Spring is a splendid time of year on these lakes. Energizing nature, relaxing colours and mild temperatures are an invitation to an active open-air holiday with plenty to do, including sports and walks through history. Northern Italy has the three largest lakes in the Italian peninsula - the inspiration for poets, writers and musicians of all periods.
A fragrant spectacle of vineyards, olive groves and expanses of flowers frames Italy's largest lake - extending between Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino - and its lively towns, such as Sirmione, Bardolino, Limone and Riva del Garda to mention only a handful. Precious historical aspects equally enrich the natural scenery, with ancient villages, Mediaeval castles, the ruins of Roman villas and sacred sites such as monasteries, parish churches and sanctuaries devoted to the Virgin Mary. The mellow spring brightness that embraces everything plays with the glimmering water to inspire a sensation of absolute and total regeneration.
Boat trips and rafting down mountain streams are some of the many water sports going hand in hand with nature walks or mountain bike rides, mountain climbing and scenic hang-gliding flights. Spring is also the ideal season for a visit to the Vittoriale of Gabriele D'Annunzio in Gardone Riviera, set in a park stretching as far as the eye can see full of plants and flowers. Not so far away are the Grotte di Catullo and the Rocca Scaligera di Sirmione reflected in the lake: the stunningly beautiful town of Sirmione also invites visitors to relax in its spas (and other spas are open nearby in Lazise). Children will absolutely enjoy a day in Gardaland, on the Veronese side of the lake - the largest of several theme parks in the area.
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Located entirely in Lombardy, this lake has branches in three directions - towards Como, Lecco and Colico - dominated where they meet by the elegance of Bellagio, one of the many splendid locations embellishing the lake shores, such as the villages of Varenna, Bellano and Laglio, among others, where you can savour the typical risotto with fillets of perch - a local speciality. Nevertheless, its irresistible retro charm is certainly also thanks to the numerous noble residences overlooking the lake itself, all adorned with fragrant gardens and botanical parks which seem to emerge from the lush green of the landscape, such as the famous Villa d'Este in Cernobbio and Villa Serbelloni in Bellagio.
There are many natural itineraries to take on foot, mountain bike or horseback, as well as sailing on the lake, soaring in the sky with hang-gliding and para-gliding, as well as a round of golf over immense, green courses. Don't miss a visit to the Silk Museum in Como - where silk weaving is a long-standing local tradition - and also take the cable car up to the village of Brunate for a spectacular panoramic view. Lecco is home to the Manzoni Museum - the starting point for a literary journey to the places of "I Promessi Sposi" (The Betrothed). Trips to Comacina Island and the nearby Sacro Monte di Ossuccio, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are also not to be missed.
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Lake Maggiore, between Piedmont and Lombardy, is surrounded by mountains and hills that are home to enormous nature reserves and botanical gardens, such as the Val Grande National Park and the Ticino Valley Natural Park, a UNESCO biosphere reserve. Here, all the power of nature explodes in a setting dotted with a handful of fortresses, castles and villas that narrate the long history of these parts. The crown of this natural scene is the splendid archipelago of the Borromean Islands - Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori - in the waters of Stresa, Verbania and Baveno, the lake's three main tourist resorts.
Enjoying the paths among wild nature in the Val Grande National Park on foot, mountain bike or horseback is unquestionably a fine excellent starting point. The great outdoors can also be experienced on the huge golf courses and naturally when sailing on the lake. An interesting itinerary from a historical and cultural point of view includes a visit to Rocca di Arona and Rocca Borromea di Angera with its delightful Doll Museum, as well as to holy places such as the spectacular Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso in Leggiuno and the Sacro Monte di Ghiffa on Mount Cargiago, another Unesco World Heritage Site. Keep an eye out for the Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo in Arona, the gigantic statue of the Saint popularly known as "Sancarlone".
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