THE ITALIAN LAKES DISTRICT
An exceptional walking and hiking tour, and a different perspective on the Italian Lakes. Panoramic trails and splendid views of Lake Orta, Lake Maggiore, Lake Como. Venture into Valgrande National Park, the largest wilderness in Italy. Charming towns of Orta San Giulio, Stresa, Varenna, Bellagio. Fine gastronomy and wines.
Celebrated since time immemorial for their spellbinding landscape, the Italian Lakes are indeed one of the most captivating places on Earth. Great expanses of sparkling, deep-blue water and lush vegetation, framed by the marvel of the Alps, beckon the visitor from near and far. Enchanting villages, sumptuous villas and manicured gardens harmoniously dot their shores, adding a sense of serenity and peace to the landscape.
With this exclusive guided tour, we give you a unique perspective on Italy’s Lake District. We escape from the hubhub of mass tourism, and witness the diverse aspects of this spectacular region, still enjoying its most sought-after destinations. Pleasant walking and hiking forays lead us to the perfect vantage points, which yield a bird’s eye view over this mesmerizing environment. We venture into extraordinary natural settings, and visit lovely islands, opulent palaces, and the finest examples of Italian gardens. We learn the secrets of century-old traditions still handed down by local artisans.
Starting on Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, in the splendid Piemonte (Piedmont) region of Italy, we continue to Lake Como, in Lombardy. We soak in the Mediterranean atmosphere of the lakeside towns of Orta San Giulio, Stresa, Bellagio, and Varenna.
Our distinctive program encompasses all these diverse and unique aspects, incorporating into our days exclusive activities, and exceptional walking and hiking excursions off the beaten path.
DAY BY DAY
Day 1 Milan – Lake Orta
Transfer from Milano Malpensa Internatinal Airport to Orta san Giulio. Nestled among granitic mountains and surrounded by the stunning backdrop of the foothills of the Alps, Lake Orta is the smallest of the Italian Lakes we will explore, the most intimate, and a true alpine lake. Short hike in the immediate surroundings amongst characteristic hamlets, with a splendid panorama. Out itinerary may include the Sacro Monte (sacred mountain), where we can visit the 20 chapels depicting the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. Upon our return, you can take a short boat ride on your own to the Island of San Giulio, surrounded by an aura of great mysticism. You can stroll olong the perimeter of this tiny jewel and visit the Basilica, founded by Saint Giulio in the 4th century. You may also spend some time exploring the narrow paths of Orta’s exquisite historical centre or taking a swim in the refreshing, clear waters of the Lake.
Day 2 Above Lake Orta – Quarna
Hiking and walking on pleasant and spectacular paths, through pristine birch and chestnut forests, across summer grazing pastures, accompanied by the sound of cowbells, we reach vantage points with spectacular and serene views of Lake Orta and the Alps. At our feet is wild, narrow, and precipitous Valstrona, the Valley of Pinocchio, where family-run factories produce Pinocchios in an artisanal way. Slate-roofed villages still clinging to superstitions and legends are perched mid-way up the sunny side of the valley. On a clear day, we have impressive views of Monte Rosa, the second highest mountain in Western Europe and the Appennini Liguri, separating us from the Italian Riviera. We visit the beautiful and quaint town of Quarna, sitting on a balcony above Lake orta, where a family-run factory has been manufacturing wind instruments since 1818.
Day 3 Lake Maggiore – Val Grande National Park
Val Grande National Park is the largest wilderness area in Italy. This unique area, crowned by solitary and craggy peaks, is where nature is reclaiming its space after the dramatic events that unfolded during World War II, when the area was a Partisan stronghold. It is a superb environment of conifer forests and open pastures, envelped in total silence. Rhododendrons, heather, ferns, raspberries, blueberries (and porcini mushrooms in the fall), contour and colour our paths. We enjoy a picnic, surrounded by a splendid panorama over Lake Maggiore, whose blue expanse conveys a sense of peace to this rugged landscape. We overnight in Stresa, an exquisite town located on the shore of Lake Maggiore. Popular destination with large, stylish hotels dotting the lakefront, it has retained its charm, with the narrow streets of its historical centre.
Day 4 Villages of Lake Maggiore – Borromeo Islands
We start in Belgirate, whose attractive historical centre displays houses with distinctive porticos and “loggie” (verandas). In the 1800s, this delightful hamlet was a preferred destination for famous people, patriots, poets and statesmen. It was remembered in several literary works, from Stendhal’s “Charterhouse of Parma” to the works of Italian Borsieri, Fogazzaro and Gozzano. Walking through villages yet untouched by tourism, and enyjoying spectacular views, we wind back to Stresa. After lunch on Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island), we visit Isola Bella, one of the renowned islands owned by the Borromeo, a banking family from Milan who, very influential on Lake Maggiore since the 15th century. We visit the monumental Baroque palace and the most exquisite example of “Italian gardens”, which, to this day bear witness to the splendours of an era. Free time to explore Stresa’s historical centre and its shops.
Day 5 Lake Como – Rifugio Menaggio – Sant’Amate
On a pleasant path, we reach “Monti di Breglia”, in the old days the first stop during the seasonal transfer of the animals to higher summer grazing pastures. Today, the shepherds’ homes and barn are used as weekend or vacation homes. We continue to Rifugio Menaggio (mountain hut), and to the solitary and historical chapel of Sant’Amate, strategically located on an open ridge with a swooping panorama reaching into Swiss territory. In days past, trails of contraband between Italy and Switzerland crossed this region. Chapels and small churches still stand in testimony of these crossings. We ferry across the lake to colourful Varenna, a romantic and quaint medieval town with a layout of Roman origin. A few religious sites comprise the town’s historic centre, while patrician villas house rich art collections.
Day 6 Lake Como – Monte San Primo – Bellagio
Hiking through woods and peaceful pastures filled with wildflowers, such as cyclamens, ranunculus, narcissus, primroses, we explore the hills above Bellagio. We will have splendid views of Lake Como with its characteristic Y-shape, framed by the Alps. We descend to Borgo San Primo, and enjoy a traditional meal at an excellent mountain restaurant. Typical of this area is “polenta uncia”, cornmeal with butter, garlic and melted local cheese. We may also try homemade “crespelle”, crapes filled with spinach and cream. For dessert, you can choose between glazed chestnuts or “miascia”, locally called “turta di paisan” (paesants’ cake). Originally made with stale bread, miascia today is made with white and cornmeal flours, and amaretto cookies. Free time in Bellagio to visit the town or for some shopping. The Romans called Bellagio “the pearl of the Lario,” perched at the very end of the promontory that divides the lake into two branches. Hence the probable origin of the name in “Bilacus” (two lakes). Since the middle of the 18th century, eminent personalities of the nobility, artistic, and literary worlds have chosen Bellagio as their summer residence.
Day 7 Lake Como – Vezio – Bellano
Varenna is an exquisite hidden secret, relatively undiscovered on eastern shore of Lake Como. A panoramic walking trail through olive groves leads us to the 14th century Castle of Vezio, one of the most interesting hamlets in the area from a historical standpoint, with about 50 people inhabiting a handful of stone houses year-around. It has maintained its ancient characteristics, displayed in its charming historical centre. We follow the ancient route used in the old days to bring goods from Milan to what is today Switzerland, passing hamlets surrounded by small vineyards and crossing the official geological border between the foothills of the Alps and the Alps themselves. We cross the famous Orrido, a narrow canyon carved by the waters of the Pioverna creek, and reach Bellano and its enthralling historical centre. In Medieval times, Bellano was a feudal land in the hands of the Archbishops of Milan, town to which it remained loyal during the dukedom of the Visconti, and Sforza. Bellano is also the main protagonist in the novels of local author Andrea Vitali, one of the most appreciated contemporary Italian writers.
Day 8 Departure
The trip ends in Varenna. Transfer on your own to your next destination.
From Euros 2550 per person.
Euros 450 | Single supplement.
Prices are quoted in Euros and based on double occupancy.
What Is Included:
Airport transfer on Day 1.
English-speaking local guide for the duration of the trip.
Guide’s expenses (hotels and meals) while with the group.
Two nights in three-star hotel, five nights in four-star hotels.
All breakfasts, seven lunches, four dinners.
Water and coffee/tea with your group meals at hotels/restaurants.
Private and public transportation, as per itinerary.
Visits to museums/points of interest and activities as specified in the itinerary.
Guided tour of Borromeo Island.
Gratuities to porters, drivers, and at restaurants.
What Is Not Included:
Airport transfer on Day 8. It can be arranged upon request at an additional cost.
Insurance of any kind (cancellation and medical/evacuation insurance, etc.).
Expenses due to unexpected changes to the itinerary.
Activities not specified in the itinerary.
Personal expenses (laundry, sodas or alcoholic beverages, telephone calls, etc.).
Anything else not mentioned in “What’s Included in the Price of the Trip”.
Unused transportation during the tour will not be reimbursed.
TRIP DATES & DETAILS
2016 Dates: contact us »
Season: May – mid-October
Trip Length: 8 days
Trip Activity [more details]:
History | Culture
Scenery | Flora | Fauna
Gastronomy | Wine
Traditions | Art | Artisans
Trip Rating [more details]: moderate
The Guide(s) [more details]:
The guide(s) will be confirmed about thirty days prior to the beginning of the trip.
ACCOMODATIONS & MEAL
Our accommodations are in exquisite high-quality, three- and four-star hotels.
Day 1, 2 – Three-star, family-run hotel, strategically situated on a hill above Orta San Giulio. Rooms are spacious and sober, with open views of the Lake. Outdoors swimming pool and panoramic terrace.
Day 3, 4 – Exquisite, four-star hotel, on the shores of Lake Maggiore. Elegant rooms with balcony and view of the lake. Swimming pool by the water, sun deck and jacuzzi.
Day 5, 6, 7 – Small, four-star, boutique hotel in Varenna, located in one of the most panoramic spots on Lake Como, directly on the water. Elegant and sober rooms with view of the lake.
Participants booked on the trip will receive a complete list and detailed descripion of the hotels.
Breakfasts – They consist of a generous spread of meats, cheeses, fruit, yogurt, juice, cereal, fresh bread, and other baked goods, accompanied by coffee or tea.
Lunches – We mostly enjoy elaborate picnics with local meats, cheeses, chutneys, olives or dried tomatoes, at least one vegetable, fruit, and freshly baked bread. When not a picnic, we have a light lunch at a traditional, local restaurant. Generally, this entails a set menu, with a pasta dish, a salad, and a dessert, or an appetizer a main course, and a dessert.
Dinners – We dine at traditional, local restaurants. All meals will consist of outstanding three- or four-course meals reflecting both Piedmontese and Lombard gastronomy. Generally we choose à-la-carte.
Menus offer a wonderful variety of dishes with freshly-caught lake fish.