Claudia Da Rin

Why autumn is the time to visit the Italian lakes

Pack your bags and get ready!

After the dazzling heat of a long summer, punctuated by hot temperatures and several storms, there comes September and, with it, softer colours, cloudless skies and a general frenzy-less atmosphere. Light catches the profiles of dazzling mountains and creates shadows that vary throughout the day, whether it’s the evocative morning mist or the afterglow of an auburn sunset: sensations that capture the soul and leave lasting memories.

The end of the warmer season may be approaching, but hold your blues as this is the best time to organise the perfect vacation. Discerning crowds aiming for the very best know what destinations are the trendiest right now: we could suggest a few around Italy, and certainly the lakes of northern Italy fit the picture. From Lake Maggiore to Lake Garda, there are still plenty of activities that will reveal what alluring places they are:  water sports – for the bravest – but also horse-riding, hiking and cycling are blissful, when the air is crispier and less crowds fill the scene. This is also the best time to stroll around lovely villages and take in swooning views. Pack your bags and get ready!

1. Gently does it – walks in the low season

Catch a glimpse of the colourful autumn leaf display while the air is still lovely and warm: this is a transitory season that brings silence, tranquillity and the will to reconnect with nature in a gentler fashion. A slow trek on Lake Maggiore could just do the trick: walk from Stresa to Belgirate along the sentiero dei castagni  - the chestnut trail. You will walk along woods and ancient gravel roads that offer sweeping views of the lake; why not make the most of it and return with a ferry? The rhythmic lull of the waves will play magic.  Walk down to Stresa from Mount Mottarone. An impressive route that takes you from pine forests to palm trees! The view from the top is so spectacular that the New York Times ranked it among the best in the world!

Lake Garda is also ideal for autumn walks: you can also take a cable car to Monte Baldo and the view from there is beyond belief.  The walk linking Busatte to Tempesta, staring in Torbole, is mostly enjoyable for its sweeping vista. The sentiero del sole starts in Limone sul Garda and goes along an impressive suspended footbridge over the lake.  Alternatively, reach Rocca di Manerba, in the southern part of the lake, for lovely views: this two-hour walk from the centre of Manerba is splendid. Punta Larici from Pregasina is also a popular destination for early risers as the sunrise from here is unforgettable. Wherever you’ll be, Italy’s largest lake always has an ace up its sleeve!

2. Wheels of joy

Italy’s love affair with the humble bike goes a long way and it feels stronger than ever. Cycling competitions are followed by countless enthusiasts, who often try and retrace the steps of famous sport figures of the past and present. You do not need to be a modern Coppi, nor imitate Tadej Pogačar and Geraint Thomas, however, but you could follow the example of local hero Filippo Ganna. The world champion stems from Verbania, on Lake Maggiore, and is always smiling while cycling. That does not surprise us, if you have grown up in such lovely surroundings. Easily undertaken with an e-bike, tours and routes abound everywhere on these lakes, autumn being the perfect season as the fierce heat has gone, leaving room for a gentle breeze and dazzling colours.  You could tour the entire Lake Maggiore starting from Arona via Angera then up towards Switzerland. Or go for an easier ride along the Parco del Ticino for a 51 km-long stretch that follows this pivotal river stemming in Switzerland and ending up in the river Po.

Lake Garda offers terrific options, too, such as the Strada del Ponale, a panoramic trail that links Riva del Garda with the Val di Ledro. Go along tunnels carved into the rock, your gaze towards scenic mountains along this picturesque route that offers tranquillity – it’s been closed to traffic since 2004 – and the right amount of effort to feel satisfied.  A ring route goes from Salò to the Rocca di Manerba: cycle along olive trees – don’t forget to taste the exceptional local olive oil – while superb views of the lake open in front of you. Gardone Riviera is also the starting point of several loop tours that go via the Vittoriale, while others start and end in Toscolano Maderno harbour. Let’s go riding!

3. Of horses and water

Horses have always featured in the history of mankind – think about the countless artworks depicting them, from the horses of Saint Mark in Venice to the Blaue Reiter in the early 1900s– and scholars have always been fascinated by this animal, starting with the writings of Senofonte and his Peri Hippikes treaty, continuing up to the Renaissance with Leon Battista Alberti and his De equo animante: going horse riding means coming in close contact with nature and you could explore the magical terrain around the lakes on a horse back.

Autumn means a quieter season and a ride on a horse will feel even more spectacular, especially if you come closer to the water! Both lakes will offer countless opportunities to enjoy this lovely practice. It’s never too cold to go kayaking on the lake, they say, so you could also take up this water sport, along with – why not? – surfing or sailing and feel the potent force of the wind, repowering your senses

4. Seasonal delicacies dress up with delicious fairs

A trip to any Italian region must include some local delicacies. Autumn is the ideal time to discover them all with a series of delicious fairs. Around Lake Maggiore we can suggest the Sagra del cinghiale – wild boar – in Ornavasso, the Chestnut festival in Massino Visconti and Seppiana and the Sagra della Zucca – pumpking fair – in Santa Maria Maggiore.  

Around Lake Garda you can explore the honey festival in Lazise, the Bardolino festival for wine lovers and the Chestnut festival in San Zeno. Here chestnuts are so good that they have been given the DOC appellation! Monte Baldo celebrates local products such as truffles, mushrooms, aromatic plants, jams, preserves and honey with a dedicated festival, taking place in Brentonico in October. This is just a small selection of appetizing, lovely fairs that make the approach to the winter season even more exciting!

5. Of marble, gorges and vistas.

Who said marble only comes from Carrara? The unique Tuscany quarries are a world apart and have provided raw material for timeless masterpieces, but even northern Piedmont can boast famous quarries in Candoglia, at the beginning of the Ossola Valley, off Lake Maggiore. This is, in fact, where the marble for the Milan Duomo stems from. The famous Madonnina could not have existed without the pink marble extracted here for over six centuries. Further north you will reach Cannobio, where the Cannobino river ends into the lake. The Cannobina valley leads to the surprising Sant’Anna’s gorge: a splendid ravine crossed by a medieval pedestrian bridge and a more modern one that will suit cars. Reaching a depth of 25 metres, the cool waters of the river do not deter kayakers, who love to come here and enjoy the scenery.

Sitting on three Italian regions, Lake Garda is a maze of gems: among the many on offer, why not visit the Vittoriale in Gardone Riviera? The legacy of extravagant poet and soldier Gabriele D’Annunzio, this bombastic residence combines many diverse architectural styles, three museums, a tiered garden and even a full-size battleship! If it’s a sanctuary you are after, head to Tignale to find the Santuario della Madonna di Montecastello: set on a limestone spur, this is where a star allegedly appeared in 1200 and ended terrible fights that were happening at the time. The view from here is, once again, staggering and well worth the steep ascent to the top!

Many other, hidden treasures can be found all around the lakes, in every season.  Join us for your next adventure!

Where to stay

Lake Maggiore: Villa e Palazzo Aminta Hotel & SPA

Lake Garda: Grand Hotel Fasano