10 reasons why the Italian Lakes should be your first post-lockdown holiday

Chris Leadbeater
·5-min read
Lake Garda - getty
Lake Garda - getty

You can always rely on Ernest Hemingway for a travel reference. Especially in difficult times. In his 1929 book A Farewell To Arms – loosely based on his own experiences as an ambulance driver on the Alpine Front in 1918 – the American novelist has his protagonist ­Frederic Henry flee military police and charges of desertion by rowing his pregnant girlfriend Catherine up the middle of Lake Maggiore in the night – swapping wanted status in Italy for safety in Switzerland.

Inevitably, he makes this shadowy flit sound romantic. “When the moon came out again, we could see white villas on the shore, on the slopes of the mountain,” the text runs. “The lake widened, and across it… on the other side we saw a few lights that should be Luino.”

Our current crisis cannot, of course, be compared to the horrors of the First World War. But there is a similar calm to be found in the Italian Lakes this summer – where northern Italy, which was once an epicentre of the pandemic, has become an attractive and viable option for British tourists, free of both entry restrictions and quarantine requirements.

Nor do you need to paddle your way along any of the following – all of which are easily reached from Milan – to appreciate their beauty.

Farewell hello: Lake Maggiore

You can recreate some of the climactic scenes in Hemingway’s A Farewell To Arms in the town where it is set and the author once stayed. Maybe not the blistered palms or midnight escape, but the rendezvous in Stresa – on the west bank of a lake that is 80 per cent Italian and 20 per cent Swiss – where Frederic locates his beloved Catherine. A week at the five-star Villa & Palazzo Aminta Hotel, flying from Heathrow on Aug 29, starts at £1,420 a head, with British Airways Holidays (0344 493 0787; ba.com/holidays). 

Lake Maggiore - getty
Lake Maggiore - getty

Share price: Lake Lugano

Like Maggiore, Lake Lugano is shared by Switzerland and Italy – with its north-eastern arm sticking up into Lombardy. A one-week stay within this little pocket at Parco San Marco Lifestyle Beach Resort (a gorgeous five-star retreat, right on the shore just outside Cima, with a private beach, spa, wellness centre, meditation pavilion and watersports activities), checking in on Aug 29, starts at £1,043 a head (two sharing) via Expedia (020 3788 0445; expedia.co.uk); flights extra with services from BA, easyJet, Ryanair or Wizz into Milan Malpensa. 

T-Time: Lake Como

Como’s image as a glamour goddess is well-sketched – lest we forget, George Clooney’s Villa Oleandra overlooks the lake at Laglio. You can tap into this chicness further up the west shore at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo (0039 034 442 491; grandhoteltremezzo.com) – the 1910 icon that has shrugged off 2020’s woes to reopen its real-sand “T Beach” on the water’s edge. A seven-night stay from Aug 29 starts at €3,273 (£2,960) a head (two sharing). 

Lake Como - getty
Lake Como - getty

Big deal: Lake Garda

The biggest of the glacier-carved water features at the foot of the Dolomites, Lake Garda (143 square miles) looms large midway between Milan and Venice. This makes for lots of space for ­relaxation. Citalia (01293 832229; citalia.com) offers holidays at the five-star Grand Hotel Terme, perched ­elegantly on the Sirmio peninsula which juts up from the south shore. A week’s stay, flying from Gatwick on Aug 30, starts at £1,658 per person.

Spa-flung: Lake Iseo

The idea of soothing away the stresses of 2020 can come into focus on Lake Iseo – which sits barely a hop from Milan, but is entirely removed from urban life at L’Albereta (0039 030 776 0550; albereta.it), which is an exquisite spa haven in a vineyard five miles south of the water. A seven-night stay, arriving on Sept 5, starts at €971 per person, two sharing.

Maggiore minor: Lake Varese

Hidden to the east of Lake Maggiore, on the Lombardy side of the border with Piedmont, Lake Varese cannot claim its neighbour’s fame – but it has the same gift for quiet. It will still look lovely on Oct 3, when Casa Magda (ref: 8808450) – a former boathouse – is available for a week for £1,065 through HomeAway (020 8827 1971; homeaway.co.uk).

Find peace in northern Italy this summer - getty
Find peace in northern Italy this summer - getty

Piedmont perfection: Lake Orta

Peer west of Maggiore, meanwhile, and you may spot the silver sliver of Lake Orta. Here you find La Darbia, a set of hideaways where an infinity pool complements the view of the main event. A week’s stay in an apartment big enough for a family of four, arriving on Aug 29, starts at £2,268 via i-escape (0117 946 7072; i-escape.com); flights extra. 

Little wonder: Lake Pusiano

Comparatively speaking, it is a puddle on the Lombardy landscape, lost between the legs of Lake Como. But size does not matter in the case of Lake ­Pusiano. Not when you can hire a two-bedroom apartment, 220 yards from the shallows, for £457 (based on two guests), in the week starting Sept 5, via airbnb (airbnb.co.uk/rooms/15265998).

In step: Como and Lugano

With their surface sun-flashes, the Italian Lakes lend themselves to idolatry, not exercise. Nonetheless, you can admire their glory on foot. Explore (01252 884243; explore.co.uk) sells ­“Self-Guided Trails of Como and Lugano” – an eight-day trip that wanders from the former to the latter on the ­Roman cobbles of the Antica Strada Regina. From £985 a head in September, or £830 in October (flights extra).

Pedal oh: Lake Garda

It is also possible to enjoy an energetic break in the Lakes without uprooting every night. Cycling specialist Freedom Treks (01273 224066; freedomtreks.co.uk) serves up a six-night break that pins itself to Lake Garda, and a hotel in Desenzano or Sirmione. Participants wake in the same place each morning, and pedal out on day trips to the likes of Verona and Mantua. September prices start at £535 per person (flights and bikes extra).