[Guest post on a road trip in Italy written by Frances]
The famous lakes of Northern Italy are a popular holiday spot for a reason: crisp cool waters, surrounded by alpine mountains and bathed in Italian sun. The lakes are also all within easy access to some of Northern Italy’s major cities. This is an incredible road trip and well worth a visit.
We managed to see a lot in a week in september 2020! Hopping from lake to lake we could only visit a fraction of what they have to offer. This itinerary is a rough guide and I would recommend spending longer at each lake. You can begin either in Milan or Venice if you arrive from abroad, taking a full loop or arriving at one and leaving from the other.
We set off with the threat of torrential rain on the horizon so decided to start our trip visiting cities. Bergamo was our first stop, famous for its old town on top of the hill with stunning views. Unfortunately, it is now also famous as the epicentre of Italy’s Covid-19 outbreak.
Staying at B&B Entro le Mura in the old town, we walked the cobbled streets and took in the views. Take the funicular up to Castello di San Viglio where you will find the best views of the city. The phrase “still lovely even in the rain” was repeated a lot as we explored the Duomo and the main square.
The ‘Italian Champagne’ franciacorta is worth a try and made in the region. We stopped at Bar Flora on the main square (more than once) for a glass before dinner. If you are gluten free (like me) head to gelateria Domus, they have gluten free cones and delicious flavours.
Milan is around an hour and half from Bergamo depending how you travel. For us it was another day, another Duomo (cathedral). This time the spectacular Duomo di Milano that was hosting mass as we visited. Incense, hymns and a blue sky once we left, this Duomo is really stunning and worth a visit.
Later, we walked to Castle Sforzesco and around the park as the rain had cleared up. Friends recommended to us the Navigli area for an artsy vibe, we were lucky to catch an antique market on the canals that runs on the last Sunday of the month.
With the weather forecast clear skies and sunshine, we headed up to our first lake. A lesser known lake than its neighbours, Lake Maggiore has some stunning sights and lovely little towns nestled on its shores.
First, we stopped at Stresa on the western shore for a coffee and a trip out to the Borromean Islands. Being on the lakes was a real treat but the islands themselves were a bit touristy for us.
Camping further north at a campsite named Valle Romantica in Cannobio, we took a detour through the mountains above the lakes. If you are up for small mountain roads and hair-raising turns, don’t miss the chance to get off the highway and explore (thank god for digital maps!).
Rock-climbing at Lake Maggiore
For rock-climbers, there is a climbing area called Palestra di roccia or “Il Cinzanino” near Maccagno. Just off the main road, this area is well-kept and has a range of climbing routes to try. Complete with its own café and lakeside views, you can bring your own equipment and enjoy an afternoon climbing in this unique spot.
Swiss lake Lugano is definitely worth a visit. Driving north around Lake Maggiore we entered Switzerland and ended up camping at Campeggio al Parco d’Oro. Our favourite campsite, it has a bar on site serving organic aperitivi and we were treated organic fruit grown by the owners.
We hiked nearby Monte Lema for views of both lakes Lugano and Maggiore, and enjoyed swimming in a small lake near the campsite. Lugano was more natural than the other lakes with small towns right on the water and beautiful hills all round. It is safe to say this was our favourite.
When you say you’re heading to Como most people will say “Ah George Clooney!”. Famous to many as where the star enjoys his holidays, Como is also a major spot for water sports lovers. With this is mind we stayed north, driving from Lugano to Domaso, a wind surfers paradise.
Our campsite here was more basic than the others but was right on the shore line, we chose Camping Gardenia but there are many options. On the lake you can rent equipment to windsurf, paddle board and kayak, or book in for some lessons.
Squeezing in another city, Verona is a real favourite of mine. We met friends that gave us a walking tour of the old town. From Castelvecchio bridge we walked to the Verona Arena, a Roman amphitheatre that still hosts concerts. From here we followed winding streets to Piazza delle Erbe and Juliet’s house, before ending at Ponte della Vittoria.
The sunset from St Peter’s castle is a must-see. On the hill overlooking the city, it’s a short hike up for incredible views. There is also a bar, Re Teodorico that has a terrace on the hill to enjoy an aperol spritz with a view.
After a night in Verona we headed to our final stop, Lake Garda. The biggest of the lakes it was hard to choose where to go! Settling on the west side of the lake, to avoid the weekend crowds from Verona in the south, we stayed at Camping San Biagio. With the campsite on a peninsular and a small island in the lake that you can walk across to, we enjoyed a day of sun and swimming.
Out of time and needing to head home we had to miss the north of Garda. Home to Arco, one of Italy’s most famous climbing spots, we want to come back here and explore further!
Frances Campbell is a Freelance Writer living in Northern Italy. She writes on feminist issues, travel and blogs about periods. You can read her blog at www.onmyblob.com and email her by clicking here.