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Italian Lakes Family Holidays & Breaks

Windsurfing on Lake GardaWindsurfing on Lake Garda© Gardawind | stockfreeimages.com & dreamstime.com
Flying Time 2hrs
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Timezone GMT +1
Currency Euro

Today

Overview

This region of northern Italy is brilliant for active family holidays, especially if you love watersports. Once a preserve of the very rich and still attracting the likes of George Clooney and Mel Gibson, the Italian Lakes are now a top destination for families as well as for day-trippers seeking a taste of the great outdoors.

Extending from Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore in the west to Lake Como north of Milan and east as far as Lake Garda, these lakes are undeniably beautiful too. Adding to their outdoor attractions is the fact that children are brilliantly catered for in the many well-equipped holiday resorts.

Things to do with kids in the Italian Lakes

Explore Lake Garda – it’s the most developed of the lakes but for that very reason has plenty to keep the kids occupied, from medieval castles to clean waters, and lots of opportunities to get away from it all. The sportiest of the Italian Lakes, it’s fabulous for older kids and teens, who can try their hand at windsurfing, sailing and canoeing. On dry land, there’s horse-riding, mountain-biking, a treetop adventure course, and many undemanding and scenic hiking routes on the eastern and western shores. Riva Del Garda, a pleasant 19th-century resort on the lake’s north-western tip, has pastel-painted hotels, lovely views and enough gelaterie and pizza parlours to keep any child happy.

Interesting sights around Garda are Il Vittoriale, a fantasy villa on the western shore, Sirmione with its medieval castle and maze of Roman ruins, Desenzano with its interesting ruins, and the castles at Torri del Benaco, Malcesine and Vallegio.

There’s also unadulterated fun at the themeparks tucked away between Lazise and Peschiera on Garda’s southeast shore – Gardaland is Italy’s largest themepark, offering jungle rapids, rollercoasters and a Fantasy Kingdom for little ones, plus two hotels of its own. Canevaworld combines movie-themed rides at Movieland Studios with slides and watery fun at Movieland Aquastudios. Also nearby is Parco Natura Viva, a decent zoo where you can see the animals on foot or from your car.

Discover Lake Como, widely held to be the most beautiful of the Italian Lakes, surrounded by tall peaks that rise more or less directly from the water's edge. You can travel up the lake on an old-fashioned steamer, swim in its clear waters or head to its hills for all manner of outdoor activities. Avoid the main towns and stay in Menaggio, Varenna or Bellagio.

Menaggio, a good base for hiking, swimming or cycling, is great for outdoorsy families: water-skiing, mountain-biking and horse-riding are also readily available, and there's an 18-hole golf course close-by. Little Bellagio is one of Italy’s top family destinations – a long-established resort, it has two pretty gardens to visit, good swimming and lots of restaurants and boutiques. Kids love jumping off the pier into the lake; there’s also water-skiing, horse-riding and hiking. Up the mountain from Bellagio, Civenna offers aerial obstacles at Jungle Raider Park.

For Como’s best swimming, head to the northern towns of Gravedona and Domaso for uncrowded beaches and the cleanest water (flowing straight into the lake from the Adda River). Just north of Como is the best playground for children in the area, next to the Lido in Mandello del Lario, with a classic carousel and lots of activities.

Head for Lake Maggiore, second-largest of the Lakes and another well-established tourist destination, with hiking, mountain-biking and watersports. Base yourself at Stresa, a lovely town on the western shore, with good lake views, and visit the nearby zoological park and the Borromean Islands, three of which are open to the public (Isola Madre has heavenly gardens and an interesting puppet theatre).

Discover the smaller lakes, of which the Lago d’Orta is probably the best. Nicknamed Cinderella by locals, its gentle waters and famous island–village, Isola San Giulio, make it a very popular destination (try to come out of season to glimpse its 19th-century charm).

Eat

Italy is famous for its (child-friendly) food and the Italian Lakes are no exception – you’ll find great food wherever you go, even in the themeparks. Restaurants will always provide mezza porzione for younger diners; local shops, markets and bakeries are rammed with incredible ingredients for an Italian feast at home or a lakeside picnic.

When to go to the Italian Lakes

Sunny days and pleasant temperatures year-round make the Italian Lakes a great destination whatever the season. Summers are warm but not too hot, with temperatures ranging between 25°C and 30°C in July and August, dipping a little at night (come prepared for cooler evenings).

High season begins at Easter and runs right through to September and October, peaking in August when Italian cities empty out for the summer. So you need to book early for lakeside resorts.

In winter, facilities in many resort towns shut down.

How to get to the Italian Lakes

Resort towns in the Italian Lakes are well-served by trains from Milan, which is a two-hour flight from the UK (to either Malpensa or Orio al Serio International Airport) by regular and budget airlines. 

For Lake Garda, it’s best to fly direct to Verona (Brescia) Airport, also served by both standard and low-cost airlines from the UK, some of them seasonal. From the airport, the lake resorts are easily accessible by car, bus or rail. Car and passenger ferries on the lake itself will help you negotiate Garda once you get there.

Cost

You can spend a lot of money at the Italian Lakes if you opt for luxury accommodation, but this can also be a good-value destination for family holidays, with a week’s camping costing as little as £350 for a family of four (excluding flights). Lots of competition and special offers means you may snag a good deal.

By Zannah Ingraham

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