The Italian lakes are long tendrils of water rooted in Italy's broad Po River Valley and nosing northward into the Swiss Alps, their shores strung with grand villas, lavish gardens, and medieval towns. There are dozens of lakes scattered throughout this region, but smaller (and less-touristed) stunners like Lake Iseo and Lake Orta are overshadowed by the big three: genteel Lake Maggiore on the Piedmont/Lombardy border to the west, chic Lake Como just north of Milan, and sporty Lake Garda on the district's eastern edge, straddling the regions of Lombardy, the Veneto, and Trentino Alto-Adige.
WHEN TO GO
The season in the Italian Lakes runs from a week or so before Easter until the end of October; most hotels and some restaurants are closed for the rest of the year.
HOW TO GET THERE
Milan is the most convenient city to fly into near the Italian Lakes. There are two main airports here: Linate (LIN), which is about four miles east of Milan, and Malpensa (MXP), 30 miles northwest of the capital. Alitalia, Delta, and Continental, among many other airlines, offer regular flights to Milan. The flight time from New York City is eight to nine hours. For rail connections from Milan, visit www.trenitaliaplus.com.
Many rental-car companies service the Milan airport, and if you plan to visit more than one of the lakes, a car will help navigate the terrain between the bodies of water. If you're focusing your lounging on one particular lake, a car isn't necessary: Public buses, ferries, and hovercrafts carry tourists to many of the surrounding destinations and back to their hotels. There is also a ferry system that serves Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Lake Maggiore (www.navigazionelaghi.it)
As the lake district is vast and governed by various regions and municipalities, there is no one-stop shopping for basic tourist info.
Tel: 39 031 269 712
Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta
Tel: 39 0323-31308
Tel: 39 030 916 245
Riva del Garda
Tel: 39 0464 554 444
Tel: 39 030 980 209