Wiggling like fingers into the rising Alps, the Italian lakes have long been a source of inspiration to artists and wanderlust to visitors. Indelibly handsome, they are framed by snow-mantled mountains and fringed by pastel-painted towns. A holiday here could mean seeking Lake Garda villas where the great Dolomites rise to the back. Or, it could mean heading to Lake Como, where precipitous peaks converge on Switzerland. Use this guide to help you find the villas in the Italian lakes that are right for you.
Lake Garda villas for adventure and luxury
Of all the Italian lakes, it's Garda that's arguably the most iconic and famous of all. A sliver of water that spreads between the provinces of Verona, Brescia and Trentino, it's set in an amphitheatre of mountains that mark the start of the mighty Dolomites. Impossibly deep and peppered with villages steeped in medieval history, it's a place for outdoorsy types, history buffs and a whole load more.
Get lost in little Malcesine
Linked to Monte Baldo above it by a dangling cable car and writhed in zig-zagging lanes of cobblestone, the handsome medieval castle town of Malcesine rarely fails to enchant. Its own fortress now hosts an enthralling exhibit that unravels both the military and geological history of Garda. Meanwhile, down where the sloshing waters meet the quays, little swimming coves and pasta-steaming osterias bustle with life.
Get active in Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda is the stopper that caps off the lake in the north. It's joined at the hip to the smaller towns of Torbole and Linfano, where you can find plenty of lakeside cabins and more sumptuous Lake Garda holiday rentals. More than anything, though, this is the outdoorsy hub. Stony beaches run along the water with SUP board rentals and windsurfing schools. To the back are the craggy rises of the Garda Prealps, where you'll discover challenging via ferrata and even ski resorts.
Stun ning landscapes around Sirmione
Sirmione isn't just the first town you reach on a southerly approach to Lake Garda. For many travellers, it's also the most beautiful conglomeration of red-tile-topped mansions and cobbled streets in Italy. It's built on a finger-like headland that's crowned by mighty Scaliger Castle and its audacious 13th-century port fortifications. Around that, plenty of villas spill down to meet the pebbly beaches, while panoramas of the hulking Alps provide the backdrop in the distance.
Get a Lake Como villa to be pampered
Chic Lake Como has long been the chosen spot of Italy's elite and international glitterati. You're in good company if you're seeking out Lake Como holiday rentals – Versace, George Clooney and Richard Branson have all called these home. But it's not all luxury. Como's wedged into one of the most wonderful corners of the Italian Alps, with walking routes and bridle trails that can even take you across into neighbouring Switzerland.
Your Lake Como villa in Bellagio
Bellagio cascades down the pine-scented slopes to connect the 2 separate legs of Lake Como. It does that in seriously grand style, with rows of pastel-painted mansions and bobbing yachts. When you're not getting lost in the cobblestone lanes munching on Italian ice cream, you can delve into the opulent Villa Serbelloni to see how history's 1% have lived – Napoleon and Leonardo da Vinci are just 2 of the previous guests.
Choose Lake Como holiday rentals in Tremezzo
Tremezzo is an altogether quieter place than Bellagio, connected to the banks opposite it by regular ferry boat. It's got its own clutch of handsome Renaissance villas, which culminate with the elegant Villa Carlotta and its blooming gardens of exotic flowers right by the water's edge.
Get a villa close to Como town
If you're keen to bag somewhere a little more accessible than the mountain-shrouded villas of northern Lake Como, Como town itself can oblige. It's got good road links to Bergamo and Milan, along with its own train station. It's really the gateway to the lake, which you'll be able to explore by ferry, but does have some enthralling sights, like a rustic Roman-era stone arch and the Tempio Voltiano science museum.
Other places to find enchanting Italian lake villas
Garda and Como aren't all the lake region has to offer. There are several other places that can provide the aqua-Alpine escape you're searching for.
Something different on Lake Maggiore
Shared between Italy and Switzerland, Lake Maggiore sandwiches Lugano and Como. It's got a refined, 19th-century air to it, which oozes through the ice-cream-coloured rises of Intra as the snow-capped Swiss glaciers lurk behind. The Borromean Islands are the piece de resistance – a sprinkling of archipelago that hosts manicured English gardens.
Iseo for an off-radar villa in the Italian lakes
Lake Iseo is the often-overlooked brother of the Italian Lakes. Repeat visitors see it as the region's best-kept secret, with more local life carrying on here than elsewhere. Search for villas in the northern towns of Lovere and Pisogne to be in for a medley of cobbled lanes and centuries-old churches.
Romance on Lake Orta
A framing of rugged peaks and wooded ridges gives Orta that hidden and romantic feel. Make for Orta San Giulio and its surroundings for your long, lazy, lakeside holiday – it's a place where espressos clink in local bars and paint-peeling cottages crowd the piazzas.