The glistening waters of the Italian Lakes have been enticing sun-needy northerners for centuries. Ringed by olive groves, vineyards and soaring mountains, they benefit from a microclimate that in summer reproduces the sizzling temperatures of the Bay of Naples - no wonder writers such as DH Lawrence, Somerset Maugham and Graham Greene found inspiration here.
Now a favourite haunt of fashion designers and Hollywood movers and shakers, the 3 largest lakes - Como, Garda and Maggiore - are best explored by boat, either on a private charter or on one of the public ferries that hop from harbour to harbour. Their wooded shores are studded with wedding-cake villas, world-famous gardens, immaculate towns, and medieval villages that tumble down to the water’s edge.
Less well-known are the smaller lakes scattered among the foothills of the Alps (Ledro is our favourite), and the many sporting pursuits on offer. There's wonderful hiking and biking in the Alto Garda and Lessina national parks, as well as canyoning, climbing and paragliding in the Ledro Alps. In winter you can even cross-country ski.
South of the lakes, the mountains give way to lush lowlands laced with rivers and canals. Here you’ll find the honey-hued city of Verona, a World Heritage site that’s home to Roman ruins, frescoed piazzas, a renowned opera festival and a certain pair of star-crossed lovers. Also well worth exploring are Mantua, often overlooked by tourists but packed with magnificent Renaissance architecture, and the verdant valleys of the Valpolicella wine region, where you can sample some of Italy’s finest food and drink.