Medieval towns, gentle lakes hemmed in by steep hillsides, vast plains, prehistoric rock art and mighty mountains make this part of the Lombard region one of northern Italy's most underrated corners. You'd need a couple of weeks to cover the area well, so you need to make choices.
Lake Como & Around
In the shadow of the snow-covered Rhaetian Alps and hemmed in on both sides by steep, verdant hillsides, Lake Como (aka Lake Lario) is perhaps the most spectacular of the three major lakes. Shaped like an upside-down Y, measuring around 160km in squiggly shoreline, it's littered with villages, including exquisite Bellagio and Varenna.
In the shadow of the snow-covered Rhaetian Alps, Lago di Como (also known as Lago Lario) is the most spectacular of the lakes. Shaped like an upside-down letter Y, measuring 120km all up, its squiggly shoreline is scattered with villages, including exquisite Bellagio, in the centre of the inverted V on the lake’s southern shore.
Lake Maggiore & Around
Italy's second-largest lake, Maggiore is one of Europe's more graceful corners. Arrayed around the lake shore are a series of pretty towns (Stresa, Verbania, Cannobio and, on the Swiss side of the border, Locarno) and these serve as gateways to gorgeous Maggiore islands.
If you’re arriving from Switzerland by train, once you emerge from the Alpine tunnels into the bright Italian sunlight, the views of the flower-filled Borromean Islands studding the dazzling blue lake are unforgettable. The train line shadows the lake’s western shore, which is its prettiest side; sprinkled with picturesque villages and towns, including the main town, Stresa.
This eastern Lombard city offers a wealth of art and medieval Renaissance and baroque architecture, a privileged position overlooking the southern plains, breathtaking views and some fine dining. Bergamo is one of northern Italy's most beguiling cities. The city's defining feature is a double identity.
With its charming historic centre, Como sparkles year-round. Within its remaining 12th-century city walls, the beautiful people of this prosperous city whisk about from shop to cafe, sweeping by the grandeur of the city's cathedral, villas and the loveliness of its lakeshore with admirable insouciance.
Lake Garda West Bank
The western Lombard shore of Lake Garda is the most beautiful, lined with historic towns, stately villas, mountain-backed roads and frothing flower-filled gardens. North of Gardone, much of the shore is encompassed within the Parco Alto Garda Bresciano (www.parcoaltogarda.net), where it's easy to escape the summer crowds and find yourself amid some truly stunning scenery.
A wealthy, independent city-state for centuries, Cremona boasts some fine medieval architecture. The Piazza del Comune, the heart of the city, is where Cremona's historic beauty is concentrated. It's a wonderful example of how the religious and secular affairs of cities were divided neatly in two.
Lake Garda East Bank
Sitting in the Veneto region, the eastern shore of Lake Garda has a different character again. Its nickname, the Riviera degli Olivi comes from the silvery olive groves that line the shoreline and the lower reaches of Monte Baldo (2130m), a massive, muscular limestone ridge that stretches 40km between Lake Garda and the Adige valley.