5 Fabulous Lake Town Visits from Milan

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Milan is a bustling city full of activity, events and tourists.  But in case you need a little escape from all the craziness, here are some ideas on what to do outside the city, just an hour away.  


Stresa is located on Lake Maggiore and is only an hour’s train ride from Milan’s Central Station.  Stresa, as many Italian lakeside towns, offers elegant avenues,  19 century villas, botanical gardens and of course lots of gelato.    But what makes this town really unique are the Borromean Islands.  These three tiny islands sit off the shores of Stresa and smack dab in the middle of Lake Maggiore, with the Alps as a backdrop.   They average  300 yards long by 400 yards wide.   Each one has their own feel and characteristics. Isola Pescatori (also called Isola Superiore) is basically a little town – really little.  There are less than 50 people living there.  However, when you visit, it has a more spirited feel from the tourists.  Rustic cafes, restaurants, shops and hotels flank the lively cobblestone streets.  It is the place to go if you are looking for a long leisurely lunch or a glass of wine with a view.

Lago Maggiore, Stresa, Isola dei Pescatori,

Isola dei Pescatori, Stresa by Michele Ursino

Isola Bella is the island to visit if you love palaces and gardens.  The Borromeo family was responsible for both the super manicured gardens and the opulent palace built during the 1600’s. Isola Madre is somewhat similar to Isola Bella but on a lower scale.  Here you will find beautiful gardens that are less manicured and instead of a palace, only a 16th century villa.  Look for peace and relaxation on this island.


In Switzerland and set on Lake Lugano surrounded by Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore, Lugano is the capital city of the Italian canton of Ticino.  This city feels exactly half Italian and half Swiss.  Expect to find seasonal polenta festivals on spotless streets.    If you arrive by train, make sure to take a few pictures of the classic Swiss clock tower with snow-capped mountains in the background.  Head down to the city center on cobble-stoned, boutique lined streets.  Once on the shore of Lake Lugano, enjoy a long leisurely walk along the lake or rent a bike boat to get a view of the city from a different perspective.  At the end of the lake promenade, pass the iron gated entrance to the public gardens.  Acres of ultra manicured and soft green carpet grass are awaiting you – begging you to take a nap.  After your nap, head back to town for an afternoon coffee and shopping in the elegant shops in the city center. If you happen to be in Lugano during the summer, make some time to visit the Lido di Lugano.  The Lido has four pools ranging from a lap pool to a children’s pool. There is also a beach area in front of the lake complete with sand.  Perfect for kids who want to build sand castles and perfect for parents as there is a cafe right in front of the beach to watch the kids.  The entire lido has lifeguards on duty.


A one hour train ride from Milan will put you in this colorful lakeside town where you will find the true Italian way of life.  Italians doing what they do best – enjoying life.   There is a long waterfront path built along the lake where you will see friends walking arm in arm, fathers with children on their shoulders and elegantly dressed women walking their dogs.    You might also want to consider taking a cooking class at Il Caminetto.   Here Chef Mauro teaches you how to make homemade gnocchi, risotto, sauces and all kinds of other goodies.




Ah Como, the home to George Clooney.  This is the obvious day trip from Milan.  But even if it is obvious, there are some not so obvious things to do there.  Take the train from Milano Cadorna station to Como Nord Lago station.  Exiting the train station, you will be immediately facing the lake with Alpine mountains as a backdrop.  From here if you go left, you can take a stroll in the elegant town center and along the shore of the lake.  To the right,  more sidewalks as well as waterfront cafes and restaurants. Next to the restaurants, there is a  funicular train that goes up to the small village called Brunate. Enjoy a bird’s eyes view of the lake and town below while enjoying a coffee or drink at one of the cafes.  For even more of a view, take a 45 minute hike up to the Volta Lighthouse.  Here you will find views of Como from 2000 feet.

Brunate Funicular

Brunate Funicular by Davide Olivia

Como, Brunate

View from Brunate

Similar to Lugano, Como has a lake front swimming pool (Lido di Villa Olmo), perfect for cooling off during the hot summer months. While you can pack your own picnic lunch, there is also a cafe and pizzeria on the premises.


This town is also situated on Lake Como, but on the eastern side of the lake.   Lecco is the ultimate in Italian elegance.  Here you would be hard pressed to find a tourist.    Tree-lined waterfront boulevards with rugged mountains sometimes masked by a light misty fog make for a dreamlike stroll along the lake.


Lecco by Eric Hossinger

40 Comments on “5 Fabulous Lake Town Visits from Milan

    • Thanks Nancy….yes…Lecco is so pretty…and kind of off the beaten path…..so you get a real feel for Italian life.

    • Thank you Joy! I know…we are super lucky to be living so close to all of these beautiful places….

  1. Great list. I flew over the Isole Borromei once in my cousin’s ultralight and the whole area is spectacular. We didn’t have enough gas to buzz Clooney’s villa 20 min away though. My cousin Rosa and her husband own Pizzeria Mignon in Angera which is also nice but there is no train or bus going directly from Milano so it isn’t as easy to get to. I’ll have to go visit again soon! Ciao, Cristina

    • Ciao Cristina! Non sono mai stata a Angera…..and we LOVE trying new places…..for sure we will check it out and head over to your cousin’s pizzeria! Grazie per il consiglio!!! Buona giornata!

  2. Gorgeous photos! I had the best pizza in my life at Lake Como. My mouth is watering just thinking about it.

    • Hi Lauren….thanks!!! And if you ever come again, for sure we need to meet up and have a pizza and a glass of vino together!

  3. You’re quite the travel writer! You had me way before George🙂 And the pictures make it all look so dreamy🙂

  4. Love it! We have our hotel already booked in Stresa for July-cannot wait! Thanks for the recommendation!

    • Thanks Graham! I know…I am lucky to live so close to all these places……thanks for stopping by!

    • Hi Shelley…yes….Stresa is fab and really unique with those small islands…I highly recommend it!

    • I know….Varenna is such a sweet town. If you ever go there again, think about taking Mauro’s cooking class…it was a really fun day. Enjoy your trip to Stresa…keep me posted on the dates…maybe we could even meet up.

    • Well…next time your are in Northern Italy, let me know…we can map out a few for you to visit! 🙂

  5. Great ideas🙂 Seeing that my parents are from Lago Maggiore, I am always partial to it and realize I need to expand my horizons to include Lake Como! Next time…and thanks to you, I have a guide to follow!

    • Ohhhh…how wonderful your parents are from Lago Maggiore..it is a beautiful part of Italy. Yes…Como is fab too. We like to rent a boat and go from town to town….even the public ferry system is very nice.

  6. Very nice! I have not been to some of those places as I come from the North-East but that’s somewhere I would like to go to one day. I love your photos they are always very beautiful + you write really well. Ciao cara e buon weekend xx

    • Hi Alida…thank you for your sweet comments…and yes….I think the photos are beautiful too…but the best ones are not mine I must admit. Anyway…I guess it is kind of difficult to take a bad pic in wonderful places like these. One day I would like to see Udine (as I think I mentioned my father grew up in Trieste), so that part of Italy is always fascinating to me. Maybe one day you can come here and visit me and I can go there and visit you when you are home! 🙂

    • Hi Sophie! Yes…they are nice places to visit…and all very close so you can see a lot in a short period of time. Have a good week!

  7. A warm welcome to you from Reticent Mental Property. Thank you for following my blog. Visit again soon? Explore freely, comment at your leisure, feed my mind. I’ve been following yours for a long time. Really appreciate the variety of information and the gorgeous pictures and simple insights. I’ll be studying Italy in detail over the next few months in prep for a visit to Milan next year- as it happens- during fashion week! So I’ll be taking in the city and event but will need the pace and peace of the countryside to balance. Also have plans to do a little culinary exploration. Any suggestions would be welcome…perhaps you have some previous posts you can point out to me? Cheers! – Ret

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