Italy: The Lakes

Guided Walking Tour, Italy: The LakesGuided Walking Tour, Italy: The Lakes

Italy

The Lakes

overview

 

The contrasts of Italy’s incredibly beautiful lake country are a vision you will long remember. Above, snowy Alpine spires dazzle the eye; below, warm valleys and tumbling mountain waters welcome and refresh. As you make your way, medieval villages, historic sites, and priceless artworks enrich your journey. From the picture-perfect hamlet of Orta San Giulio, follow the pilgrim’s path through ancient forests to the 20 baroque chapels of Sacro Monte. Take a peaceful boat ride across Lake Orta to San Giulio’s spectacular 12th-century basilica. Cross serpentine Lake Maggiore to tiny Isola Bella and 17th-century Palazzo Borromeo. Then, on to Bellagio, “pearl of Lake Como,” where Italian nobility once held court. Enjoy magnificent art at Villa Carlotta, elaborate terraced gardens at Villa Balbianello—and lively encounters with local denizens at fishing villages and trattorias. Toast the day’s discoveries on your hotel’s waterfront terrace, before bountiful meals of authentic regional cuisine.

 

Activity Level
Moderate;
4-9 miles daily
Meet
Milan, Italy
Depart
Milan, Italy
Reading List
Recommended
pre-trip reading
Guided Walking 
7 days, 6 nights Trip Includes 

Trip Includes

  • Two expert, local guides (for groups of 8 or more), with you 24/7
  • All meals except for two lunches and one dinner; local wine included
  • All accommodations while on tour
  • Transportation from the meeting to the departure point
  • Entrance fees and special events as noted in the itinerary
  • The unbeatable and cumulative experience of the Country Walkers staff
per person double occupancy
Solo surcharge + $0
 

2014 Single supplement + $950
2015 Single supplement + $1,025
Call 800.234.6900 to book this trip.

REQUEST RESERVATION
Number of Travelers
Total in your party
Price From
per person double occupancy

Call 800.234.6900 to book this trip.

REQUEST RESERVATION

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Itinerary and Accommodations

Days
Destination
1
Orta San Giulio
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2
Orta San Giulio
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3
Isola dei Pescatori
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4
Bellagio
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5
Bellagio
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6
Bellagio
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7
Bellagio
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Day 1

Orta San Giulio

Meeting in Milan. Lake Orta; 2 miles, easy

Upon meeting in Milan, you transfer by private coach to the idyllic medieval village of Orta San Giulio, nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Orta. At only eight miles long and two miles wide, Lake Orta—known for its serenity, simplicity, and religious devotion—is one of the smallest of Italian lakes. You set off directly on foot, following the lakeside promenade to explore the charming village and its rich architecture.

From the town’s waterfront, Piazza Motta, you gently ascend the pilgrims’ way, a cobbled path that rises under the shade of pine, beech, and ash trees to the plateau of the Sacro Monte monastic complex, a UNESCO World Heritage site erected primarily in the 17th century. This unique site holds 20 Baroque chapels filled with life-sized terracotta statues and frescoes depicting the life of St. Francis of Assisi. From this tranquil vantage point, you survey the jewel-like lake and the islet of San Giulio, set against the striking backdrop of forests and granite outcroppings. Meandering back towards the village, the cobblestone paths lead to the lakeshore with its colorful fishing boats and narrow streets.

You arrive on foot at your delightful four-star lakeside hotel, set within the ancient walls of a 17th-century stone-cloistered convent. There is time to settle into your comfortable lakeview room before gathering in town at a cozy 16th-century wine bar for a welcome aperitivo—rich mountain cheeses, cured meats, and a sampling of several renowned wines from the neighboring Piedmont region will likely be offered. Dinner, perhaps beef carpaccio or smoked salmon, followed by a delicious lake fish or fillet of veal in white truffle sauce, is at your hotel’s restaurant—an enchanting setting with views of the dramatic medieval basilica of the Isola San Giulio illuminated against the night sky.

Hotel San Rocco

Orta San Giulio, Italy

Housed within a former 17th-century convent, this elegant lakeside resort features comfortable, contemporary rooms with lake views. Amenities include an outdoor pool and expansive terrace with views of Lake Orta.

Day 2

Orta San Giulio

Orta to Pella to Isola San Giulio; 5 miles, moderate, with an elevation gain of 800 ft., and an initial 25-minute steep ascent

The day begins with a boat ride to the picturesque town of Pella, situated directly across the lake on the western shore of Lake Orta. From here, you wind up centuries-old stone pathways under a canopy of chestnut, oak, and large beech trees to a small collection of secluded villages and hamlets. In this mystical setting, you feel as though you have stepped back in time, to when these pathways were main thoroughfares. Looping back down a cobblestone path through apple, pear, and persimmon trees, you arrive at the lakeside, where a boat is waiting to return you to Orta San Giulio in time for an independent lunch in the town’s picturesque central square or along one of the many inviting alleyways—choices range from a lively, local trattoria to a simple pizzeria. Following lunch, there is time to explore the many delights of Orta San Giulio at your own pace.

In the late afternoon, a short boat crossing brings you to Isola San Giulio, named for the 4th-century Saint Julius who legendarily brought Christianity to the region after eradicating the island of a variety of snakes and monsters. Here on this tiny island, known as the “Island of Silence,” you visit the renowned and beautifully frescoed Basilica di San Giulio, originally founded by Saint Julius in 390 A.D. From here you meander down a single footpath which encircles the island—La Via del Silenzio (“The Way of Silence”—though if you follow it in the other direction it curiously becomes “The Way of Meditation”). As you walk past old greystone buildings clustered around the basilica and elegant villas framing the shoreline, you come across small plaques in several languages that remind you that you are in a place of reflection: “If you can be yourself, you are everything,” advises one. Dinner this evening is a 15-minute private boat ride away at a lakeside trattoria, where you sample more regional specialties, such as champagne risotto followed by a tender fillet of Fassone, Piedmont’s prized beef.

Hotel San Rocco

Orta San Giulio, Italy

Housed within a former 17th-century convent, this elegant lakeside resort features comfortable, contemporary rooms with lake views. Amenities include an outdoor pool and expansive terrace with views of Lake Orta.

Day 3

Isola dei Pescatori

Orta to Armeno to Coiromonte to Gignese; 5.5-mile or 10-mile options, moderate to challenging, elevation gains range from 1,000-2,000 ft.

Departing from Orta San Giulio on foot and then by bus, your guide(s) may choose one of two walk options, depending upon recent weather conditions. If conditions are dry, the first option begins at the village of Armeno, from where you begin a steady ascent alongside the Ondella River through beech and chestnut forest and across several small streams to the mountain village of Coiromonte. Alternatively, a short bus ride delivers you to the lakeside village of Pettenasco. Ascending through forests and tiered hillside pastures, the trail arrives in the village of Armeno in time for a late-morning coffee. From here you may opt to be driven to lunch or to continue on foot through this pastoral landscape, climbing up to Coiromonte. Here, you break for a lunch of local cheese and prosciutto crudo, caprese salad, and pizza.

Following lunch, a beautiful trail through pine and birch forests leads to the open meadows of the Tre Montagnette, which marks the highest point of the day’s walk (45-minute/1,000-foot ascent). The view is superb from this point at 3,600 feet, with Lakes Orta and Maggiore framed below by soaring mountain chains—the most remarkable being the distant snow-covered peak of Monte Rosa. With a summit just over the border in Switzerland of 15,203 feet, it is the second highest in the Alps and Western Europe. Following a descent in the direction of the town of Gignese on the watershed separating Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta, a short coach transfer then brings you to the resort town of Stresa on the shores of Lake Maggiore. The setting of Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, Lake Maggiore is a captivating 40-mile-long lake with its western shore in Piedmont, eastern shore in Lombardy, and northern shoreline bordering the Swiss canton of Ticino.

From Stresa you board a boat to Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island), where you receive a warm welcome at your charming hotel, spectacularly situated in the middle of the lake. Each of the 12 rooms of this historical, green-shuttered hotel is named after a local flower and features views of the Borromean Gulf and flower-filled balconies. Inhabited since the 16th century, this tiny island still retains its original fishing-village atmosphere.

There is time to relax, have a swim in the lake, or to explore the quiet alleyways of this romantic isle. Weather permitting, a dinner featuring fresh lake fish—perhaps delicately flavored perch, the symbol of Lake Maggiore—is served alfresco on the hotel’s terrace overlooking the sparkling lights of nearby islands and passing ferry boats.

Hotel Verbano

Isola dei Pescatore, Italy

A small, charming hotel on a tiny island in the middle of Lake Maggiore, with terraced dining overlooking the lake. Guest rooms open onto a large terrace or individual balconies. Please note that this hotel does not have air conditioning.

Day 4

Bellagio

Lake Maggiore and Isola Bella exploration; 1 mile, easy. Transfer to Bellagio. Villa Melzi; 1-mile or 2.5-mile options, easy

After breakfast, the morning is spent exploring the Borromean Isles—specifically the tiny Isola Bella, which is entirely occupied by the Palazzo Borromeo and its Italian garden. Built in the 17th century for the Borromeo family, this splendid summer palace features a wealth of paintings by Lombard artists, sculptures by Canova, and Flemish tapestries. Mussolini attempted to ward off WWII here at the Conference of Stresa in April of 1935. Following a guided tour of the palace, wander the opulently sculpted gardens rising from the water’s edge—a pyramidal succession of 10 terraces culminating in a square. Gravel walkways, shaded by orange and lemon trees, meander past 17th-century statues, pebble-studded grottoes, white peacocks, and luxuriant vegetation—laurels, cedars, magnolias, cork oaks, sago palms, heliotrope, camellias, and oleanders.

Nearing lunchtime, you boat back to the mainland and the lakeshore town of Stresa. Following time for an independent lunch and exploration, you are picked up by a private boat to cross the lake to the town of Laveno, from where you embark on an approximately two-hour coach transfer to the tiny town of Cadenabbia, situated on the western shore of Lake Como. From here you board a ferry to the picturesque town of Bellagio, “the pearl of Lake Como” and your home for the next three nights.

Set magnificently on the promontory where Lake Como and Lake Lecco meet, you are positioned to experience the best these elegant lakes have to offer. Setting off directly from the ferry dock, a short stroll down a scenic waterfront path brings you to the magnificent Villa Melzi, built in 1808 for the Duke Francesco Melzi d’Eril, assistant to Napoleon, and now home to a distinguished Lombardian family. Following a visit to the manicured lawns and luxuriant gardens of this heavenly white villa, you make your way to your hotel via a shorter 20-minute walk, or a longer 2½-mile option, exploring some of Bellagio’s hamlets.

The elegant Hotel Belvedere, owned and run by five generations of women from the same family since 1880, is tranquilly located a few minutes’ walk above the shops, restaurants, and traffic-free waterfront of Bellagio, and overlooks the crystal-blue waters of Lake Como and surrounding mountains. The hotel’s private gardens, with a heated outdoor swimming pool and large panoramic Jacuzzi and spa, are yours to enjoy over the next few days. Dinner, at your resort hotel, rounds off an inspiring day.

Hotel Belvedere

Bellagio, Italy

A comfortable, family-run resort hotel comprised of several separate villas. Extensive grounds include an outdoor swimming pool that offers stunning views of Lake Como and the surrounding hills.

Day 5

Bellagio

Villa Carlotta and Villa del Balbianello; 4.5 miles, moderate with a 30-minute ascent. Additional option: Madonna del Soccorso; 2 miles, moderate with a 25-minute steep ascent, elevation gains range from 300-800 ft.

The day begins with a ferry ride to the resort town of Tremezzo, situated on the stunning western side of Lake Como. Here you tour the 17th-century Villa Carlotta, whose famous works of art and terraced gardens of rhododendrons, azaleas, and camellias have inspired poets and travelers for centuries. Ascending the gentle hills above the lake, you walk through ancient villages and along terraced footpaths that seem a world away from the elegant lifestyle of the lakeside resort towns. Following a short break, you have the option to descend to the quaint fishing village of Lenno where, after some time to explore the town’s narrow, cobblestone streets, you enjoy a leisurely lunch at one of the many fine restaurants or cafés gracing the waterfront promenade. Alternatively, those inspired to walk a little farther, by way of a cobblestone pilgrimage pathway marked with chapels symbolizing the Mysteries of the Rosary, will be graced with a magnificent view of the lake from the vantage point of the Madonna del Soccorso sanctuary. If choosing the latter option, a light lunch, perhaps a tasty panino, is served at the sanctuary before you descend to Lenno, where you reunite as a group.

This afternoon, you embark on a private boat ride to Villa del Balbianello, situated at the tip of a small wooded peninsula overlooking Lake Como, almost opposite Bellagio. Built for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini in 1787, the villa now belongs to the National Trust of Italy. It was here that one of the recent “Star Wars” films was shot, as well as a number of other feature films including “A Month by the Lake” and “Casino Royale.” Following a guided visit to the villa’s elegant gardens and interior, you return to Bellagio with time to enjoy your hotel’s amenities and appreciate the late-afternoon sun as it casts shadows on the hills over the lake. This evening, your guides provide ideas for dinner on your own in town; the restaurant or trattoria menu may offer traditional polenta or pasta with porcini mushrooms and the fresh catch of the day—likely the local lake fish, lavarello or missoltin.

Hotel Belvedere

Bellagio, Italy

A comfortable, family-run resort hotel comprised of several separate villas. Extensive grounds include an outdoor swimming pool that offers stunning views of Lake Como and the surrounding hills.

Day 6

Bellagio

Varenna to Vezio; 5 miles, moderate with a 30-minute steep ascent

Following an enticing breakfast of homemade baked goods and preserves, eggs, cured meats and cheeses, you board a local ferry to Varenna, an attractive village on a small promontory. Considered by many to be the most picturesque town on Lake Como, Varenna boasts charming rustic houses, flower-filled balconies, winding alleyways, and a lovely lakeside promenade. The Sentiero del Viandante (Wayfarer trail) takes you through the rugged hills above Lake Lecco, passing the Fiumelatte, a unique stream that (seasonally) is “the color of milk” as it froths over rocks and descends to the lake. Ascending through the forest, the trail traverses northward and enters the hamlet of Vezio, whose collection of ancient stone homes is inhabited by just 20 families. Cobblestone pathways lead to the ruins of the Castle of Vezio, perched high above the lake in a strategic position, providing views of the lake and the distant Alpine ranges one last time. Descending the steep, cobblestone pathway to Varenna, you arrive at a charming lakeside restaurant in time for a lunch of local delights.

Following a mid-afternoon ferry ride back to Bellagio, there is time for some last-minute shopping, exploration, or relaxing poolside before gathering again for an aperitivo on the panoramic terrace of your hotel; peanuts, olives, caper fruit, and savory puff pastries are accompanied by a selection of sparkling, white, and red regional wines. This evening’s farewell feast is on the cozy outdoor terrace of an award-winning restaurant tucked away up one of Bellagio’s many steeply stepped cobblestone lanes; the menu, based on innovative variations of traditional specialties, features delicious homemade pasta and lake delicacies finished off with creatively presented, sumptuous desserts.

Hotel Belvedere

Bellagio, Italy

A comfortable, family-run resort hotel comprised of several separate villas. Extensive grounds include an outdoor swimming pool that offers stunning views of Lake Como and the surrounding hills.

Day 7

Bellagio

Departure from Milan

After enjoying a final group breakfast, a private coach brings you to the train station in Milan for connections to your next destination.

Itinerary Disclaimer

Bear in mind that this is a typical itinerary, and the actual activities, sites, and accommodations may vary due to season, special events, weather, or transportation schedules. We reserve the right to alter the itinerary since tour arrangements are made up to a year in advance, and unforeseen circumstances that mandate change may arise. Itinerary changes are made to improve the tour and your experience. If you are currently booked on a CW adventure, an itinerary has been sent to you for your exact departure date. Please call CW at 800.464.9255 if you have any questions about the exact itinerary or hotels selected for any of our tours.

Guides

Alessandro Pini

Alessandro makes his home in both Milan and his native Lake Como. Having studied art history, literature, and languages, Alessandro is a certified professional guide in Milan, the Italian Lakes, and Lombardy region. Fluent in English and German, he is a true Renaissance man who is passionate about sharing his knowledge of Italy with guests on our Piedmont, Tuscany, and Italian Lakes tours.

Christopher Wellington

Having lived in Italy for more than thirty years, Christopher combines a deep love of his adopted country with wide-ranging knowledge of its past and present. A history graduate of Cambridge, he taught English and religion before moving into guiding. He is fascinated by the art and architecture of Italy, and how it has grown out of the countryside and life of the people, the source, too, of his interest in the food and wine of each region. He guides in the Italian Lakes, Cinque Terre, and Piedmont.

Fiorella Casartelli

Fiorella was born and raised in a village on the shores of Lake Como. She studied foreign languages and spent several years living in England and Germany before returning to the Como region. Fiorella enjoys sharing her regional knowledge of the botany, art, history, and of course, food and wine of her native region with guests from around the world.

Angelica Turi

Angelica has been working in the field of art restoration in her hometown of Florence for many years, specializing in paintings on canvas and icons. She is equally comfortable in the Tuscan countryside where her family has been producing wine and olive oil since the mid-19th century. An outdoor enthusiast, Angelica has a deep appreciation of the fine food and wine of Italy, which she gracefully shares on many of our Italian tours.

Guest Comments

B. Flanagan, Pennsylvania, May 2013

It was nice to have everything taken care of...all that we had to do was enjoy the experience. Alessandro was a perfect guide...thoughtful and very informative.

C. & K. Krepeika, VIC, Australia, June 2013

Most enjoyable in all aspects. Well designed, fabulous guide, excellent accommodation, great food and wine.

M. Firebaugh, Maryland, May 2013

Tours in Italy have to be at the top of every CW client's list of favorites. And, the tour in the Lake district has to be at the top of that list. The beauty of the gardens and the majesty of the scenery are breathtaking. Did we mention the charm of the villages and the accessibility of the art? Molto bene!

N. Frankel, New York, May 2012

Beautiful scenery, excellent guides.

M. Beall, Maine, May 2012

Our hiking trip with CW was the best part of our vacation. Our guides took care of everything. It was a vacation from thinking and planning. We had the opportunity to just sit back and enjoy the beauty of Italy.

C & R Bergum, Montana, May 2012

We had traveled with Alessandro as our guide on the Piedmont tour last fall and it was on the basis of his excellent work that we chose to visit the Italian Lakes with him as guide again. Of course he did not disappoint us! We had a wonderful week and loved hiking around the Lake district. The landscapes were spectacular, the flowers abundant and beautiful. The history was so interesting, and Alessandro's stories made it all come alive for us. Angelica was also fun, entertaining and helpful. It was really an amazing week. Now we are contemplating Umbria and Puglia. Can you guarantee Alessandro for that trip?

C. Builta, Illinois, September 2011

It was such an unforgettable trip! The hiking, guides, fellow travelers, scenery, and food were fabulous. It was so well organized and planned―all I had to do was enjoy! Alessandro and Fiorella were amazing. They were so professional, friendly, and knowledgeable about so much. I am spoiled for life!

L. & B. Dodt, Virginia, September 2011

We love CW. The hikes are well-planned and the guides are terrific. Alessandro & Fiorella are perfect for the job!

D. Filippi, Virginia, September 2011

A great mix of sightseeing, hiking & eating! I thoroughly enjoyed the hotels―very nice and quaint. Tour guides always make a difference―they made us feel like their guests.

J. Frey, Connecticut, June 2011

A gem of a tour. Alessandro is so knowledgeable―he made all the saints and stories of what we saw come alive. Lots of Italian history as well as the beauty of the area.

D. Larson, Illinois, September 2011

We experienced three spectacular lakes in one of the greatest countries in Europe. Food and wine were outstanding. Guides were extraordinarily knowledgeable, professional, kind, and sensitive.

L. Matlack, Washington, DC, September 2011

This was our 15th trip and CW has done it again―outstanding itinerary and first-rate guides!

C. O'Connor, Illinois, September 2011

It was a perfect tour! The guides were fun and very knowledgeable. Their personalities made every minute of the tour terrific! The trails were scenic, beautiful, and full of history. The food and wine was outstanding. Our tour “mates” were the best. And while just good luck, the weather was better than we could ever have anticipated.

A. Sowell, California, September 2010

For me, it was my dream trip. I saved your 1995 catalog when I saw your trips until I retired and was able to travel.

S. Harowitz, British Columbia, May 2012

Wonderful, as usual.

M. Vice, Ontario, May 2012

A wonderful adventure. It was great to experience this part of Italy doing a CW experience. Our guides were excellent. The pace was good so you could enjoy all aspects of the area.

M. Hixon, Massachusetts, September 2012

The Lakes are spectacularly beautiful; the guides fabulous, and the food divine. Scenery, villas, history, and wonderful accommodations - what's not to love?

N. Goldstein, Pennsylvania, September 2012

From the very beginning of our journey, and throughout every stage, our guides Alessandro and Fiorella made sure that our trip would be one of the most memorable adventures we ever experienced.

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