Italian Lakes vs. Lake District

The Italian lakes are famous for their elegant resorts, excellent food scene, and beautiful walks through the surrounding mountains. Although perhaps not quite as elegant, the Lake District can offer much of the same. Next summer, trade a luxury resort at Lake Como for a B&B at Lake Windermere, and enjoy walks through the stunning countryside of the lakes, as well as water sports and historical trails.

Italian Lakes

  • Distance: 300 miles/483 kilometres
  • Driving time: Approx. 10 hours
  • Recommended holiday time: 10 days

Malcesine is an elegant resort at the base of Castello Scaligero, with a colourful port and narrow cobbled streets, as well as plenty of shops and cafes to browse at your leisure. From here you can take a cable car up the mountain for challenging hiking or mountain biking routes in the summer or skiing in the winter. Castello Scaligero itself is an impressive castle on the side of the lake with breath-taking views. Walk up towards Val di Sogno along the promenade, a beautiful bay between Cassone and Malcesine, and look out for the perfect spot for lake swimming. When you get hungry, visit La Voglia, situated on the lake front, it has beautiful views during the day and at sunset.

Bardolino, like Malcesine, is a picture-perfect lakeside town with lots of perfect photo spots. Since the Roman period, the area has been known for its wine, and it’s for these reasons, as well as its locality to Lake Garda, that it’s become a tourist destination. There are wine festivals all year round here: most notably Festa Dell’Uva at the end of September and Palio di Chiaretto in May, with the local vineyards selling glasses of wine for 1 euro.

The water that surrounds the town of Sirmione is a deep turquoise blue and crystal clear, perfect for swimming. Take a speedboat excursion to enjoy it to its best advantage – sail down the peninsula and back to the town in time for lunch. For history lovers, the Grotte di Catullo, the remains of a large Roman villa built in the 1st century B.C is a fascinating way to spend the morning. As one of the only examples of such a residence in the whole of northern Italy, it really displays the wealth and grandeur that Roman life afforded some people. From here, walk down the hill to Jamaica beach and enjoy a drink at the bar and a dip in the lake.

Varenna is a lakeside town close to Lake Como known for its tiered gardens at the Villa Cipressi, stretching all the way down to the water - the perfect place for a lazy afternoon in the sunshine. Bellagio is known as the Pearl of Lake Como, and it’s easy to see why. High end shops, villas and gardens line cobbled streets, so spend an afternoon here before making your way up through the mountains and then down towards Lake Maggiore.

Lake District

  • Distance: 77.8 miles/125 kilometres
  • Driving time: Approx. 3 hours
  • Recommended holiday time: 7 days

British holidaymakers have been taking trips to the Lake District for centuries, and the area’s beautiful craggy mountains, traditional pubs, and stunning lakes are ideal for walkers or cyclists. Accommodation here varies: many people enjoy camping, but otherwise, stay in a locally owned B&B or rent an apartment as your base in one town. The best way to explore the Lakes is by car, as it allows you the flexibility to drive high into the mountains or pull over by a beauty spot near a lake. As the area is incredibly rural, be ready for no phone signal and limited WiFi – most places are either accessed by car or on foot.

Grasmere is one of the most well-known villages in the Lake District, due to its stunning location between mountains, and its connection to William Wordsworth (it was here where he wrote Daffodils). There’s also plenty to do here all year round. Sarah Nelson’s Gingerbread Shop sells delicious gingerbread unlike anything you’ve ever tasted so make sure you buy a slab to fuel your hike from Grasmere up to Easedale Tarn (an easy circular walk with waterfalls) or Alcock Tarn (slightly more strenuous due to a steep climb at the end). After a day’s walking, retreat to one of Grasmere’s many pubs before heading home to your bed.

As the Lake District’s largest expanse of water, Lake Windermere is not one to miss. Like many areas of the Lakes, walkways get very busy during high season, but be sure to take a cruise on the lake or hire kayaks or stand up paddle boards for something different. Whilst the town can be busy, the walks around Windermere and Bowness are often quiet and peaceful. Walk to the nearby village of Hawkshead in 2-3 hours, following a well-signposted route - perfect for beginners or families. Head for lunch at the Sun Inn before making the journey back to base at Windermere.

Buttermere is a small hamlet between Buttermere Lake and Crummock Water. This gorgeous village is the perfect place to visit in a day trip, and the walks around the area are some of the best in the country. Nearby, Scale Force is the highest waterfall in the Lakes, with a slender 170ft drop. But the main draw of the area is the Honister Pass. Driving through this area of outstanding beauty is enough to take your breath away, even in bad weather. When you reach the top, stop the car and enjoy the view.