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The Italian lakes, just above Milan, is a beautiful region. Six lakes surround the area: Lago d’Orta, Lago Maggiore, Lago di Lugano, Lago di Como, Lago d’Iseo and Lago di Garda.
When the warm days arrive in April, the main cities around the lakes can get pretty crowded. Milan residents crash there during the weekends to flee the city and European tourists take advantage of the proximity for a quick and relaxing getaway. Only 4.5 hours’ drive from Lyon, France, we couldn’t resist to spend an extended weekend at the Italian Lakes.
Here are top tips to run away from the crowds at the Italian Lakes
1. Go camping
We stayed four days at the Italian Lakes and visited Lago di Como and Lago Maggiore. Both lakes offer beautiful cities and seaside resorts such as Como, Bellagio, Menaggio, Verbania. But they get easily crowded. There are lots of tourist buses and it’s pretty much impossible to find a parking spot. It is also difficult to find an authentic restaurant as it is filled with tourist traps.
One solution for this: take your car and drive around the lake. Do not stay in a hotel in seaside resorts. I haven’t found any room below 100€. Go camping instead. It’s so much fun. Check-out our waterfront campsite in Monvalle (Lago Maggiore) for less than 25€/night. You can’t get any closer to the water. Plus this least known town around the lake offers more authentic local businesses and restaurants. And guess what, the views are still completely stunning.
Another camping of choice while visiting Lago di Como was in Carlazzo, right on the banks of the small Lago di Piano. A lake entirely left in the wild. Only locals have small boats to go fishing. You can walk around ¾ of the lake and meet plenty of wildlife: ducks, fish, snakes…
2. Go hiking
One of the best option to get away from the crowds is to hike. Bonus point: you will get the most spectacular vistas over the lake and its surroundings. You see the lake from a different point of view than from the shores and you can even see the Alps.
Here is a fantastic hike departing from Breglia (Lago di Como): depart altitude 752m – arrival 1732m.
Hike up to Rifugio Menaggio (1383m), beautiful chalet where you can have your picnic while facing the lake. At the refuge, you will be able to fill up your water bottles with pure mountain water. If you still have the energy, I recommend you continue hiking up to Monte Grona (1732m). The trail departs from behind the refuge. There, you will have the choice between the Via Direttissima and Via Ferrata or the Via Normale. Via Direttissima and Ferrata are shorter in km but they are only recommended to experienced hikers with specific equipments.
The full hike to Monte Grona takes around 5 hours, including the way back to Breglia. If you decide to stop at Rifugio Menaggio, the hike will take you around 3.5 hours, descent included.
For other hikes around Menaggio (Lago di Como), check-out this guide.
3. Gain altitude
If you are not into hiking, but still want to revel in the spectacular views over the lakes, take the cable cars.
At the Lago Maggiore, there is a cable car departing from Laveno: the funivie del Sasso del Ferro. I highly recommend to take it just for the ride. It is no ordinary cable cars. They are literally like buckets holding only two people. You have to remain standing during the whole ride, and it’s totally open.
Once up there, you observe a breathtaking view over Lago Maggiore and the Borromean islands. There are hiking trails but also mountain bike trails and paragliding departures. Take the time to enjoy a drink on the restaurant’s terrace before going back down.
A return ticket will cost you 10€. It’s a bit expensive I think but totally worth the bucket experience.
For more information about the cable cars (price, opening times, activities), go to their website.
So, are you ready to escape the crowds at the Italian Lakes ? Get away from the famous seaside resorts ? I hope these ideas have convinced you to leave the lakes’ shores and explore the region. The views will be just more sensational and you will make the most of your stay at the Italian Lakes.
Do you have any other nature escapes around the Italian Lakes you would like to share ? Would you dare riding the bucket cable cars at Lago maggiore ?