Whether you're vacationing in Lake Como, Lake Maggiore or one of the other Italian lakes, the Italian Lake District offers offers natural beauty, water sports, golf, hiking, art, architecture, village life, memorable cuisine, and great shopping. We are always surprised by how much there is to do in this area, which is so close to both Milan and Switzerland.

1. Cruise Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore

Take a lake cruise on Lake Maggiore. Hop off along the way to explore any town that appeals to you, particularly Stresa, Baveno and Pallanza. Each is uniquely charming and beautiful. Have a lakeside lunch. Garden lovers, do not miss the world famous botanical gardens at Villa Taranto, with an amazing variety of plants growing in a protected pocket between the lake and the mountains, in a mild, almost tropical climate niche. Consider a day at the spa and pool at the Grande Hotel des Iles Borromees; no visit to see the facilities there would be complete without stopping for a drink at their bar.

2. Explore Lake Como

Cernobbio, Lake Como, Italy

Explore Lake Como by car and lake ship. Stop at Cernobbio to have coffee at the world famous five star Villa d'Este, then drive on to Tremezzo. Take a ferry across to Bellagio and visit the gardens of Villa Serbelloni. Linger here or continue on the lake ship all the way north and back, stopping where and when you like. (There is continuous boat service and you can hop aboard any of them with your ticket.)

3. Visit Switzerland

Lugano, Switzerland

Bring your passport to visit Lugano, Switzerland, by car. Don't miss the art collection at Villa Favorita. See the Swiss Riviera, walk through the casino and take a lift to Monte Bré or San Salvatore. Swissminiatur has delightful working models of trains, lifts, lake ships, and more than a hundred models of Swiss buildings -- all set up like a miniature golf course--appealing for kids and adults.

4. Designer Shopping

Shopping in Milan

Shop at the designer outlets between Lake Como and Lake Maggiore, just over the border into Switzerland (Foxtown). Return to Como, stopping along the way at some the shoe outlets and finally in and around Como for silk, for which Como is famous.

5. Take the Train to the Matterhorn

Matterhorn, Switzerland

Early start today by rail to Switzerland through the Simplon Tunnel to Brig and then to Zermatt to see the Matterhorn and possibly to try some glacier skiing. Or drive via Domodossola west of Pontegrande and Pecetto to see views of the Matterhorn and Monte Rosa from the Italian side. Take a lift up the mountain for viewing and hiking. This is a great activity for a hot, clear day. Bring a sweater!

6. See the Last Supper

Church of Santa Maria delle Grazie, Milan

Travel by rail to Milano (about an hour, depending upon which lake you are staying on.) See the Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci. Concentrate next on the area near the Duomo and la Scala. Discover the fantastic shopping in this area. Have dinner in Milano and return late by rail, avoiding the summer weekend traffic from Milano to the lakes.

7. Lunch in Lake Orta

San Giulio, Lake Orta

Take a half-day trip to Lago Orta with lunch lakeside in Orta San Giulio.

8. Hiking and Water Sports

Raceboats on lake

Rent a boat or pursue your favorite water sport. Hikers, head for higher altitudes at the Valgrande National Park for a day or overnight hiking trip. During the summer, avoid weekend traffic returning to Milan on Sunday afternoon.

9. Sun Bathe in Locarno, Switzerland

Lavertezzo, Switzerland

Bring your passport to travel to Locarno, Switzerland and then up into the beautiful Valle Verzasca, where the main activity is sun bathing on smooth river rocks in addition to hiking and swimming in crystal clear, cold, river pools.

10. Spend the Day in Bergamo

Take the autostrada for the fastest route, even if it seems longer on the map.

11. Take a Boat to the Borromean Islands

Stresa, Lake Maggiore

Boat trip from Pallanza to the Borromean Islands (Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola Pescatori) for a relaxing lunch in an unforgettable setting on Isola Bella. Return to the lake road and select a cable car trip, like Monte Mottarone above Stresa for an unforgettable panorama. Dine in Stresa at the Piemonte restaurant.

Before you Leave

Revisit the places you loved the most or to see something you missed. Reflect on all you've done and save the rest for next time. Arrivederci!