How to do the Italian lakes on a budget

Luxury bolt-hole? Yes. Do-able on a budget? Absolutely!

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Ronnie McCluskey

Ronnie McCluskey
HomeAway travel expert

Italian lakeItaly is, without shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful countries to visit in Europe - if not the world. Anyone who has witnessed the rugged Alps in the north of the country, the rolling olive groves of Umbria, or the architectural glory of Rome will testify to this. Quite possibly the most alluring natural feature of fair Italia, however, is the multitude of lakes that shimmer throughout, attracting visitors in their droves each and every year. And while a fair proportion of said visitors tend to boast very deep pockets, it is possible to do the lakes on a budget. 

Some flock to the tranquil lakes of Italy just for the scenery, the chance to relax amidst some of Mother Nature’s finer creations. Others prefer to indulge in the water sports that have become popular in these parts over the years. And many, of course, converge on the party regions. Whichever sounds like your kind of holiday, we’ve compiled a guide to help you circumnavigate the costly resorts of the central lago. And what better way to conserve cash than by basing yourself in a comfortable chalet, cabin or cottage, rather than a grand harbour front hotel? HomeAway is on hand to satisfy your Italian lakes accommodation requirements, but first read our guide to budgeting in the region.


Top five Italian lake holiday destinations


Lake Garda Lake Garda on a shoestring

The largest lake in all of Italy and arguably its most famous, Lake Garda is consequentially the most tourist-friendly waterway. The glacial valleys that give the lake its distinctive shape are particularly breathtaking, but the vast majority of visitors - to the northern tip at least - come here for the wide array of water sports on offer. While such fun comes with a not inconsiderable price tag, taking the bus to the fortress at Riva del Garda, or Peschiera del Garda, one of the lake’s most picturesque towns, will cost you next to nothing. In the south lies the historic walled town of Sirmione, a stunning old port that has established itself as a favourite haunt of culture-savvy tourists. For a more relaxed stay, head to Bardolino: don’t miss a tour at the Zeni Cantina and Winery, where you can sample a variety of local wines - for free. 


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Lake Trasimeno Lake Trasimeno on a budget

A simply breathtaking setting that has scarcely changed since the days when it inspired writers like Stendhal and Goethe - the addition of countless B&Bs and guest houses aside - Lake Trasimeno is a pinnacle of Umbria’s famed natural beauty. Depending on just how active and adventurous you’re feeling, you can take a stroll or cycle along the lake to admire the beautiful landscape, indulge in some wind surfing (consult the tourism office for best rates), bathe in the shallow waters or just relax on one of the peaceful little beaches dotted along the shore. A tour of the castle and palazzo at Rocca del Leone, meanwhile, is a cheap day out you can’t miss. When darkness falls, there are few better places in the country to enjoy a romantic evening under a blanket of stars. Where dining is concerned, tuck into delicious trout with fagiolina from the reasonably-priced La Cantina restaurant terrace: this hearty meal will set you back less than 9 euros. 


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Lake Como Cheap holidays to Lake Como

The Hollywood A-Listers shouldn’t cause you undue concern about the affordability of this region - they mostly make the trip to marvel at the grandeur of the place, the same as everyone else. True, Bellagio, dubbed the quintessential Italian lake town, is more than a little swank; Como itself is the more accessible foil, perched at the southernmost tip of the lake and exuding elegance at every cobbled turn. The lavish Villa Carlotta, and its verdant botanic gardens, is well worth a visit, while Casa del Fascio, and the city’s bell-towered cathedral, are also free to view. When hunger strikes, you can consider breaking bread at George Clooney’s favourite restaurant, in the Villa D’Este Hotel - but the charming Natta Cafe, downtown, is a gem, with pasta dishes priced under 10 euros.

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Lake Maggiore Lake Maggiore on a budget

Lake Maggiore lies among mesmerising Alpine surroundings, straddling the border of Italy and Switzerland. Due to its northern location, the climate isn’t ideal for throwing on your swimsuit, but its real charm comes from the surrounding towns and villages. Stresa is perhaps the pinnacle, an aesthetically pleasing commune once patronised by Hemingway. Head along, too, for a seafood lunch in the quaint fishing village of Isola Pescatori, but do take your time; the cafes, bars and restaurants compete fiercely, so there’s excellent deals to be found. The stunning Santa Caterina del Sasso hermitage, set into the cliffs on the lakeshore, is free, but if you’re planning on exploring Borromean Bay to the full, buy a ‘rover ticket’ on the local ferry; it allows you to hop on and off throughout the day, as well as take advantage of discounted entry fees for palaces, gardens and villas.

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Lake Bolsena Lake Bolsena on a shoestring

Lake Bolsena’s unique qualities stem from the volcanic activity that created it almost 400,000 years ago. Situated in the Lazio region, the surroundings of the lake are largely flat and unassuming, but simultaneously pleasant to immerse yourself in. The island of Bisentina that rises from the lake is known for its evergreen oak trees and bewitching gardens, whereas the town of Bolsena itself is revered as the home of the “Corporal of Bolsena”, a small cloth kept in the Orvieto Cathedral that purports to show the profile of Christ. As far as wallet-watching goes, you needn’t worry here. Town piazzas, local wineries, 14th-century churches: few pastimes cost more than a few euros. Top tip: a tub of ricotta- and cinnamon-flavoured ice cream from Bolsena’s famous Gelateria Santa Cristina is the perfect accompaniment as you watch the world go by.

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Lake Garda Budget Holiday Rentals

CORAZZA 6+1 sleeps, spendid apartment with garden, shared pool and breathtaking view of Garda Lake

PRIVATE STRUCTURE. The apartment of “Villa Corazza” is immersed in a typical, elegant and romantic landscape characteristic of the Villas on the Lake of Garda. The house, which enjoys a breathtaking view over the lake, is close to a public beach a...


Fantastic LOCATION, close to everything : castle, markets, bars, restaurants, shops,pharmacy, beaches, mountain. Unit # 11 has 2 double bedrooms and a sofa bed in the living room and can accommodate 5 people. Unit # 7 has 1 double bedroom and a...

Poiano Resort, a perfect setting for your family holiday

Surrounded by 60 hectares of Mediterranean park, the Poiano Resort offers a variety of leisure time activities and Wellness: La Spa (with salt water pool, steam room, sauna, bio-sauna, emotional showers and massages), Swimming Pool Olympic-size, 6...

Bed & Breakfast: Residenza La Ricciolina

"The Ricciolina" is accomplished in two floors residential complex on January 2009. Near to the city center is Also close to the Galaxy Shopping Centre and the Exhibition Centre of Verona. Our residence is very easy to reach: it is near the motorw...

Apartments Edy - on Garda Lake

Apartments Edy are situated in a quite residential zone of Peschiera del Garda in the southern part of the lake, near Sirmione and Lazise with easy access to tourist attractions like Venice, Milan, and Verona. The apartments are also near at the a...
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