Lakes Como, Lugano, Maggiore, and Orta


One of the world’s most exquisite landscapes is Italy’s enchanting Lake District, beloved by poets, writers, and artists since the days of the Roman Empire. Our journey in this unimaginably scenic setting brings us to verdant mountains sheltering gleaming deep blue lakes, captivating towns like Varenna spilling down the hillsides, and to Bellagio’s opulent villas and gardens with rose-laden promenades. Often traveling by ferry, we explore the environs of four of these magical lakes—Como, Lugano, Maggiore, and serene Orta—as we hike age-old paths to hidden stone villages with tiny chapels, boat to Isola Bella, with its magnificent palatial villa (with an overnight at neighboring Isola dei Pescatori), and hike high above the lakes for unforgettable top-of-the-world views of the Alps—é perfezione!

Itinerary at a Glance

Days 1-2
Varenna / Villa Balbianello / Bellagio

In Varenna, a beguiling town of pastel-colored houses hugging the shores of Lake Como, we explore the medieval Castle of Vezio, once a Roman fortress, and the Villa Balbianello, with its exquisite gardens, views, and fascinating collections. Ferrying across Lake Como, we hike up Monte San Primo (5,528') to a mountain rifugio for spectacular lake views and a lunch of local delicacies that often include miascia, a cake made with fresh mint and walnuts. Before returning to Varenna, we visit Bellagio, a storybook town of gracious villas and terraced gardens.

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Days 3-4
San Salvatore / Cannobio / Carmine Superiore

A funicular brings us to the top of San Salvatore, 3,000 feet above Lugano, with magnificent views of the Swiss and Savoy Alps (and in clear weather, Lakes Como, Lugano, Maggiore, and Varese). From the top we hike through forests and meadows to Carona, with its beautiful historical center and delightful botanical gardens. After exploring Cannobio and its beautiful waterfront promenade, we hike to Carmine Superiore, a tiny medieval village accessible only by foot.

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Days 5-6
Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori / Mottarone Mountains / Orta San Giulio

We visit the splendid Villa Borromeo on Isola Bella, and walk the cobbled alleys and seaside promenade of Isola dei Pescatori, with an overnight right on the island. After riding a funicular to the summit of the Mottarone Mountains, we enjoy a loop hike with 360-degree views of the Alps, including Monte Rosa, Monviso, and the Jungfrau in Switzerland.

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Days 7-9
Orta San Giulio

From Orta San Giulio, a jewel of a town set on tranquil Lake Orta, we hike on an ancient footpath through hill villages on the slopes of Monte Alto, passing farmhouses, a 13th century tower, and the impressive Villa Broglio, followed by a memorable lunch at the family-run Luigi Guffanti cheese grottoes. Our last hike brings us along historic paths beneath old chestnut trees and through pristine Italian villages that look as if they were pulled straight out of a painting. Our festive Farewell Dinner is at a restaurant on Isola San Giulio, the tiny island just off Orta San Giulio. Depart on Day 9.

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Undiscovered Varenna and the magnificent town of Bellagio
Orta San Giulio, with its cobbled streets and lakeside views
Romantic villas with elaborate classical gardens
The delights of northern Italian cuisine, including trailside picnics in idyllic locations
Overnights in beautiful lakeside hotels, including a night on Isola dei Pescatori, a tiny island in Lake Maggiore
Exhilarating hikes with spectacular views of mountains and sparkling lakes


Length: 9 days
Cost From: $5395  
Arrive: Varenna, Italy
Depart: Milan, Italy
Lodging: 8 nights charming hotels
Meals: All meals included except 2 dinners
Activity: Hiking / Trekking, Cultural Adventures
Trip Level:

A mix of moderate walks and hikes, 2-5 hours a day, van support (for luggage or if you wish to skip a day’s hike)

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