The Italian Lakes are north of Milan, at the foot of the Alps. Traditionally the playground of the Milanese, the southern shores are lined with luxurious villas and elegant hotels, film stars and millionaires. But it’s not all glamour and glitz, the Italian Lakes are wonderful places to visit with your family. Here are 6 of our favourite things
1. Take a boat trip.
The fun and excitement of being on the water means that any trip will do – from crossing the lake on one of the ferries, hiring a rowing or an electric boat, or going out for a glamour tour on a beautiful 1960s Venetian power boat. We opted for the last in the list, and had a beautiful tour of the famous villas and gardens with an opera singing captain.
2. Cycle along the edge of the lake.
There are cycle tracks in many places, often with play-grounds dotted along them. If you are in or around Colico there is a beautiful long cycle track that goes along the edge of the lake and then heads up the Valtellina, towards Sondrio. Have a look at this useful map to find cycle tracks around Como and Maggiore.
3. Play on the beach.
The lakes can be a little cold for extended swimming, but you can still have a lovely time on the little beaches that crop up along the shores. We spent hours just throwing pebbles in and eating ice-creams. Try the Spiaggia di Piona, just across the water from the old monastery of Piona (also worth a trip). Or the Lido di Menaggio, a paid Lido with 2 swimming pools, kids activities and much more (the website wasn’t working very well – scroll down to find useful info.).
4. Visit an abandoned fort.
As with any border area, the hills and mountains around the Lakes are dotted with forts in various states of disrepair. While obviously taking care these are great playgrounds and places to tell stories of derring-do and adventure. Try the Forte di Fuentes near Colico, in the north of Lake Como. Or Castel Vezio, near Varenna.
5. Jungle Raider
If all of this is a little tame, and you need more adrenaline, you could try Jungle Raider – I haven’t been there but have heard good reports – it’s essentially a roped playground through trees, with zip wires and cable bridges, so only suitable for older children. The park itself says they have no age limit but children have to be at least 110 cms tall. And if adrenaline really is your thing, the mountains around the lakes have canyoning, climbing and rafting galore! We tried Val Bodengo – it was great fun.
6. Old school
The old villages and towns around the lake are nearly all charming, and there’s great value in simply wandering around the old cobbled streets, eating ice-creams as and when called for and sitting down to a meal in a trattoria or ristorante when the time is right. Children are always welcome in Italian restaurants and will be the delight of the waiters, so going out is very easy. One of our favourites – also because you eat outside under an enormous old tree, was “Sci d’Oro” – “The Golden Skis” – which sounds like a TinTin adventure. It’s a delight and a real old school family run restaurant – but not for vegetarians! Sci d’Oro, Via S. Fedele, 29, 23823 Colico.
Personally, we found that a mix of visiting Villas and gardens, going for a trip across the lake in a beautiful 1960s motorboat, cycling to playgrounds and throwing stones into the lake kept everybody amused, with a little dash of extra excitement going up into the mountains on a teleferique, or sliding down a mountain stream in a wetsuit…
Here are some properties suitable for families with children:
And in the moments when the kids are away, or asleep…