is a challenge to lightly dismiss the play of light on the water as it follows the sun’s path or the endless shades of blue, the dramatic green hillsides alongside the snow-tipped Alps that beckon from the north…
And disregard, for the time being, the region’s abundant man-made beauty, like the 17th-century villas, hundreds of exquisitely maintained exotic gardens and the snugly-situated ports that edge along the shore like a string of jewels.
If one can do that, what will be revealed is a place that can be both glamorous and uncomplicated; vibrant yet sleepy. Here you’ll see the steep and dramatic rise of mountains mirrored in calm and tranquil blue waters.
You’ll hear the birdsong, rustling leaves and rushing streams that accompany your footsteps on the trails, then take in the rich harmonies of local voices rising in song.
Italy’s Lake District enjoys that it contains such delicious contrasts—and that is what has always struck me as special about this region. And why I return to it again and again.
Simply put—it is a spectacular piece of the world.
You’ll visit vibrant cities, including Switzerland’s second financial centre, literally minutes away from near-silent wooded trails.
Hike a centuries-old wayfarer’s path in the morning, then relax with a lakeside cocktail at sunset.
Stay at luxurious villas and grand hotels admiring their lake reflections, just down the hillside from mountain villages where the garden-fresh vegetables are as light as the hand-stirred polenta is hearty.
Here you can spend the morning breathing hard, feeling the sweat pearl your brow on a challenging stretch of trail, and the afternoon surrendering your muscles to the hotel’s spa for radiant release.
Contrasts exist even in the language. Townspeople speak with their neighbours in Laghée dialect, while sommeliers present wines in charmingly accented English.
Earthy delights like perfectly aged cheeses, savoury sausages and woodsy mushrooms with substantial golden polenta, and wonderfully delicate lake perch with saffron rice and the subtlest of sauces, are all washed down by crisp white wines with hints of peach and pear made from – no really! – Merlot grapes in the Ticino, and rich, even revelatory sfursat red wines from the Valtellina.
To be fair, not all is contrast. In all three of what I like to think of as “our” Italian Lakes – Como, Lugano and Maggiore – certain things are as regular as clockwork: friendly smiles, open doors, Italian elegance and a certain knack for hitting the sweet spot between authenticity and exquisite service.
It’s a rare mix – and utterly delightful!