Lagos – that’s lakes in Italian – have been drawing tourists since the heyday of the Roman Empire. They still are. There’s a good reason for this. These lakes, many of them in alpine regions in northern Italy, are the stuff picture postcards are made of. They’re indisputably scenic, casting spells over visitors so come back. An overview of the most beautiful lakes in Italy:
See also: 12 Best Day Tours in Italy
As you stand on the hills overlooking Lake Bolsena, it’s almost as if you can see forever. Perhaps not, but you will get a scenic eyeful of this central Italy lake. This large lake is home to several islands, the largest of which is Bisentia, with its Etruscan ruins and pretty churches. If you wander the beaches you’ll find black volcanic sand – the lake sits in a volcanic crater. Lake Bolsena is a good place to fish, swim or watch birds, including egrets and gray herons. The lake also makes a good stopping point if you’re driving between Rome and Tuscany.
Lake Ledro isn’t the biggest lake you’ll find in Italy, but what it lacks in size it makes up for in scenic beauty. This alpine lake in the Trentino region is surrounded by forests, with crystalline waters making it one of the cleanest in Trentino. The water is warm enough in the summer for swimming and sail boating. Mountain bikers will likely find it challenging to ride around the lake’s perimeters. The lake is best known for archaeological finds, including Bronze Age dwellings, that showed up when the water level was lowered to build a hydroelectric dam.
Lake Lugano is sandwiched between Italy and Switzerland, which makes it doubly pretty. With the Alps running down to the shore, the lake draws tourists like honey does bears. The glacial lake is elongated with arms in several places, adding to its allure. Lake Lugano is very scenic, no matter what direction you’re viewing it from. You can go for a boat ride on the lake or take a funicular ride up a mountain for more panoramic views. Lake Lugano is a good place to go fishing or you could look for fossils on Monte San Giorgio.
Lake Trasimeno in Central Italy has a few things in common with Utah’s Great Salt Lake. Both let water in but not out. Both are saline, though Lake Trasimeno not as much as Salt Lake. This Umbria lake is shallow (about 5 meters or 16 feet deep) and muddy. Hannibal defeated the Roman army here in 217 BC, and the lake’s numerous fortifications attest to its strategic position and turbulent past. A fish festival draws tourists in September who come to see fish cooked in a large frying pan that handles two tons of fish per hour. Farmland, including vineyards and olive groves, surround Lake Trasimeno, giving it a scenic bucolic atmosphere.
Lake Bracciano is a magnet for water sports enthusiasts. It’s a great place to scuba dive, fish, canoe, wind surf, sunbathe or swim. Sail boats are allowed, but may carry no more than four people. Lake Bracciano is surrounded by a park that also offers a variety of outdoor activities. Because of its proximity to the Italian capital, the lake makes a great day trip from Rome. The lake was formed by volcanic action, with lake waters providing a reservoir for Rome’s drinking water. If you get tired of the outdoors, take a gander through the charming village of Bracciano with its old castle.
Northern Italy is a popular place to visit medieval towns, a visit to Lake Iseo can provide a welcome break. Surrounded by vineyards and forest, Lake Iseo is considered a hidden gem among Italian lakes. For one thing, it’s a lot quieter since it’s not on a heavily trod tourist path, though it is just as pretty as its bigger sisters, lakes Como and Garda. Take a boat ride to picturesque Monte Isola, the largest populated island in a southern European lake – no cars allowed, but you can ride a mule to the chapel.
Journalists, from Balzac and Browning to more modern writers, call Lake Orta bewitching and a secret gem among northern Italy’s lakes. The landscape is indeed beautiful, with the Isla San Guilio punctuating it like an exclamation mark. (San Guilio is the patron saint of the region.) The island is perfect for strolling, both leisurely and romantic, over the cobblestone streets. Be sure to visit the 12th century basilica or a colorful market. If it’s serenity you’re seeking, end your search at Lake Orta, a sea of tranquility nestled among the forests and mountains, about an hour’s drive from busy Milan.
Lake Maggiore is another lake claimed by two countries, Italy and Switzerland, since it forms a border between them. Italy’s second largest lake (Maggiore translates as “great lake”) is located on the south side of the Alps. It has a Mediterranean climate, making it possible to grow exotic plants. The lake is particularly pretty when blossoms are blooming on the hills. A good place to view this 64-km (40-mile) long lake and its islands is to take the Mottarone cable car up the mountains. You can also take a relaxing cruise on the lake or even bike around it.
Northern Italy’s Lake Garda, which was created by glacial action, is the largest lake in Italy. This picturesque lake, bounded by mountains, is a popular vacation destination. The lake contains several islands, including Isola del Garda where St. Francis of Assisi founded a monastery in 1220. The lake itself has a fjord-like quality; a ferry makes it fun to travel between the towns on the lake. Orange and lemon tree, and olive groves flank its shores, adding a nice scenic touch. The lake is popular with bikers, boaters, wind surfers and those who prefer to roam the quaint island villages.
If celebrity spotting is your passion, Lake Como is the place to go. Lake Como has been a tourist magnet starting with the Romans, who built the first villas on the lake. Many celebrities have holiday homes along the lake – who knows, perhaps you’ll see George Clooney out with his twins. But if the lake interests you more, you should know it’s one of the deepest in Europe, at 400 meters (1,300 feet). Travelers come here for its landscape, explore Villa Carlotta or take the tasting gelato in the town of Como. Ferry service links the villages along the lake.