Road tripping through the Italian Lakes

Set amongst the foothills of the Alps, Italy has over 1,500 lakes mostly concentrated in Northern Italy. We entered Italy on 28th July 2019 (peak travel period!) and made a plan to avoid the bustling crowds of Lake Como, instead we opted for a visit to Lake Orta, Lake Maggiore and Lake di Annone. Here is what we got up to at each destination:

Lake Orta 28th July 2019 

I read a Guardian article that the Milanese call Lake Orta “La Cenerentola (Cinderella)” because they have long considered it the secretly superior sibling to the larger, money-blighted lakes of Como and Maggiore. This, and the proximity to the Swiss border made Lake Orta our first stop. Using park4night, we sourced free parking for our camper-van just a 10 minute stroll from Orta San Giulio, the lake’s principal town.

Our first agenda after crossing the border into Italy was to source Italian gelato! Where-ever we are in the world, normal ice-cream can never compete with the decadent, creamy, melt in the mouth texture of Italian made ice-cream. Alex went for cookies and cream and I opted for my favourite – nocciola (nutty ice-cream with chopped hazelnuts!).


We went to the ice-cream shop that seemed most popular (always a good bet!) – Pan Vino

We loved Lake Orta. It felt quiet, off the beaten track and it was easy to park our van within walking distance of the town square. We rounded up the evening with a circular walk around the peninsula of the lake.

For the next morning, we cooked some fluffy scrambled eggs and retraced our steps back to Eco-water Sports and Leisure, where we rented two stand up paddle-boards for just 11 EUR per hour. The first ten minutes on the paddle-board consisted of me making my best impression of a plate of jelly on a washing machine – my legs couldn’t stop shaking! After standing up and falling in, we adapted quickly and took on the challenge of paddling to and from Isola San Giulio – a stunning island setting in the middle of the lake.


Paddling as fast as we could on the way back, we made it back within a minute of the hour rental (after having lost a pair of sunglasses from falling off the paddle-board) and hopped back into our van for an onward drive to Lake Maggiore.

Lake Maggiore 29th July 2019 

We parked up in Stresa upon arrival at Lake Maggiore. Huffington Post describes the atmosphere as a magnificent vintage air of old-fashioned vacations and bygone decadence. Our introductory afternoon stroll along the promenade took us past ornate hotels and tidy gardens that gave us this very feeling. We were very lucky to grab a free parking spot right by the lake in a small gravel car-park.


Amazing view from the van!

Stresa remains one of my favourite lake swimming spots in Europe. The memory of being able to jump from a boiling hot van into the cooling, turquoise blue water was heaven. It was a welcome respite from sleeping in a metal box, when it’s 30 degrees at night!


Lake Orta 31st July 2019

After a day in the bustling and fashionable city of Milan, we drove onto Lake Annone and parked beneath the village of Annone di Brianza. Lake Annone lies at the foot of Mount Cornizzolo and Mount Barro. A distinctive characteristic of the lake is a narrow canal dividing the lake in two – known as the Isella peninsula.

We spotted a billboard that looked like an appealing circular walk that we could do, little did we know that orange meant ‘safe for walkers’ and red meant ‘you’ll be walking on narrow motorways with fast-moving evil drivers’. 


Nevertheless we completed the circuit which was approximately 15km, returning back our van for a tasty omelette for lunch.


If only this walkway went around the entire lake! 

Trip Tips

  • With so many incredible Italian lakes to choose from, my advice is that variety (i.e. going to different lakes) gave a real taste of how different each lake could be. There wasn’t a lake that was ‘the best’ or the ‘the most scenic‘, each had their own characteristics and I hope this post helps to narrow down the options of a road trip.
  • We only spent one day in Milan (we parked up the van in a town called Magenta and took the train in). Although it was a very beautiful city, it was also extremely hot going in late July, we felt that one day in the city was enough there. If you go to Milan, I would highly recommend Pizza A.M, we received the most outstanding service and definitely one of the top 10 pizzas I’ve had in my lifetime (plus there is free pizza bread and a free glass of prosecco – hint hint!).
  •  When you are renting the water sports equipment, the hire place requires photo I.D! Bring this with you on the day (although he kindly accepted a picture of my passport on my phone having not brought any I.D.)
  • The only thing we disliked in Stresa was that we felt that attractions and activities seemed very expensive, it was 20 EUR per person just for a return cable car ride up to Mottarone. We decided to stick with swimming which was beautiful and free.
  • If you have any questions, please feel free to comment here or email me.

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