Italy is famous for so many things – fine food, historical architecture, and heart stoppingly beautiful art. However, there’s a lot of natural beauty to Italy too. When it comes to mountains, you have the Dolomite, Alps, and Apennines. Hidden away in these mountains are the lakes of Italy. You may be surprised to find out how many there are just waiting to be discovered!
In this article, we’re going to miss out Italy’s largest lake, Lake Garda. We thought you’d probably already know about it! Instead, we’ll be focusing on some lesser known lakes that make for a great holiday destination minus the crowds. Who knows, you might even have the place to yourself!
1. Lake Como
The upside-down Y shape of Lake Como cuts into the foothills of the Alps and really is an absolutely breath-taking location. It’s little wonder that over the years, superstars such as George Clooney, Madonna, and Richard Branson have acquired properties on this stunning lake. However, there’s more to this spot than just being a playground for the rich and famous, and it is in fact a perfect vacation spot year-round for many types of traveller.
The city of Como, less than 40 minutes from Central Milan on the train, will probably be your first port of call. Here, you can enjoy the scenic funicular railway, the Gothic architecture of its cathedral, and a relaxing walk along the waterfront promenade. If you want something a little quieter, it’s not hard to find a gorgeous little hamlet in the surrounding mountains. Lake Como also boasts a UNESCO World Heritage site – Sacro Monte of Ossuccia, which you definitely shouldn’t miss!
2. Lake Braies
You may notice that Braies doesn’t really seem like an Italian word. Well, this stunning Alpine lake is found in South Tyrol near the Austrian border, where many of the locals’ first language is actually German! In fact, Lago di Braies is also known as Pragser Wildsee. The picturesque blue waters reflect the mountains behind to give a dramatic image that you’ll have seen shared over and over on Instagram.
Lake Braies is quite tricky to get to, and you’d do just as well to travel from Innsbruck in Austria as you would from Milan, Venice or Verona. Whichever way you get there, the journey will be worth it to see this stunning lake in all its glory!
3. Lake Maggiore
After Lake Garda, this is the 2nd largest lake in Italy. It’s so big that it stretches into neighbouring Switzerland! The most noteworthy attractions on Lake Maggiore are the Borromean Islands, a group of 3 islands and 2 islets situated in the western part of the lake. The best known are Isola Bella and Isola Madre. The aristocratic family who owned the islands back in the 16th and 17th centuries employed only the finest architects and botanists to contribute to their beautiful islands.
Back on land, don’t miss colourful and picturesque fishing villages which are scattered around the lake, or the foodie scene and arts and culture of the two main towns – Stresa and Baveno. Stresa is a lively and vibrant tourist centre, while Baveno is a lot quieter. Whichever one you choose, you’ll find cobbled streets and piazzas with intimate little cafes , as well as lovely lakefront walks.
4. Lake Iseo
Lake Iseo is equally divided between the provinces of Brescia and Bergamo in the region of Lombardy. It’s relatively unknown outside of Italy, but we’re not sure how much longer that is going to last as there’s so much to do, whatever time of the year you’re planning your trip!
In winter, you’ll find that many Italians head here to enjoy the slopes of Montecampione, a ski resort just 15 minutes’ drive from the lake. When the weather warms up a little bit, hike the numerous trails for any level that criss-cross the nearby hills. A particular favourite is the Punta Almana, which offers spectacular views of Monte Isola – the island in the centre of Lake Iseo and also the largest island lake in the country! If you’d prefer to see that from lake level, you could always take a boat trip there too.
5. Lake Trasimeno
This Umbrian lake is easiest to access from Perugia, although it can be seen in the distance from the hilltop village of Montepulciano, over the regional border between Umbria and Tuscany. The 4th largest lake in Italy is a natural lover’s paradise. Birdwatchers shouldn’t miss this spot as it’s home to kites, kingfishers, cormorants, and wild ducks.
There are a number of towns set around the lake that are definitely worth visiting too – including Castiglione del Lago, home to a stunning example of a medieval fortress and Etruscan tombs. If you want to get out onto the lake itself, it’s possible to take boat trips to the 3 islands that you’ll find floating in Trasimeno!
6. Lake Bracciano
Lake Bracciano is located in the region of Lazio, just 30km northwest of Rome. You can get there by taking the train towards the walled city of Viterbo. This large, volcanic lake is overlooked by the medieval Castello Orsini Ordelaschi (also simply called Bracciano Castle), which has been beautifully preserved!
The thing you are most likely to notice about Bracciano is how quiet it is – there’s a restriction on motorised transport being used on this lake. That’s because you can canoe, sail, and even scuba dive in Lake Bracciano! There are a number of other water sports you can practice there too. Of course, if you want to just take a refreshing dip – perfect on a hot summer’s day – then there are plenty of pebbly beaches around the lake where you can lay down your towel and catch some rays in between swims.
7. Lake Nemi
Volcanic Lake Nemi’s previous visitors weren’t tourists, but emperors and artists. Almost perfectly round and situated around 30km south of Rome, it sits in the shadow of the town of the same name. You can view archaeological exhibits on the banks of the lake, but by far the most interesting part of visiting here is the sunken Roman ships. Nemi is where Roman emperors Caligula and Tiberius sailed to show that they were rulers aligned to the stars!
The area really is fascinating, and you definitely shouldn’t miss the strawberry festival held every year in the town of Nemi.