The drive north to the great Italian lakes started off steep to get over the mountains that run the length of the north coast line. The roads were stunning as we winded through the mountains passing by isolated tiny towns in the middle of nowhere. After climbing up and descending down the other side, the landscape changed to flat plains, mainly rice fields and other crops. We took our time and spent a couple of days on the way in little towns soaking up the Italian culture. As we got closer to the lakes, the scenery changed to mountains again and we could see the stunning snowy alps on the horizon.
The first lake we visited was Lake Orta, one of the smaller lakes and a lot less known and touristy than some of the others, we found a great spot for the night which was nestled in amongst the trees and right next to the sacro Monte, the areas main attraction. We headed out to explore the area and our first stop was lakeside, where we all enjoyed a dip in the lovely lake to cool off from the hot summer afternoon. The temperature of the water was amazing and we spent a few hours chilling out before heading into the town.
The little town of Orta is charming, romantic and rustic, like stepping back in time, its got a really relaxing feel about it and although there was quite a few tourists it remained calming and beautiful. We strolled around the cobbled stone streets and admired the view over to the enchanting isla Sanguillo before romantically walking back to the van.
The following day we checked out the Sacro Monte (secret mountain) which consisted of numerous chapels varying in design dotted between the trees perched on the hill, this provided great views over the lake and across to the island, we continued exploring by bike and found a lovely lakeside walk along the shores of the peninsula of where we were staying. After getting back to the van we couldn’t resist heading back to the lake with the boys for an early evening dip.
Coordinates to best free park up; (45.7967 8.412101)
We continued North to Lake Maggiore. Our first stop was the town of Verbania where we had a brief wonder around and along the lakeside promenade, we stayed the night up a steep road in a residential area parking platform that had absolutely spectacular views down to the lake, it was quiet and peaceful and a great place to spend the night, we woke up early for sunrise over the lake before heading back down to park up for the day lake side, where we found a nice grassy area that we could swim and take a shower afterwards.
We were excited to check out another of Northern Italy’s beautiful lakes and lake Como didn’t disappoint. We arrived fairly late but found a fabulous park up right by the city and only a few meters from the lake. It was quite busy with people enjoying an evening lakeside stroll, cyclist, runners and dog walkers. Nearby some busy cafes and small bars filled with folks chatting and relaxing with the great lakeside views. The whole area was alive with activities and it felt good to be part of the friendly atmosphere. Although busy with people until late in the evening, we slept really well and it was nice to wake up in such a great location.
We headed out early on our bikes to explore and cycled around to the other side of the lake. We found an even better spot to park the van which was a little quieter and would be perfect to spend a night. Como city is very nice to wonder around with many pretty old streets surrounding an impressive Cathedral in the centre, some very inviting restaurants and cute colourful buildings. We stopped by the huge market just as they were packing up and managed to find a couple of pairs of long, thin trousers to protect us from the mosquito’s in the evenings. Later we chilled in our new, quieter location next to the lake and enjoyed a dip to cool down as it was a very hot afternoon.
We left Como the following afternoon and headed north along the lake to Bellagio. The drive was totally stunning, the road etched into the cliff side with outstanding views of lake como below around every corner. We were slightly disappointed with ourselves for leaving late as the road was quite busy and as it was narrow roads we had to really concentrate on the road rather than admiring the views, but luckily we managed to find a few pull off points on the way so we could stop to take it all in. We parked for the night about a km from the town and had a nice sunset walk with great views across the lake over towards Ballagio.
Bellagio town is very pretty and very exclusive! The high end hotels along the main lakeside front probable cost a small fortune to stay the night, with many boutique type shops, upmarket cafes and restaurants and all the super expensive cars parked along the lakeside tells you that perhaps the rich folks like to come here. We enjoyed wondering around the quaint old cobbled streets and alleyways and were glad we came early as by 10am the coaches started to arrive dropping off the day trippers. Many others tourist come by boat from Como, which we thought would be a much pleasanter option as you would miss all the narrow busy roads.
We decided to move on to somewhere a little quieter to park for the day and hopefully find a nice spot where we could take a swim in the lake to cool off. It was another great drive along the lake South and although busy, we managed to find a lakeside beach area to park up, we spent the rest of the hot afternoon in the shade dipping in and out of the lake to keep cool.
Arriving at Lake Garda in the afternoon we could soon see why this is the most famous of the Northern Italian Lakes. Its absolutely massive and in some areas it looks like your looking out to sea rather than out onto a lake. The plan was to try and find a spot to park and enjoy the views, have a swim and perhaps go for a cycle along the lake. It was a nice drive yet again along the lake side as we drove from the south, towards the northern end of the lake where the scenery becomes amazing with the big mountains becoming more dramatic the further north you go. We found a nice spot where there was a beach and not too many tourists, we were amazed by the absolute crystal clear waters. After a late lunch, we continued north stopping many times for photo opportunities along this stunning lakeside. It was getting late and we wanted to find somewhere to park up for the night, as lake Garda is very touristy and busy this time of year, we decided to drive 10 km’s north to the less known Lake Ledro as we thought there would be more options for us to camp for the night there.
This Beautiful little gem hidden away north past Garda just stole our hearts, its absolutely breathtakingly gorgeous and we only discovered it as we thought it may be an easier option to spend the night. As soon as we arrived, we knew that we would be spending more than a quick overnight stop. It was so quiet and chilled out compared to any of the other lakes we’d visited so far, not built up at all, and just incredible beautiful. Consisting of only a few little villages around the lake apart from a couple of campsites, there is not much more.
The water was ridiculously calm in the evenings and mornings, only getting slightly choppy after lunchtime. After a good nights sleep, we didn’t hesitate to get the kayak out and enjoyed floating around the tranquil lake. The swimming is divine, lovely temperatures, clean, calm and refreshing.
The lake is about 8km all the way around and the best way to see it is on mountain bikes with stunning views along the track all the way, we stopped off for a dive about half way from a floating jetty, so refreshing after a couple of km’s hot mountain biking. We ended up staying here for 4 nights and it was still hard to leave. Its great seeing new places and constantly changing environments but every now and then its also good to chill out for a few days too.
Coordinates to our camp at Lake Ledro: 45.8699 10.7463
Back to Garda
We drove back to Garda and made our way down the east side of the lake. We found a parking place for the van and cycled back on ourselves to check out the lake from the northern shoreline. The main thing to do in the north of Garda is windsurfing and there is no shortage of places to do so. We cycled along the promenade and enjoyed the views over towards the mountains running down the west side, from the north you cant see the opposite side of the lake as it is so huge! We continued south stopping at a couple of pretty but touristy lakeside towns before staying the night at a place called Lazise.
Lazise is a small town in the south of lake Garda, it has a very attractive lakeside promenade, as do most of the towns dotted along the lake, although very touristy this time of year again, we enjoyed the evening wondering around and had a stunning sunset over the lake. It was a nice evening to end our Northern Italy lakes experience.