About Lakelands of Lombardy
The contrast with adjacent scenery gives the Lombardy lakelands a surprising and inimitable charm and makes them among the best places to visit in the whole country. You come down from the Alpine passes among grey rubble, sparse grass and milky, boulder-strewn torrents and suddenly you are in an enchanted land of unnatural and shining beauty: terraced gardens, trees and flowers, magical villas, white church towers, pink roofs and ‘emerald isles which calmly sleep / On the blue bosom of the deep.’ You cannot wait to get on to the lake, where you drift under balconies heavy with roses, boat landings stately with cypress and myrtle, hanging gardens of azaleas, lilies, geraniums and magnolias. Dark green and glossy, the oleanders and citrus bushes are studded with flowers and fruits and the scarlet sheets of bougainvillaea fall to the water’s edge.
A similar contrast awaits your approach from the Lombardy plain, which is an uninspiring landscape often veiled in mist. As you drop down to the lakes (they are all deeply embedded in their mountain fastnesses) the splendour of high summer advances and enfolds you. You cannot always pause to savour the moment. These days the Milan conurbation, the cities of Varese and Como and all their malodorous gases come close to the borders of the lakes. Seveso of evil industrial-chemical memory lies on the main Como-Milan highway. Motorways have accelerated the vehicle flow without easing the congestion. Where lake-side roads are the main routes to Switzerland traffic is a nightmare.
The Maggiore, the longest lake (64 km), partly in Switzerland, resembles an inland sea. Lugano thrusts its inlets into great hills, as though trying to find a way out. This lake is mostly in Switzerland and if you drove all around it you would cross six frontiers, including those of Campione d’ltalia, which is a detached fragment of Italy in Swiss Ticino. Como, richest, deepest (410 m) and historically most interesting, is shaped like a slender body with two long legs, striding across the map.
Mountain paths from most villages deliver you in an hour or so to silence, a viewpoint, a rustic café and a refreshing breeze.
Milan is the principal airport. Main trans-Alpine railways go along all three lakes, bound for the Swiss tunnels and northern Europe. Bus services are comprehensive all over the region. Many excursions to the lakes, including day and night Cruises, are available in Milan, Como, Varese, Novara, Lugano (Switzerland) and other major towns. Among the operators is Autostradale – www.autostradale.it. Boat services and cruises on Lakes Maggiore and Como are run by www.navigazionelaghi.it. Steamers, hydrofoils and car-ferries connect about a dozen places on each of the three lakes.