The northern Italian Lakes, nestled within the foothills of the Alps, are fast becoming one of Europe's premier spots for tourism. Bordering with the southern regions of Italian-speaking Switzerland, this self-dubbed "Italian Lake District" is home to tranquil waters, charming villages and bustling market towns - all revelling in a cool Prealpine climate. The most well-known, and most well-populated with visitors, are the four largest lakes; Como, Garda and Maggiore. The area is awash with other, smaller outlets however - picturesque islands serenely sitting upon the shimmering waters, fishing boats and small ferries nonchalantly cruising the tranquil waters and a richness of traditional Italian towns steeped in history.
One of the quieter lakes, is the perfect place for a relaxed saunter through wonderful natural environs. Set amongst legions of pine trees and woodland areas, the 13.4km lake is dominated by the medieval town of Orta San Giulio and Isola San Giulio. The small town is home to the famous Sacre Monti, a UNESCO World Heritage site and place of pilgrimage for many. The mountainous chapel is one of nine along the titular route and is supposed to re-evoke the road from Jerusalem to Calvary along which Jesus carried the Cross. The Island of San Giulio, west of the formerly mentioned town, takes its name from the patron saint Julius, who lived here during the 4th century. The picturesque plot is dominated by the Basilica and is well worth a visit by local ferry.
Located on the Swiss border, is Monte Generoso, which at 1700m, is one of the tallest peaks in the area. The heady heights of this Swiss-Italian mountain can be ascended via the Monte Generoso rack-railway and the summit offers superb views of Maggiore, Lugano and Como whilst the mighty Matterhorn and historic Milan can be seen from the rack-railway route itself on a clear day. Nearby, is Lake Iseo - the fourth largest in the area and a region famous for its sparkling wine production. The banks of Iseo are littered with small towns, filled with boutique shops, coffee spots and restaurants.
Close to Iseo is the charming city of Brescia. This old town contains some of the finest examples of ancient Roman architecture in northern Italy, much of the Old Town boasts UNESCO status, with the remains of the ancient Capitolium temple and the Republican sanctuary still very well preserved. The city also contains a wealth of more modern, but no less impressive, buildings; the Teatro Grande opera house was built in honour of Napoleon Bonaparte, and this is reflected in the richly decorated interiors, whilst the Biblioteca Queriniana contains a number of rare manuscripts, including some early works by Dante.
The glacial lake of Lugano, so named for the nearby city of the same name, is fast growing in popularity. Interestingly, Lugano is split between Italy and Switzerland, with parts of its shores encompassing the borders of both nations. Lugano is a popular destination for swimmers and those who want to try their hand at watersports, with plenty of companies offering courses up and down the shore - to suit both the beginner and the more experienced.
The Italian Lake District makes for a fantastic holiday destination, from the plentiful woodland walks and shimmering shorelines to the historic-rich towns and intoxicating markets - there is plenty for all in this stunning region of Italy.