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Gorgeous Lake Como is surrounded by wooded, hilly hinterlands and the snow-capped Rhaetian Alps, while the lake’s shoreline is dotted with celebrity-owned, luxury villas (hello, George Clooney) and high-end resorts. While no one denies the appeal of this enchanting location, we’ve rounded up some equally alluring alternatives so you can enjoy Italy’s raw beauty while avoiding the summer crowds.
1. Lake Iseo
In between Italy’s two most popular lakes lies this oft-overlooked oasis. Lake Iseo’s tranquility is interrupted only by birds chirping and church bells ringing. Stay in sleepy Lovere for stone buildings with balconies overlooking the lake, and several family-run pizzerias and gelaterias to work your way through over a lazy weekend. During the day, rent a boat and make for Monte Isola, a fairy-tale island in the middle of the lake, complete with crumbling porticos and ancient fishing ports. STAY: Borgolago Suites
2. Lake Orta
In the shadows of the snow-covered Alps, views across Lake Orta are strangely mystical. Hazy horizons are bordered by lush woodland – it’s no wonder countless writers and poets, such as Lord Byron, have retreated to its shady shores. Located in the region of Piedmont, stay in the quiet town of Orta San Giulio and walk the narrow cobbled lanes to dinner in dishevelled trattorias, pastel-hued palazzi in view. STAY: Relais & Chateaux Villa Crespi
3. Lake Maggiore
Italy’s second largest lake, Lake Maggiore straddles the border between Italy and Switzerland and villages surrounding the lake boast an architectural mishmash of the two. Stay in Stresa for views of the Borromean Islands; a group of beautiful islets, owned by the Borromeo family since the 17th century. STAY: Hotel Cannero
4. Lake Varese
Host to sporting events such as the Canoeing European Championships and World Rowing Championships, Lake Varese offers more than sportly gains. With the wild massif of Campo dei Fiori gently sloping down towards the water, the lake is brimming with rugged nature and unspoiled vistas. Varese has a pedestrianised centre, and trattorias offer traditional and affordable Italian dishes with views of the Unesco-protected Sacro Monte di Varese. Meander through the towns surrounding the lake, each filled with elaborate baroque and neo-classical architecture. STAY: Villa Porro Pirelli
5. Lake Bolsena
Nicknamed Italy’s belly button for its round shape and central location, Lake Bolsena dates back 370,000 years. While most of Italy’s lakes are of glacial origin, Lake Bolsena is formed in the crater of an extinct volcano. Situated only an hour away from Rome, the lake is an idyllic suntrap. Explore the rugged shorelines, sandy beaches and medieval towns that surround the water. STAY: Le Porcine
6. Lake Lugano
Like Lake Maggiore, Lugano lies on the Italian-Swiss border. Walk round the lake’s periphery to admire panoramic mountain views, or head to Lugano city for a dash of culture. A mini-art hub, stop by the Museo d’Arte Moderna to see exhibitions showcasing some of the best artwork from the 19th and 20th centuries. STAY: Elvezia al Lago
7. Lake Albano
While the sparkling blue waters of this lake are enough to lure you in, the little towns and villages on the waterfront are the lake’s biggest draw. Stay in Castel Gandolfo, a sleepy town best known as the summer residence of the Pope. Wander through grandiose streets, before ambling round the lush greenery in the Parco Regionale dei Castelli Romani. Be sure to do a wine tasting when you’re here – situated next to the Frascati wine region, there’s much to be sipped. STAY: Hotel La Culla Del Lago
8. Lake Mezzola
Previously part of Lake Como, the two are now separated by the Riserva Naturale Pian di Spagna. Despite being much smaller than other Italian lakes, Lake Mezzola and the surrounding wetlands offer beautiful walks around the fauna. Keep an eye out for dragonflies, grass snakes, toads and impressive birdlife. STAY: Rifugio Dalco
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