The Italian Lakes

My mind has been wandering to the beautiful lakes of Italy.

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The lakes are a place in the world where many of my favourite things – mountains, water, boats, breath-taking views and a spot of luxury – all culminate into one glorious destination.

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Lake Como (Lago di Como) is best known as a luxury hot spot, for summer stays, celebrity villas and an amazing place  for movie set locations, but like the rest of Europe, there is a lot more to it than that. It has a history that stretches back 2000 years, with the Ancient Greeks, who first discovered it, and names of the great and infamous are known to have spent time on these shores, including royalty and aristocrats, Napoleon, Churchill and Mussolini, who was executed not far away.

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While these people would have held a dagger to each others’ throats, they may not have realised they all agreed that Lake Como holds indisputable beauty.

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I’ve been to the Italian Lakes three times now (visiting Lake Como and Lake Garda) and I still haven’t grown tired of it. Last September, travelling around Italy, with some of my family, I spent three nights at Lake Como. We rented our very own villa and we spent the days soaking up the views, exploring the various towns and eating a good amount of pasta.

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We stayed at the beautiful classical, Italianate Villa Emma, in the sleepy little town of Argegno. Set along the winding shores of the lake, we totally loved our stay there. Twenty metres from the water, I was more than happy to move in and never leave.

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Our host was lovely too. She didn’t speak English, but we had a great time putting our Italian translating skills to use.

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Onto the important point of sight-seeing, without a doubt, the very best way to enjoy the lake is by boat.

Whether a private , or shared taxi, or the general ferry, it’s incredibly enjoyable. There are far wider, clearer views than if you drive the winding narrows roads, and I find sitting on a boat, feeling the wind blow, and just thinking, is one of the few activities that truly relaxes me. Total heaven!

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(Also, I’d just like to note, while the private boats are utterly gorgeous, don’t underestimate the ferry. It’s really reliable and because it is larger, when you sit on the top deck, you get a higher, more direct view of the shoreline, as opposed to being on the water level. Have a think a-‘boat’ that anyway…)

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Whatever the transportation you choose, the views are to die for. You’re in for a ‘tree-t’ and you’ll be green with envy!

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These magnificent palatial villas are open to the public, though many of them are still privately owned, which I think is wonderful. Find out their opening hours and organise your stops in the towns, with the villa of your choosing.

Also, keep your eye out for the wonderful hotels and resorts along the water. They’re hard to miss!

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The towns on the shoreline are as quaint, as the villas are grand. Perfectly kept and pristine, there’s a lot of pride taken in the upkeep of the places.

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The larger, captivating towns are naturally buzzing with tourists. I never complain about a place being ‘touristy’. To me, I think it’s wonderful, because if the tourists weren’t here, the money wouldn’t be either, and then how would these beautiful places around the world survive? Staying quaint, authentic and quiet isn’t sustainable these days and I’m glad that the place is buzzing and alive, because it means it will hopefully be much the same in the years to come.

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The well-known and must visit towns are Bellagio, Varenna and Lecco.

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Also, a favourite spot of mine is in front of the Grand Hotel Cadenabbia. An utterly divine place, my family and I stayed there many years ago, and the views and garden in front are perfect.

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Later on in our Italian adventures, we visited another two of the Italian Lakes.

First, was the absolutely gorgeous Lake Maggiore (Maggiore meaning ‘greater’). Like its name suggests, it is larger than Lake Como and the second largest of the lake district  (Lake Garda being the largest). It was just as breath-taking as the others. Scattered with small islands throughout, we jumped on a boat from Stresa and sped our way to lunch on Isola dei Pescatori (‘Fisherman’s Island’).

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I was in heaven!!!….Again. ‘Wood-n’t’ you?

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Isola dei Pescatori is a simple and very cute little island, filled with restaurants and shops. Less grand than its counterparts, it has a beautiful atmosphere all the same and is a must visit.

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Next stop after lunch was Isola Bella (‘Beautiful Island’).

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This island is surreal.

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Adding up to only 0.20 square kilometres, somehow an entire extravagant palace and gardens, plus shops and restaurants fit beautifully atop what was once a rocky crag.

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We traipsed around the tourist shops, before feasting our eyes within the great walls of the palace. I’ve seen many a beautiful palace in my time and I’m quite the enthusiast, so when I say this place amazed me, I don’t mean it lightly.

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How incredibly deceptive it is. While you can hardly notice the palace walking around the island, once you enter, you suddenly realise how incredibly large it is. Elegant, ornate and clearly with no expense spared, it is baffling to think that all the supplies to build this had to be transported over the water, and all in the 17th century, with no ‘advanced’ equipment of today. I like to think past centuries were advanced in ways we aren’t now. This stands as testament, don’t you think?

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What is very unique about this palace was that, underneath the main buildings, were the summer quarters. Dark, cooler rooms that would be perfect for balmy hot Italian summers. The architects had thought of everything!

The decorations are even more unique – the sort of intricate patterns one finds upstairs in stucco, gold and marble, are set as stone and rock beneath.

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Understanding how much work must have been involved is awe-inspiring.

The gardens outside are just as spectacular.

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With an extravagance that rivals Versailles, it’s a small garden, but definitely packs a punch!

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Being so grand and captivating, I’d forgotten I was on an island…until I noticed the view…

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With that view, I never wanted to leave.

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After all the drooling, we headed back to shore and finished our day at the small Lake Orta. Far less touristy and flashy than the other lakes, it holds a very special treasure –  a monastery and a 12th-century basilica set on an island, Isola San Giulio. What a place to pray!

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Having spent too long at Lake Maggiore, we sadly didn’t have time to visit the island, but there’s always a next time, right?

We walked the town and watched as the evening grew darker and the golden lights filtered a romantic hue over the quiet streets and peaceful view.

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And then it was time to head home.

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So, I’ve finally shared with you one of my favourite places on earth to date. The lake district is where every sight and every angle is a beautiful photo opportunity. And forget filters! This place has it’s own – a vibrant, warm hue that only Italy is so well known for.

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I’m heading back to visit some of the lakes this year and I can’t wait! The big question is…which ones do you think they are?







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