Of all the Italian Lakes, it’s the forked Lake Como (Lago di Como) that comes most heavily praised: Wordsworth thought it “a treasure which the earth keeps to itself”.
Today, despite huge visitor numbers, the lake is still surrounded by abundant vegetation: zigzagging slowly between shores by boat can seem impossibly romantic. As well as lakeside villas to visit, there is also some great walking to be done in the mountainous hinterland hereabouts.
The principal towns – Como and Lecco – are at the southernmost tips of their own branches of the lake – Ramo di Como and Ramo di Lecco – while narrow winding roads follow the shoreline above and through erstwhile fishermen’s villages past belle époque houses and Neoclassical villas up to the Centro Lago or centre of the lake.
Here three small towns stand out as the highlight of the lakes: Varenna and Bellagio for unrepentant romantics, and Menaggio if you want a pleasant, affordable base for walking, swimming or cycling. To the north, the Ramo di Colico is less spectacular and much of the shoreline is marshy or occupied by campsites.
Top image: Yachts in the harbour of Varenna old town on Lake Como © Boris Stroujko/Shutterstock