Europe’s best lake breaks

    22 May 2019

    Lake Como, Italy

    For centuries, Lake Como has been the playground of the rich and famous – from George and Amal Clooney to Princess Marianna of Prussia who grew a rhodadendrum grove in the garden of her lakeside mansion Villa Carlotta. Villas with verdant terraced gardens lead down to stone jetties and ornate gates at the water’s edge while the surrounding alpine peaks keep watch. Much has been written about the colour of Lake Como which lends itself to superlatives for good reason: it adopts so many different shades of blue depending on the light that it is difficult to tear your gaze away. For the best sights, head to the centre of the lake where you’ll find a cluster of postcard-worthy lakeside towns to visit. The cobbled, medieval delights of Belagio, which divides the two ‘legs’ of the lake, are a must. The tiny island of Comacina houses a restaurant that you can visit by boat in the evening. Tremezzo, which Greta Garbo called ‘that happy, sunny place’,  in her 1932 film Grand Hotel, boasts lakeside verandas flooded with wisterias in the spring and Villa Carlotta, whose rooms and ornate terraced gardens are open to the public.

    Where to stay

    For a luxurious lakeside base that takes you right back to the belle époque era, look no further than the The Grand Hotel Tremezzo. Built in 1910, it offers unrivalled lake views and glorious terraced gardens of its own, which adjoin those of the famous Villa Carlotta. Feast on the famed dishes of legendary Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi whilst gazing out over a Lake Como sunset or enjoy the cocktail and pizza pairing menu at the top of the gardens. The spa and three swimming pools – one of which floats on the lake itself – provide amble opportunities to relax next to the lake. The hotel’s Venetian-built Batt boat is on hand to whisk you to the lake’s best corners – including the Villa Del Balbianello where scenes from Casino Royale were filmed. But be warned – the views from the lake-facing suites are so engrossing that you’ll be hard pressed to leave the hotel.

    Lake Wolfgang, Austria

    Salzberg’s Lake District boasts a host of turquoise glacial lakes and Lake Wolfgang is undoubtedly the jewel in the region’s crown. Take a trip out onto the lake in a rowing boat to discover the tiny island shrine of Ochsenkreuz or visit St Gilgen – the town where Mozart’s mother was born. St Wolfgang is where Ralph Benatzky set his Operetta White Horse Inn and from here, you can catch the cog-wheel railway up to the Schafberg summit – perfect for panoramic views of the lake.

    Wolfgangsee is one of the warmer Saltzberg lakes, making it a good choice for swimmers. Try the bathing spot at Gschwendt for plenty of space to picnic, swim and sunbathe.

    Where to stay

    View from Hotel Seevilla, Lake Wolfgang

    Music fans among you may wish to stay in The White Horse Inn in Wolfgang to relive the Operetta for which the place is famed. Elsewhere, Hotel Seevilla boasts a floating restaurant on the lake, beautifully illuminated at night, as well as a spa.

    Lake Iseo, Italy

    Peschiera Maraglio, Lake Iseo

    Iseo is one of the smaller Italian lakes and lesser known as a result. If you’re after the charm of Garda and Como without the constant crowds then Iseo is ideal.  No stay at Lake Iseo is complete without a boat trip from Sulzano to the island of Monte Isola at the heart of the lake whose peak plays host to a medieval monastery. The island is unspoilt by cars (only the priest is allowed one) so you can work off the after effects of all that delicious Italian cuisine by climbing up to the Madonna della Ceriola Sanctuary where you will be rewarded with 16th century frescoes and a view to die for.

    Elsewhere on the lake, you’ll find Lovere with its impressive Basilica and  the town of Iseo after which the lake takes its name. Iseo features a beautiful lakeside promenade where you can enjoy all of Iseo’s scenery before wandering into the town’s centre with its charming square, Piazza Garibaldi.

    Where to stay

    Try The Garden House for a convenient location near the lake, complete with a pool and beautiful gardens. The nearby village has a pizzeria and gelateria and Lake Garda isn’t too far away either if you fancy sampling both lakes in one stay.

    5. Plitvice Lakes, Croatia

    I challenge you not to be charmed by the turquoise lakes and waterfalls of this UNESCO world heritage site in the heart of Croatia. There are sixteen lakes in total with boardwalks across the lakes so that you can experience them up close. Due to its UNESCO status no swimming is allowed but rowing boats can be hired at multiple spots around the lakes.

    Where to stay

    Accommodation within the national park is heavily regulated and mainly consists of old fashioned hotels that feel a little jaded. Staying within the park certainly gives you better and more immediate access to the lakes. But there is more choice to be found in the surrounding area (where the prices are also less inflated). These picturesque wooden chalets are within close proximity to the park and come with a hot tub.

    6. Lake Annecy, France

    Annecy, Old Town

    Known as Europe’s cleanest lake, it’s no surprise that Lake Annecy is popular with swimmers and watersports enthusiasts. The beautiful town of Annecy boasts an Old Town that is divided up by a series of canals; it’s the alpine answer to Venice. The canals were initially created as a moat –  a means of protecting the town’s castle. A relatively late joiner to France in 1860, lake Annecy and the Savoy region as a whole have a distinct alpine feel, absorbing the cultural influences of its close neighbour Switzerland.

    Where to stay

    Enjoy an alpine chalet experience with all the benefits of an on-site restaurant and pool at Hotel Le Cottage Bise. This stunning Savoyade hotel has unrivalled lake views and is perfectly positioned to enable you to explore the best of the lake.

    Lake Jasna, Slovenia

    While hoards of summer travellers flock to the well-known Lake Bled, why not take a more discerning approach and seek out the smaller but equally beguiling Lake Jasna. Sitting in the shadow of the Julian Alps, its crystal clear waters are close to the Martuljek forest and waterfalls. There are plenty of trails to delight hikers and cyclists and best of all, you can cool off in the lake afterwards. Diving platforms and kayaks are on hand, along with fresh coffee and deck chairs.

    Where to stay

    This alpine lodge close to the lake has enviable mountain and lake views and its own sauna.