Beautiful Italian Lakes (in 2021)
a great package holiday to Italy's lakes district
best guided tours of Italy
Updated version from 2021!!
"The Italian Lakes are special. Each is different. Lake Maggiore has that 18th-century style. Lake Como is dreamy and romantic. And Lake Garda is full of energy."
"I could live here. Easily."
Join us for a 14-day fully-escorted small group tour package of northern Italy's beautiful lakes district. This exquisite part of Italy has been the playground of the Italian jet set for centuries and for good reason.
Dazzling vistas abound, with small picturesque villages nestled around small coves and sensational villas with rambling gardens that flow to the edge of the lake. It's no wonder that today's rich and famous also call these lakes home. Who knows - maybe you'll even bump into George Clooney while you're there on one of our best tours of Italy!
Day 1: Milan: Powerhouse of the north
On your first day, our other guests will be arriving at different times. As your hosts, we will be on hand to assist when you check into our hotel. You will then have free time until 5:00 pm when all our guests will join us for welcome drinks and a chance to talk about our time in Milan and the Lakes. Later we will take the group for a walk to familiarise everyone with the local area which will finish at a lovely traditional Italian restaurant for our first meal together, and an opportunity to get to know the others who will be enjoying this tour with you.
Inclusions: Welcome drinks, orientation walk
Day 2: Milan: The historical centre
Milan’s Duomo – or Cathedral – is the most iconic image of this great city and that’s where you’ll start our guided walking tour. To get there it’s a short ride on Milan’s excellent Metro system. You’ll also have full use of this system for the whole day, as you will be provided with a day pass to use to explore the city independently once the formal tour is concluded. At the Duomo, you’ll skip the lines with our local guide to take a tour inside this incredible and historic Gothic masterpiece, before continuing around to take the elevator for a fantastic view of the city from the terraces. It’s a unique experience. Later you’ll walk across to see the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II – the famous shopping mall with its arched glass ceiling, before visiting the Piazza della Scala from where you'll enjoy a guided tour of the famous Teatro alla Scala opera house.
Inclusions: Metro pass, guided tour of the historical centre, entry to the Duomo and Teatro alla Scala, elevator access to the Duomo terraces
Day 3: Stunning Lake Maggiore
Today you’re off to Lake Maggiore! It’s only about an hour by private minibus transfer from Milan to Stresa where your hotel is right by the lake with water views. It’s a great little town to wander, with lots of little shops up and down the streets and piazzas, as well as a wonderful panoramic walk along the lakeside. Once you’ve settled in, the group will take a walk along the lake to ride the funicular to the top at Mottarone, where you will be able to take in fabulous views over the lake, including the Borromean Islands. It is a nice walk, but it is about a kilometre to the funicular, so this is offered as an optional activity. The walk is along a flat promenade that gives the chance to take in the local landscape. Later you’ll take a short orientation walk in the town that will end at a lovely ristorante in the main piazza for our group dinner.
Inclusions: Transfer by private minibus to hotel, funicular pass
Meals: Breakfast, dinner
Day 4 – Borromean splendour
Last night you will have seen the Borromean Islands from the shore. Today you will get to visit these three islands which take their name from the aristocratic Borromean family who - in the 16th and 17th centuries - transformed the islands of Bella and Madre into grand, luxurious residences, while the third island, named “dei Pescatori” (after its age-old fishing community) was left to continue its traditional way of life. Each offers a very different experience. Isola Bella’s palace and gardens are the epitome of opulence and luxury. In contrast, the Isola dei Pescatori, with its village unchanged by time, offers a fascinating simplicity. Finally, the exotic atmosphere of the lush and tranquil Isola Madre can be ascribed to the gardens that almost totally cover it. You'll take the ferry to each island in turn, enjoying guided tours of Bella and Madre, with independent time to explore as well. Later you can use your ferry pass to explore other parts of the lake and we can give you plenty of ideas for that!
Inclusions: All day ferry pass, entry to all islands, guided tours of Isola Bella and Isola Madre
Day 5 – Lake Como (looking for George!)
It’s time to leave Lake Maggiore and head to Lake Como. We’ll keep an eye out for George Clooney along the way as we take our private minibus around the lakes to the pretty village of Menaggio on Lake Como. Our lakefront hotel is in a perfect position; just a short walk from the ferry port. Once settled, we’ll take a ferry across the lake to the lovely little town of Varenna where there is a walk of about 25 minutes up to Castello di Vestio, which offers (again) magnificent views. This is an optional activity, as the walk will test your legs and the paved path is uneven in areas. Those not wanting to come can wander Varenna, and maybe enjoy an aperitivo in one of the many lakeside bars and restaurants. Later we’ll enjoy a meal together at our favourite little ristorante right by our hotel…. belissimmo….
Inclusions: Transfer to Menaggio by private minibus, ferry pass, entry to Castello di Vezio
Meals: Breakfast, dinner
Day 6 – Exploring the lake
Lake Como has long been a retreat for wealthy Italians, especially the Milanese, and they’ve left behind some amazing villas and today we are going to take a guided tour of Villa Balbianello: famous as a location for both Star Wars and James Bond movies. Its architecture and gardens will astound you with the tales of their past coming to life through our expert local guide. We’ll then take the ferry across to the famous little town of Bellagio, where you will enjoy a light lunch before exploring the winding alleys that lead up and down the hills that sit beside the lake. You will have the rest of the day to explore this part of the lake, which is only a short trip back to Menaggio.
Inclusions: All day ferry pass for the area, entry and guided tour of Villa Balbianello, visit to Bellagio
Meals: Breakfast, lunch
Day 7 – Bernini Express
Today it’s off for a full-day excursion to St Moritz and the world of the rich and famous, taking you through breathtaking scenery. We will join a larger group for the drive up the northern arm of the lake, and into the majestic Val Valtellina, one of the great valleys of the eastern Alps and producer of the area’s splendid wines, of many centuries’ renown, excellent meats and cheeses. Our first stop, for coffee, is at the small town of Tirano with its notable cathedral. We then proceed to Poschiavo for a highlight of the day: a spectacular ride of an hour on the Bernina Express, past glaciers, past dramatic gorges and viaducts, as far as Diavolezza, covering the highest part of the journey on a train which climbs the steepest gradients in the world (of up to 70%) without the use of cogwheels. It is then a short and scenic journey on to St Moritz itself, where you have free time to take in the stunning views over the crystal lake, explore and admire the shops and beautiful hotels, and to have lunch. Our descent, by coach, is no less dramatic. We take the unforgettable road down through the Maloja pass, with extraordinary vistas offered at every moment. Our final stop is back in Italy, at the charming, historic town of Chiavenna, the ‘key’ of Italy, where you can explore the town’s attractive, cobbled streets and its shops.
Inclusions: Bernini Express tour and transfers
Day 8 – An authentic cooking and dining experience!
In the little village of Gittana, about a 10-minute drive by private van up into the hills above Varenna, is a wonderful family-owned restaurant run by Moreno and his wife Rossella. You will enjoy a welcome cappuccino and Italian biscotti at their restaurant, before enjoying a private group cooking class. Moreno will lead and give you the chance to join in and learn the tricks, like how to fold and shape tortelloni or roll gnocchi. There'll be a break for spuntino (Italian snack time) to enjoy fresh bread, salame and cheese from the local valley, and a little of the local D.O.C. wine. Then it’s back to the cookery lesson, where fresh ingredients and passion for food will provide you with a great authentic lunchtime at around 2.00 p.m. You’ll receive a certificate of attending signed by Moreno and Rossella and a glass of limoncello before wishing them ‘arrivederci e grazie mille’ around 4.00 pm when you will be transferred back to our hotel in Varenna.
Inclusions: Transfers to and from the restaurant, cooking class plus food and drinks as indicated above
Meals: Breakfast, lunch and snacks as indicated above
Day 9 – Goodbye Como, hello Garda!
The third lake you will visit is Lake Garda: the largest lake in Italy. We'll be picked up by our private minibus and transferred to Desenzano on the south-west shore of the lake. We think of Maggiore as ‘sophisticated’ and Como as ‘dreamy’. Well, Garda is ‘energetic’. Many northern Europeans come here each year for sailing and other water sports, and the towns are lively and fun throughout the year. Depending on the season there may be markets or a local festival on! In any case, it’s a great place to stay and again we're right on the lakefront. After checking in, you'll enjoy an orientation walk of the town – it is another gem – before heading to a little portside restaurant for dinner together.
Inclusions: Private minibus transfer to Desenzano
Meals: Breakfast, dinner
Day 10 – Isola del Garda: Jewel of the lake
The morning will be yours to relax and enjoy the town – Tuesday is market day in Desenzano. After lunch, we will take the ferry to Sirmione: a popular town with a Roman and medieval history from where we will visit the medieval castle before taking a boat over to Isola del Garda. The Borghese Cavazza family open the island - which is still their home - for private guided tours at limited times. You’ll enjoy a welcome drink and get to taste some local olive oil, before getting the opportunity to visit part of the residence and explore the beautiful Italian and English gardens. Later, you will return to Sirmione for some free time before catching the ferry back to Desenzano.
Inclusions: Return ferry pass to Sirmione, entry to Scaligero Castle, guided tour of Isola Garda including boat transfers.
Day 11 – Verona: wherefore art thou Romeo?
Verona is a lovely city less than half an hour by train from Desenzano. We’ll take a private minibus for the short trip to Verona and meet our local guide for a tour of the city to learn the history behind this great city – and the story behind Juliette’s balcony. Later, you’ll have free time to explore the town on your own before the group returns by train to Desenzano.
Inclusions: Return transfer to Verona, guided tour of the city
Day 12 – The little towns by the lake
The towns that sit along the shores of this long lake are picturesque and are great places to wander, take photos, look for a bargain or just sit and watch the world go by. We’ll drive a circuit around the lake, stopping to visit towns such as Malcesine, Riva and Limone. This will be a whole day adventure and one you will long remember.
Inclusions: Private minivan tour of Lake Garda
Day 13 – The Last Supper
Today we leave the lakes and head back to Milan by private minibus. After settling in at the hotel, you'll head out to take a walking tour that will include a visit to see Da Vinci’s famous work: The Last Supper* and the imposing Castello Sforzesco - the medieval castle set in the expansive Parco Sempione - where we’ll hear tales of its historical importance to the Milanese. Later the group will head out for our final dinner together.
Inclusions: Private minibus transfer to Milan, guided walking tour of Castello Sforza and surrounds, skip the line entry to The Last Supper*, day pass for Metro
Meals: Breakfast, dinner
Day 14 – Farewell from Milan
This is your last morning in Milan. We will be available to assist in your transfers to the airport or the rail.
Meals: Breakfast tours Italian lakes
You can download the tour itinerary here.
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