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Walking the Italian Lakes

Stroll the scenic shores of Italy’s Lake District including Como, Maggiore and Orta and explore their opulent Renaissance villas. Along the way we’ll pause to savor the acclaimed wines and cuisine of Piedmont and Lombardy.

  • 10 Days
  • Activity Level: Easy / Moderate
  • Daily Mileage: 3 - 6 mi
  • Daily Walking: 2 - 4 hr
  • Small Groups: 20
  • Walking
  • Easy / Moderate
  • Plane

Why You'll Love This Tour

Overview

Walking the Italian Lakes

Alpine mountains pierce the clouds. Opulent villas hug the shore of azure, sun-kissed lakes. Ancient footpaths wind through medieval villages, opulent Renaissance gardens, and beckoning hillsides. As we walk through the landscape of the Italian Lake District, we’ll understand how remarkable natural beauty has met with a magical serenity in a marriage rare and wonderful. Along the way, we’ll savor the acclaimed wine, cheese, and cuisine of Piedmont, share lunch at a local farm, watch the sun set on Lake Maggiore during dinner on picturesque Isola dei Pescatori, and ride a cable car to the top of Mount Mottarone for a thrilling panorama, and so much more.

Cultural Highlights

  • Discover the serene beauty of Italy's Lake District, cherished for its majestic alpine vistas and ornate villas.
  • Walk the winding cobblestone streets and steep stone staircases of medieval Bellagio.
  • Explore along the Wayfarer Trail, an ancient, winding footpath on the shore of Lake Como.
  • Admire the fine sculptures and meticulously landscaped gardens of Villa Carlotta.
  • Enjoy a guided tour of the opulent Palazzo Borromeo and its lush, terraced gardens.
  • Watch the sun set on Lake Maggiore during dinner on picturesque Isola dei Pescatori (“Fishermen's Island”).
  • Ride a cable car to the top of Mount Mottarone for sweeping views of the Italian lakes and Alps.
  • Savor fresh cheese and other local specialties during a picnic lunch at a Coiromonte farm.
  • Encounter enchanting Monte Sacro, a monastic complex devoted to St. Francis of Assisi and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • Sample local wines and dine on delicious Piedmontese cuisine during lunch at an Orta San Giulio enoteca.
  • Stroll along “The Way of Silence,” a footpath encircling Lake Orta’s Isola San Giulio

What to Expect

This tour features a combination of easy terrain and paved roads mixed with some very short hills. Walks are in open countryside and small cities, sometimes on uneven footpaths over grass and soil pathways and cobbled streets. It is ideal for enthusiastic beginners and experienced walkers. It is always very important to wear appropriate shoes with excellent tread to ensure the perfect grip on uneven and rocky terrain. We plan both longer optional walks and short easy options for those who want to spend more time on their own exploring the cities and surroundings. Be prepared to use ferry and motorboats extensively for our transfers. Both morning and afternoon or evening options are available every day. Several of the walks require a transfer from our hotel to the start of the walk. Van support is limited due to distinctive features of the region. Some vehicle support is provided where possible.

Average Daily Mileage: 3 - 6 miles
Average Cycling Time: 2 - 4 hours

Climate Information

Average Daily Temperature (°F) – Como
Apr 70°  May 76°  Jun 82°  Jul 85°  Aug 83°  Sep 77°  Oct 69°

Average Rainfall (in.) – Como
Apr 6  May 8  Jun 7  Jul 5  Aug 6  Sep 6  Oct 6

What’s Included:

Walking Tour Only – without Air

  • 6 nights in elegant 3 and 4-star hotels
  • 12 meals – 6 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 3 dinners

Air Package Plus

  • 8 nights in 4-star hotels
  • 14 meals – 8 breakfasts, 3 lunches, 3 dinners
  • Roundtrip international airfare
  • Transfers
  • And the option to add our Low-Cost Trip Extensions: Pre-trip: Lake Como – 2 nights for only $345 • Post-trip: Milan – 2 nights for only $395

Both Vacation Options Include

  • Service of two bilingual VBT Trip Leaders
  • On-tour ferry support
  • FREE use of our custom VBT walking poles
  • Daily route directions and maps
  • Welcome reception
  • Sightseeing and cultural activities
  • 5% Frequent Traveler Credit to use on your next VBT vacation
  • Special Good Buy Discount
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Air Package Plus Single Supplement: $495 | Land Only Single Supplement: $295

Please note: Web Special savings cannot be combined with any other offer. Standard Terms & Conditions apply when purchasing this trip. 2015 Prices include all airline surcharges and Government taxes and fees. Ask our Tour Consultants for details. Every effort has been made to produce this information accurately. We reserve the right to correct errors. Prices are based on preferences selected above, including meals and sightseeing as specified in What’s Included. All prices are subject to change. Departure dates and prices shown may be updated several times daily, and apply to new bookings only.

Itinerary & Map
Or, Expand All Days
DAY 1: Depart from home / Fly overnight to Milan

Depart from for Italy. The particulars of your arrival overseas are detailed with your flight itinerary.

DAY 2: Arrive in Milan / Transfer to Como

Upon arrival at Malpensa Airport in Milan, Italy, a VBT representative meets you and helps you transfer (a drive of approximately one hour, depending on traffic) to our centrally located hotel in Como. The rest of the day is yours to explore and dine at leisure, using the VBT City Information as your guide.

If you are going to be delayed meeting our transfer representative for more than 15 minutes due to delayed or lost luggage, please let your airport staff know by calling or sending a text message to +39 334 221 88 93. Our drivers are generally able to wait for up to 45 minutes from the time your flight lands, after which you would be responsible for your own transfer. You may also contact our One Call travel assistance to advise of your delay and they will contact our transfer service.

Please note: If you arrive early, your hotel room may not be available until 2:00 pm, in which case you may store your luggage with the reception desk.

Please note: VBT transfer times and departure points are finalized in advance and cannot be modified for individual guests. If you fly in earlier than the scheduled program dates, transportation from the airport will be at your own expense.

Hotel: Albergo le Due Corti

DAY 3: Meet Trip Leaders / Lake Como ferry ride / Bellagio walking tour / Welcome reception

VBT No-Air Package guests: Meet your VBT Trip Leaders, who will be wearing VBT staff garments, at 9:00 am in the lobby of the Alberto le Due Corti hotel (Piazza Vittoria 12; Tel: +39 031-328-111). Please come to the meeting dressed in walking gear and carrying your backpack. Please note: Transfer to the hotel is on your own. A taxi from the railway station costs about 10 euros. If your arrival at the hotel is scheduled for later than 9:00 am, or if you are delayed, please contact the hotel and the hotel staff will pass your message along to our Trip Leaders. VBT highly recommends flying to Italy at least one day before the tour begins; this allows you to rest and recover from jet lag before you begin sightseeing and walking.

VBT Air Package and Pre-trip Extension guests: Meet your VBT Trip Leaders, who will be wearing VBT staff garments, at 9:00 am in the main lobby. Please come to the meeting dressed in walking gear and carrying your backpack.

Our Trip Leaders will hold an orientation and safety briefing before we embark on our first walk, a stroll through the city center of Como to its harbor (approximately 1 km, or 0.6 miles). Here, we’ll board a boat bound for Bellagio, admiring the sumptuous private villas and small villages lining the shores of Lake Como throughout our two-hour cruise. The views of the surrounding mountains are magnificent.

Once in Bellagio, choose from among the many local restaurants for lunch on your own. We’ll then regroup for a walking tour of the town, known for its 12th-century basilica, cobblestone streets and stone staircases. Our amble follows the waterfront up to Punta Spartivento and ends at Villa Melzi. Built in 1808 to honor Napoleon, the villa is famous for its romantic English-style gardens, which welcome visitors each spring with a profusion of azaleas and rhododendrons.

Later, a short boat ride brings us to Varenna, our final destination for the day—and our home for the next two nights. This picturesque village welcomes us with its pastel-colored houses lined up along the narrow shore between mountain and lake. We walk a narrow gangway suspended over the water, below an arch of pine trees and oleander branches to a flight of stairs, arriving at Varenna’s main square and our hotel. Settle in before gathering for a welcome reception, followed by dinner at the hotel.

Hotel: Hotel Royal Victoria
Meals: B, D
Daily Options: Morning: 0.6 mile warmp-up walk through Bellagio on cobblestone alleys with some stairs. Afternoon: 2.2 or 3.2 miles on flat, paved roads.

DAY 4: Varenna / Wayfarer Trail from Vezio to Bellano

After breakfast, we shuttle or walk up the mountains to the medieval hamlet of Vezio, known for its ancient stone houses and 13th-century castle. It’s here that we being today’s walk, which brings us along part of the Sentiero del Viandante, or Wayfarer Trail. A former mule path that connects the various towns and villages on Lake Como’s eastern shore, it was once the area’s only road. As we walk, we pass through sleepy villages such as Regolo and by rustic wine caves, or crottos that once served as taverns for thirsty travelers. We also can peek into the many chapels scattered along the way before walking down to the waterfall and dramatic Pioverna river gorge in Bellano. We pause during our stroll to enjoy a picnic lunch in a shaded area.

Later this afternoon, we return via train to Varenna, where you’ll have time at leisure to relax or explore on your own. Perhaps you’ll visit Villa Monastero, whose gorgeous gardens extend down to the lake, or walk to the nearby Fiumelatte—the shortest river in Italy, at just 700 meters long. In the summer, the waters of Lake Como are warm enough for a swim; Varenna’s only beach is just across from our hotel grounds. In the summer, you may also enjoy swimming in the hotel pool.

Hotel: Hotel Royal Victoria
Meals: B, L
Daily Options: 4.6 miles on gradual descent with two notable climbs. Surfaces mix of cobblestone alleys, paved roads, and dirt paths with some rocks and steps.

DAY 5: Villa Carlotta / Lenno / The Villa Balbianello Gardens / Stresa

Early this morning, we ferry to Lake Como’s opposite bank to discover Tremezzo and Villa Carlotta. The 17th-century villa is named after Charlotte, the daughter of Princess Marianne of Nassau, who purchased the property in the mid-1800s and presented it to Charlotte as a wedding gift. Charlotte’s botanist husband expanded the existing landscape, including an exotic corner laid out according to the dictates of English gardens. In spring, the villa’s grounds are bursting with more than 150 varieties of azaleas and rhododendrons. Inside the villa, we admire a collection of fine paintings and Romantic sculptures.

After some time on your own to explore the gardens or sip an espresso in the villa’s café, we return to the lakeside promenade to walk an easy route to Bolvedro, admiring more elegant villas, scenic views of Bellagio on the opposite shore and the glorious Alps. We next set off to Lenno, where a weekly market provides a colorful snapshot of local life. You can choose to ferry to Lenno, or venture there on foot, walking an easy-to-moderate route out of Bolvedro, with a stop at the church of San Abbondio.

Situated just a few feet above the lake, Lenno offers sweeping views of the area. After lunch on your own, follow our Trip Leaders into the gardens of Villa del Balbianello, located on a steep promontory overlooking Lake Como and the offsetting for such famous movies as Casino Royal and Ocean’s Eleven. From here continue to walk on the Greenway path along the lake shore to Sala Comacina, where we admire the mysterious Isola Comacina, the only island in Lake Como.

Later, we shuttle to Stresa, on the shores of Lake Maggiore, and settle into our next hotel.

Tonight, choose from among several nearby trattorias or our hotel’s restaurant for dinner on your own.

Hotel: Hotel La Palma
Meals: B
Daily Options: Morning: 2 to 4.2 miles on flat lake promenade, cobblestone alleys, and paved roads with one notable ascent. Afternoon: 4 miles on a paved path along the lakeshore.

DAY 6: Lake Maggiore / Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori

We begin the day with a closer look at Isola Bella, the most famous of Lake Maggiore’s Borromean Islands. A private motorboat brings us here from Stresa—a brief journey of approximately five minutes—and we’ll be treated to panoramic views of Palazzo Borromeo, the opulent Baroque and Neoclassical palace occupying the island, as we approach.

The sprawling villa was built during the 17th century by the wealthy and influential Borromeo family, who continue to use its upper floors as a summer residence today. Accompanied by a local guide, we’ll discover room after lavish room, featuring paintings and sculptures by Lombardy artists, elaborate Flemish tapestries and stunning Murano glass chandeliers. The sumptuous interior is complemented by the equally elaborate terraced gardens outside, which are filled with oleander, magnolias, camellias and lemon trees, and slope down gently to meet Lake Maggiore. Before reaching the gardens, however, we’ll descend a staircase from the main house into a cavernous grotto, comprising six rooms in which every inch of space is covered in splendid mosaics wrought with pebbles, seashells and pink marble.

Back in Stresa, have lunch on your own.

Enjoy time at leisure this afternoon. Peruse Stresa’s many gourmet shops and boutiques selling leather goods, or stroll among flowery grass islands and lush parks on the town’s long lakeside promenade. Cool off and pamper at our hotel, perhaps relaxing on the rooftop lounge, at the spa, or in the swimming pool. If you’re feeling more active, join our Trip Leaders for an optional walk from Baveno to Stresa, savoring more views of the beautiful Borromean Islands from the low hills. Or pay a visit to the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées, just next door to our hotel, which has welcomed countless famous guests, from kings and maharajas to Nobel prize-winning author Ernest Hemingway.

We regroup late this afternoon and set off in a private motorboat for the most picturesque island in the Borromean archipelago, Isola dei Pescatori (“Fishermen’s Island”), which we’ll explore with a local guide. The sunsets are especially lovely here, and you’ll have time to savor one while sipping a glass of local wine before enjoying dinner at a lakeside trattoria.

Hotel: Hotel La Palma
Meals: B, D
Daily Options: Morning: 1.2 miles in and around the Palazzo Borromeo on paved paths and some stairs. Afternoon: 3.2 miles on flat pedestrian roads, cobblestone alleys, and a dirt path with a notable descent at the end. Evening: 0.9 miles on the Fisherman’s Island.

DAY 7: Monte Mottarone / Lake Orta

This morning, we take a 20-minute cable car ride up 3,500 feet, to the summit of Mount Mottarone. From here, we’ll enjoy breathtaking 360-degree views of Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, Lake Varese and other, smaller lakes, all framed by the soaring, snowcapped Alps. We walk downhill along easy footpaths, mostly unpaved and covered with soft grass, to Coiromonte. Here we’ll visit a small farm known for producing excellent cheese, which we’ll have the opportunity to sample during a picnic lunch prepared for us by the farm’s owners. Our feast also includes local specialties made with organic vegetables grown in the owners’ garden. If you’d prefer, you can shorten the walk by taking our shuttle to Coiromonte instead of walking all the way.

Early this afternoon, we shuttle to the village of Orta San Giulio, where we offer an easy short walk in the city to our hotel and along the Lake Orta. Later check into our hotel and enjoy some free time. The grounds include a large, attractive garden and a terrace on the sunny side of the lake, with magnificent views of the lake and surrounding mountains.

Dinner is on your own tonight.

Hotel: Hotel La Bussola
Meals: B, L
Daily Options: Morning: 3.2 or 5.8 miles gradually descending on dirt paths in a mountain environment. Afternoon: 1.2 mile city walk on cobbled pedestrian streets.

DAY 8: Monte Sacro / Isola San Giulio

This morning’s walk brings us along the shores of Lake Orta and up into the surrounding hills for a visit to enchanting Monte Sacro, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. A devotional complex dedicated to St. Francis of Assisi, it consists of more than 20 chapels filled with frescoes and life-sized terra-cotta figures depicting the saint’s life. We’ll enjoy views of Lake Orta below as we walk in the shade of tall, leafy trees and drink in Monte Sacro’s magical atmosphere.

We return to Orta San Giulio and enjoy a tour of this pretty little village with our Trip Leaders. Then we have lunch at a local enoteca, where we taste Piedmontese wines and local specialties like bagna cauda, a fondue-like dip made with butter, garlic and anchovies and served with crostini, truffles and vegetables.

After lunch, we board a private boat for a five-minute cruise to Isola San Giulio. The tiny island is named for the fourth-century saint who introduced Christianity the region (after walking on water and killing a serpent!). During our visit, we’ll marvel at its beautifully frescoed basilica—the hundredth, and final, church founded by Saint Julius—and have free time to stroll along La Via del Silenzi (“The Way of Silence”), a footpath that encircles the island. Afterward, choose to return to our hotel, or cruise to Lake Orta’s western shore for a final scenic walk that ends in the picturesque village of Pella.

During tonight’s farewell dinner, we’ll enjoy Italian specialties at a local restaurant.

Hotel: Hotel La Bussola
Meals: B, L, D
Daily Options: Morning: 1.7 or 2.3 miles on flat lake promenade and gradual ascent through cobblestone alleys and paved streets, and rolling paved roads and dirt trails. Afternoon: 3.4 miles on cobblestone alleys

DAY 9: Transfer to Milan / Walking tour ends

After breakfast, we transfer to Milan, where our Land program ends.

VBT No-Air Package guests: Your trip concludes at our Milan hotel at approximately 10:00 am. From here, you can pursue your own travel arrangements. The hotel is located in central Milan on Via Cusani and is right next to the Cairoli metro station.

VBT Air Package and Post-trip Extension guests: We arrive at our Milan hotel at approximately 10:00 am and have the rest of the day at leisure. Our VBT representative will answer your questions and offer an orientation walk to help you discover the many treasures of Milan.

Our hotel is a short walk from the convent of St. Maria delle Grazie, a UNESCO World Heritage Sites famous for housing Leonardo da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper. Please note: If you’d like to visit the convent, reservations are necessary and should be made well in advance. For more information, visit www.cenacolovinciano.net.

You can also walk to the pedestrian-only shopping district of Via Dante, right outside the door of our hotel; explore the wonderful Duomo cathedral; browse the glamorous boutiques of the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele; and visit the Palazzo Reale, or Royal Palace. In the evening, you can stroll to Brera, the art and fashion district, to people-watch in one of the city’s many trendy cafés.

If you have chosen the independent Post-trip Extension to Milan, you remain at this hotel for three nights.

Hotel: Una Hotel Cusani
Meals: B

DAY 10: Depart for home or begin optional Milan extension

After breakfast* this morning, transfer to Malpensa Airport (approximately 60 minutes, depending on traffic) for your departing flight**. Please ensure you are ready in the hotel reception area at the designated time.

*Please note: For guests with early-morning departures, breakfast at the hotel may not be available. Please check with the reception desk to verify the times when breakfast is served.

**VBT recommends that you check your transfer time in your “Transfer Reminder.” VBT transfer times and departure points are finalized in advance and cannot be modified for individual guests. If you extend your stay beyond the scheduled program dates, return transportation to the airport will be at your own expense.

Meals: B

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Accommodations

Hotel La Bussola

A modern and beautiful 3 star property with large comfortable bedrooms and common spaces built and run by the family Tassera. The large garden with plants, flowers and big swimming pool provided with terrace and sun chairs, open from June 1st to end of September/early October, on the sunny side of the lake, offer magnificent views of Lake Orta and the mountains around. The location is spectacular, not just for the lake view, but also for the vicinity to the medieval city center of Orta, the restaurants and all the facilities that are just a few steps away.

Hotel Royal Victoria

This historic hotel, located on the shores of Lake Como in the picturesque medieval village of Varenna, is literally fit for a queen: After a young Queen Victoria stayed here in 1838, the hotel was renamed in the English monarch’s honor. Today, the Hotel Royal Victoria retains its 19th-century ambiance but boasts fully modern amenities, including an outdoor pool and an elegant restaurant with an outdoor terrace overlooking Lake Como. Each of its 43 air-conditioned rooms features a telephone, satellite TV, minibar, in-room safe and private bath with hair dryer.

Hotel La Palma

This elegant hotel, managed by the owners, is located in the heart of Stressa on the Lake Maggiore promenade, within easy reach of the beach. From the rooftop sky bar, sun terrace, and swimming pool, you’ll enjoy open panoramic views of the lake, Mt. Mottarone, and the Borromean Islands. The hotel also has a restaurant, bar, and health club with a spa tub. It offers free Wi-Fi access in public areas. Each of its air-conditioned rooms features a terrace or balcony, telephone, pay-per-view TV, minibar, in-room safe, and private bath with hair dryer.
Free WiFi Included

Una Hotel Cusani

The Una Hotel is centrally located a half mile from the Duomo and Galleria Vittorio Emanuele. Right outside the door, the car-free shopping and theatre street Via Dante begins. You can also stroll to the Brera district and St. Maria delle Grazie Convent, home to the Last Supper fresco by da Vinci. The Sforza Castle, which houses an art museum, is across the street. If you want to explore farther afield, Cairoli metro station is nearby. The Una hotel chain is well known for the comfort of its beds, the fine design of its modern decoration, and the care they put into every little detail.
Free WiFi Included

Albergo Le Due Corti

Located in the city center near the high city walls of Como, this hotel is in a historic palace. You're sure to mingle with locals here, because the oldest and most charming café in town belongs to the hotel, located on the ground floor under a portico. The hotel has two wings of quiet rooms – one modern, the other older and featuring ceiling beams – a small swimming pool, and a restaurant. Its location makes it easy to stroll into the city center, browse the cafés and shops, or visit the cathedral. The lake promenade is about a half mile away.
Free WiFi Included
Photos

Italian Lakes Walking Tour Photo Gallery

Reviews

Enjoy Your Vacation Longer With LOw-Cost Trip Extensions

Pre-Trip Extension - Lake Como

2 nights for only $345

Post-Trip Extension - Milan

2 nights for only $395

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