By Romina Monaco

I am soaring high over majestic mountains. Soft snow blankets the rugged Alpine crags. Gentle foothills sprinkled with edelweiss slope down into green valleys and shimmering lakes. Lofty fortresses overlook ancient towns and fishing villages that are abound with webbed streets and cobbled piazzas. Clouds reflect on tranquil waves undulating into pebbled embankments trimmed with renaissance palazzos and lavish gardens. Spilling over walls along the water’s edge are lush azaleas and I see peacocks dancing along garden paths…

Although this is the place of my ancestors and where I was born, I’m not biased in suggesting that the Italian Lake District is one of the most fascinating places this corner of the world. Surprisingly still quite unknown to tourists, this hidden gem blinds the newcomer with its sheer beauty and intoxicates with its air of excitement and cultural vibrancy.

I’ve enjoyed gelato in the piazza after wandering about boutiques and museums. I’ve spent memorable evenings with family dining al fresco. I’ve taken daily promenades under the palms trees that line the esplanade and have boarded the ferry to the islands. I’ve seen Roman ruins and walked within the walls of medieval bastions. Nature enthusiasts mountain-bike and hike on Alpine trails or boat and parasail over these sapphire-blue waters.

Lakes Maggiore, Lugano and Como are located in the sub-Alpine, Italian regions of Lombardy and Piemonte. They border and share their waters with neighbouring Switzerland. Nearby lakes, such as Orta, Iseo, Idro, and Varesesotto, albeit much smaller, are just as captivating. For millennia this area has been home to numerous people of diverse cultures. From Stone Age rock carvings found in Iseo to the discovery of a Bronze Age settlement in Como, it has encompassed 10,000 years of human history. Home to the Celts, the first recorded inhabitants, then the Gauls, Romans, Lombards, it was ultimately conquered by the great Charlemagne.
During the Middle Ages the Lake District was under the control of the Sforza, Dukes of Milan, the Visconti, Lords of Milan and the Borromeo, Counts of Arona. The imprint left by these three families is evident all over the region. By the 1800’s this became a holiday resort area for wealthy merchants, Italian aristocracy and other European blue-bloods. Its breathtaking scenery has inspired famous authors, musicians and artists. Now considered prime real-estate by celebrities and business moguls, it has once again recaptured its seat as one of the most glamorous places in the world. Actor George Clooney and media magnate, Richard Branson make their home here!

Lake Maggiore

LAKE MAGGIORE

Maggiore, the largest of the three main lakes, lies partially in Switzerland. Nestled in the Italian-speaking Swiss Canton Ticino, it reaches south to the banks of the Ticino River in the Italian town of Sesto Calende. Home to the Borromeos since the 15th century, they have left behind a rich, cultural legacy. The Borromeo Islands, Isola Madre (the Mother Island), Isola dei Pescatori (the Fishermen’s Island) and Isola Bella (the Beautiful Island) are still owned by the family today. Isola Bella’s grand Borromeo Palace and its opulent, theatrical gardens house an array of exotic birds and fauna and can be seen from the mainland towns of Angera and Arona. It was here that the Allies made one last attempt to convince Mussolini to jilt Hitler, an objective which obviously failed. The staggering view from the lakeside Boromoreo Hotel in Stresa inspired Hemingway during the writing of his acclaimed novel, A Farewell to Arms. Other highlights are the enormous bronze statue of St. Charles and the Rocca d’Angera.
LAKE COMO

Completely situated within Italian borders, Lake Como is considered to be the queen of all the lakes. Contrary to the dramatic pageantry of Maggiore, Como embodies elegance and the regal charm. The circling mountains are the setting to stately hotels and villas blooming with rhododendrons and camellias. A 900 year-old gateway still grants entry to city of Como. A hop on the ferry leads to the island of Comacina and the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Soccorso. Ancient roads connect Bellagio to Tremezzo, where one can visit the famed Villa Carlotta.

Lake Como inspired English poet Lord Byron, composer Giuseppe Verdi and author Alessandro Manzoni, who wrote one of the most famous novels in Italian literature, I Promessi Sposi, better known in English as The Betrothed.

LAKE LUGANO

This Alpine oasis lies across the borders dividing Lombardy, Italy and the Canton Ticino of Switzerland. The synergy between mother-nature and mankind can be found in historic churches on hilltops and museums and art galleries along the lakefront. Oddly enough, Campione d’Italia, a town along these banks is located in the Canton Ticino and is completely surrounded by Switzerland. The church of St. Zenon founded in 756 AD by the Totones, a noble Lombard family, is also home to Campione d’Italia’s magnificent art gallery.

Peacock, Garden of Isola Bella

Peacock, Garden of Isola Bella

Tony and Marco

Tony and Marco

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Isola Madre

Isola Madre

Stresa

Stresa

La Rocca D'Angera

La Rocca D'Angera

Isola Bella

Isola Bella

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