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Lake Town Day Trips from Milan

Diana Skok Corridori

Contributor

Milan has seen a steady rise in tourism over the past few years and is known for its hip vibe. It offers visitors an endless selection of museums, bars, restaurants and shopping and has become a destination city all on its own, but it can be chaotic and overwhelming, so why not plan an escape to one of the many enchanting lakeside towns that are so close? Here is a selection of towns and villages that are sure to take the edge off hectic urban life.

Orta San Giulio

Orta has a dreamy and celestial quality to it. Narrow alleys that twist and turn finally opening up to the lake that is sometimes masked by a light misty fog that makes for a surreal experience. Adding to the intrigue is the tiny island sitting right in the middle of the lake. It has a Benedictine monastery worth a visit, but its main allure is the complete tranquillity found here.

Orta is also home to the UNESCO World Heritage site of Sacro Monte which is one of nine sacred mountains in Italy. Unlike the other Sacred Mountains, Orta’s is the only one completely dedicated to one saint – St. Francis of Assisi. There are 20 chapels that depict episodes of his life by offering theatrical representations by use of terracotta statues and detailed paintings.

Stresa

Stresa sits on the mysterious Lake Maggiore facing the mirage-like Borromean islands. Coming here is like stepping back in time to the turn of the 19th century as the town is filled with waterfront Liberty Style hotels, ornate villas and perfectly manicured English gardens. Important historical figures spent time in Stresa, which only adds to the time-machine feel. Churchill spent his honeymoon here, while Hemingway stayed at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees and based his book “Farwell to Arms” here. Make sure to take the Mottarone funicular for panoramic views of the lake and the surrounding mountains. Also, consider renting a boat or taking the ferry to the three Borromean Islands.

Locarno

Palm trees, tropical flowers and more than 2000 hours of sunshine every year, Locarno has a microclimate that makes for the perfect balmy getaway. This elegant town with its

cobblestoned streets and pretty pastel buildings is surrounded by mountains and is surrounded by the lake.

It is home to various summer music and film festivals that take place in the Piazza Grande. But the fun does not stop there. Take the funicular from Locarno to Orselina and then a chair lift to Cardada for views of the town and lake below.

For a unique swimming experience, head up the road 20 minutes to the emerald waters of the Verzasca River where the crystal clear waters meander through the silky smooth rock formations of the valley.

Lugano

Flanked by Monte Brè and Monte San Salvatore, Lugano is the capital city of the Italian canton of Ticino. This town strikes the perfect balance of Italian flair and Swiss efficiency. Here you can expect fun food festivals just like in Italy that are super organized and held in spotless piazzas. If you arrive by train, make your way down to the city centre on cobblestone streets where you can enjoy a view of the green-blue lake. At the end of the lake’s trail, pass the gated entrance to the public gardens. A carpet of soft, green grass surrounded by seasonal flowers is the perfect place to enjoy views of the surrounding towns punctuating the nearby hills.

Lecco

Situated on the shores of Lake Como, Lecco’s centuries-old squares and villas are framed by rugged mountains and the striking bell tower of San Nicolo which is one of the highest in Europe. There is a tree-lined path for walking or cycling along the waterfront with endless views of the lake and the majestic mountains Visit the Basilica of San Nicolo for its opulent décor and historical frescoes and make sure to climb the iron spiral staircase – all 400 steps - to the top of the clock tower for panoramic views of the city as well as the lake and all the way to the Swiss Alps.

If you are a bit claustrophobic and the tight staircase does not suit your taste, take the cable car to Piani d’Erna for sweeping views and countless hiking opportunities.

Varenna

Easily reached by train from Milan, the allure of this sleepy village is a getting a chance to live like the locals by simply taking an afternoon stroll on the sweet waterfront promenade where you will see friends walking arm in arm, mothers with strollers and elegantly dressed men walking their dogs. After your walk, enjoy a gelato or aperitivo at one of the many cafés surrounded by brightly coloured villas and lush gardens. For a little water time, hop on one of the frequent ferries that service Lake Como or hire a boat to explore the nearby towns.

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