When it comes to the Italian Lakes, visitors from near and far are spoiled for choice. Lake Maggiore has Swiss sensibility and northern Italian charm; Lake Orta is modest in size, but large in loveliness; little Lake Iseo boasts big views and one of the country’s best bubblies from Franciacorta. The two lakes that tend to get the most attention – and the most visitors – are Lake Como and Lake Garda, each of which has aspects that appeal to some visitors more and others less. You will not be surprised to find that we here at the Palazzo del Vice Re are particularly partial to our own Lake Como, although even we have been known to escape for the odd weekend on Lake Garda!
If you are unsure which of these two lakes is right for you, we have compiled some pros and cons for your perusal and provided some sample itineraries for different types of travelers. In the end, we certainly hope that you would choose Lake Como and come stay with us in Palazzo del Vice Re. But there is plenty of amazing scenery, gracious hospitality, high-octane watersports and delicious food and wine to go around in the Italian Lakes. Besides, you don’t even need to choose. Why not see both? The drive from Como town to Peschiera del Garda is only around two and a half hours!
Which is easier to access: Lake Como or Lake Garda?
It is difficult to beat Lake Como when it comes to the ease of “getting there”. With Milan Linate and Milan Malpensa airports within easy reach, you will never travel more than about an hour from door to door (unless of course you hit rush hour traffic on a Friday afternoon!). And the sheer number of flights landing in Milan from both European hubs and international cities is staggering. The Autostrada A9 – known as the “Highway of the Lakes” – between Milan and Como was upgraded to a three-lane highway in 2012, and though it charges a toll, it is a breeze to drive and quite scenic. You can find out more information about flights to Lake Como in our recent blog post.
Traveling to Lake Garda requires a bit more patience. Like visitors to Lake Como, visitors to Lake Garda can avail of the many flights to Milan, but the trip to the lake on the busy Autostrada A4 can take more than 2 hours. It is not as scenic as the drive to Lake Como and is a route shared with thousands of trucks making their way from southern ports to northern Europe. Of course, there are closer airports, like Verona (about 30 minutes from the lake), Venice and Bologna (both just under 2 hours drive from the lake) – though these airports have fewer flights per day in general and the volume of arrivals and departures drops significantly between October and May.
No matter which lake you choose, the lakeside roads on Lake Como and Lake Garda tend to be narrow, windy and especially crowded during the high season. Both lakes have a pretty comprehensive ferry system between the lakeside towns with passenger ferries, special tourist cruises, fast boats and car ferries (find out more in our post about Lake Como ferries). But whether you travel by car or by boat, Lake Garda is considerably larger, making it that bit more difficult to see everything in a short trip.
Which is prettier: Lake Como or Lake Garda?
This is a real quandary… Of course, we are partial to the charms of Lake Como! There is much said about the gorgeous lakeside villas, the snow-capped peaks, and the unfailing blue of the lake’s surface. What makes Lake Como so stunningly beautiful is how historic manmade structures conspire with mother nature’s bounty to create unforgettable landscapes. Yes, the wooded slopes rising from the water’s edge are lovely, but what makes the scene so picturesque is the row of multicolored cottages at the shore or the flower-flanked promenade. The famous villas that stand proudly on Lake Como are blessed with magnificent gardens that mix tall trees and flowering shrubs with stately statues and burbling fountains. They give the appearance of being “natural” but are the product of master garden architects. And when you are high in the hills above the lake, the panorama takes your breath away, but is made more charming with the addition of a stone-clad mountain hut (especially when they serve polenta and red wine!).
Many of the same charms of Lake Como apply to Lake Garda as well, although its landscapes traffic in extremes – it is Italy’s largest lake by surface area (though Lake Como has a longer shoreline!), its southern section is so wide you almost can’t see the opposite shore, while the narrow section to the north with its jagged peaks feel quite rugged and foreboding. Its winds blow more ferociously, its waters can be choppier and its hiking and biking trails are a test of endurance, making the region attractive for ambitious athletes. The south is packed with sights, sounds, tourists and traffic, while villages are few and far between in the north and the views are more mother nature-driven.
Are there more things to see and do in Lake Como or Lake Garda?
Like so much in life, beauty – or in this case, sightseeing – is very much in the eye of the beholder. On Lake Como, we are very proud of our heritage and our history, both beautifully on display in the Va Va Villas dotting the lake shore. Whether it is the cinematic beauty and adventurer’s artifacts at Villa del Balbianello, the horticultural and artistic appeal of Villa Carlotta or the luxury accommodation and dining at Villa d’Este – along with countless others! – many of the villas on Lake Como are open to visitors. Lakeside gardens, from the bombastic (Villa Melzi!) to the hidden gems (Giardino delle Valle!) appeal to novices and green thumbs alike. And athletes love the watersports – waterskiing, stand-up paddleboarding and kite-surfing, oh my! – as well as the hiking and biking in the hills. The nearby Valtellina valley has a plethora of wineries, cheesemongers and delicatessens to send the foodie’s heart soaring, or visitors can enjoy daytrips to Milan for shopping and the Last Supper, to Davos on the scenic Bernina Express train or to San Pellegrino for a spa day at the sparkling water’s source.
Lake Garda gives guests a good time as well! The main sights are concentrated at the southern shore (along with, at times, numerous visitors). Sirmione has a fairytale turreted castle and Roman ruins, Peschiera del Garda has ancient city walls, a charming waterfront and the family-friendly Gardaland amusement park, and Desanzano del Garda has beautiful Venetian style palaces, a quaint harbor and some fab beaches. Further afield, the fort of Riva del Garda and the castle of Malcesine have medieval roots, while the distinctive lemon houses of Limone sul Garda hark back to the area’s history of citrus farming. Outdoor enthusiasts will enjoy hiking and biking the hills – like Monte Baldo at almost 6,000 feet – or braving the lake’s stiff winds on a windsurfer or sailboat. Visitors can spend the day in the vineyards of Valpolicella and Bardolino, see Verona’s first-century Roman arena and romantic streets that inspired Shakespeare, or discover the Palladian villas along the Brenta canal.
Activities for: Honeymooners
Lake Como: You would be hard pressed to find a more idyllic spot for a honeymoon (or even a wedding!) than Palazzo del Vice Re on Lake Como. Our romantic La Vista suite with its fanciful ceiling frescoes, period antiques and lookout tower views is perfect for Lake Como love stories. And while you’re there, we can arrange a sunset cruise on the lake (with the perfect photo op in front of Villa del Balbianello), a lunch on the lake’s only island and a hand-in-hand hike to a mountain chalet for a rustic lunch of local fare.
Lake Garda: Honeymooners to Lake Garda can go over-the-top at a tradition hotel like Villa Feltrinelli with its 19thcentury opulence and creative nouvelle cuisine or a chic retreat like the Lefay Resort & Spa on its hilltop perch. Wine tastings are a favorite for loved-up couples, as are daytrips to Verona to re-enact the balcony scene from Romeo & Juliet. Boat trips – provided the swells are not to serious – can be a great way to share the lake with your loved one, especially when combined with a long boozy lunch at a lakeside locale!
Activities for: Adventurers
Lake Como: Guests at Palazzo del Vice Re looking for some high-octane fun are in the right place. Our owners, the Pertusinis, are passionate about their natural surroundings and always ready with a recommendation for mountain bike or hiking tours in the area. To reach the Madonna del Ghisallo cycling chapel and museum require some serious cycling prowess – not to mention the Muro di Sormano, a grueling climb known to force even Giro d’Italia cyclists to their knees. Watersports from tubing and wakeboarding to the thrilling art of kite surfing as well as canyoning and ziplining tours can be adapted to suit all fitness levels. Fans of the trek will not want to miss a two-day hike down the Triangolo Lariano, the triangle shaped section of mountains between the two southern branches of the lake, with an overnight stay at a mountain chalet.
Lake Garda: As we mentioned above, Lake Garda traffics in extremes, and the same is true when it comes to outdoor pursuits. Adrenalin junkies flock to the area to free-climb the sheer walls near Arco, to challenge themselves with a paragliding or kite surfing lesson, or to tackle the impressive peaks on cycle or on foot. Passionate sailors and windsurfers are some of the more common Lake Garda visitors. The prevalent winds guarantee beginners a steep learning curve, send experienced sailors and surfers soaring and draw world-class sportsmen and women to the lake’s shores for prestigious sailing regattas and windsurfing competitions.
Activities for: Foodies
Lake Como: Here at the Palazzo we are passionate about sharing local culinary traditions with our guests, whether it is with a Risotto evening in our stone-clad cellars featuring Lombardy rice and perch from the lake or with a cooking lesson in the Palazzo kitchen to learn the secrets of such Italian favorites as handmade pasta and pizza. Within easy reach of the Palazzo, guests can taste wines in the hills of Montevecchia near Lecco, in the dramatic landscape of the Valtellina or directly on the lake with our friends at a Domaso winery. Chiavenna, a gorgeous frontier town in the mountains north of the lake, is famous for Bitto and Bresaola, a local cheese and dried beef that are cured in ancient caves known as crotti. The Valsassina on the Lecco side of the lake is home to two of Italy’s favorite cheeses – Gorgonzola and Taleggio. And mountain restaurants (like Rifugio Martina on Monte San Primo!) offer local fare like polenta and braised boar.
Lake Garda: Foodies will be in their element on Lake Garda as well. This is the northernmost region where olive oil is produced, most of which comes from Casaliva olives grown on the lake’s eastern shore. These olive groves neighbor the vineyards that produce the prized Bardolino wines, while Lake Garda is also well known for crisp Lugana whites. The Valpolicella region to the east has many wineries to visit, among them Masi and Serego Alighieri, producers of renowned Amarone wines, while the Franciacorta region to the west produces a celebrated sparkling wine of the same name. Visitors rave about culinary specialties from the famous handmade Valeggio tortellini to Carne Salada, a salt-cured meat made from lean rump beef that is eaten either raw like as an appetizer or stewed with beans. One thing you can’t leave Lake Garda without trying is the Risotto all’Amarone, a delightful purple concoction that combines the best of the region’s food and wine in this classic risotto made with Monte Veronese cheese and the rich red Amarone wine.
So, whatever you choose – Lake Como or Lake Garda – we know you will have the time of your life. Of course, it is our hope that you come to Lake Como and Live as a Local in Luxury at the Palazzo del Vice Re!