Wet but Wondrous: The Italian Lakes
After leaving the glorious wine region behind us there was still more of Piedmont to explore as we reached the lakes. But the bad weather returned with a vengeance; it poured and poured and poured most of the time we were in the Italian Lakes. The weather was a bit more February than May but we had some dry days and made the most of them. Ultimately, we'll file this visit in the drawer labeled - “I can tell it is amazing here, we'll need to come back another time to truly enjoy it”.
Our first stop was the lesser known Lake Orta. Despite the soggy weather we did get to walk around the pretty town of Orta San Giulio which sits on a promontory jutting out into the lake. As well as the pretty town there is a small isola that adds to the magical scenic views. After our wander we climbed up above the town to the Sacro Monte di Orta; a park and complex of chapels devoted to St Francis of Assisi. The views across the lake from here are wonderful.
Since the rain curtailed any other plans for exploring the area we decided to just move on. Our next target was Lake Como. We stopped first on the western "leg" of the lake and used a short respite in the rain to get some groceries but decided not to leave the cosy comfort of the motorhome other than that for the rest of our stop. Maslow's hierarchy of needs demonstrated perfectly! So the next day we moved again figuring at some point the weather would give us a break. Not giving up on Lake Como, we moved to the eastern “leg” just a few kilometers south of the epitome of Italian Lake destinations, Bellagio.
Our campground was a perfect spot. We were the only campers there and the bar on site seemed popular with local guys who come and hang out after work while enjoying some rosé or an aperol spritz, somewhat dispelling the macho Italian man persona! The weather did finally co-operate the following morning so we took the bus into Bellagio. I had read that the place is over-touristed and the usual social media pile-on and travel snobbery almost put me off. I am so glad we went to see it for ourselves. It was stunning, yes catering to tourists but so what; it's popular because it's spectacular. The Villa Melzi gardens are unmissable and the views were unforgettable. Thank goodness this was the day the sun decided to come out.
After Lake Como we had a brief respite from lakeside camping to visit Bergamo. A beautiful Italian city that has three tiers, like a wedding cake. From our parking spot we took the bus to the center of town, in the bottom tier. The next bus took us to the middle tier, the Città Alta, the pretty old part of the city with cobbled streets and the duomo. From here we took the funicular to the top tier, the site of the ruins of Castello di San Vigilio providing wonderful views over the city and surrounding countryside. Again, it stayed dry most of the time we were here but we did some strategic coffee shop hopping to avoid the rain when it inevitably came.
After Bergamo we headed back to the lakes and probably to one of our favorite stops on this swing through the region at Lake Iseo. In the heart of the highly regarded Franciacorta wine region, the eponymous town of Iseo is another impossibly scenic spot. We scored the best lakeside spot so far and enjoyed the sparkling wine that the region is famous for while basking in the sunshine. The rain did come again with gusto but we had experienced such a lovely few days of improved weather we decided not to complain and just be thankful that we had got to enjoy this magical spot for the last day and a half.
Our final lakeside stop was Lake Garda. The section we visited was easily the busiest area of the lakes we had been. The weather behaved well enough for us to take a walk to the lovely town of Moniga del Garda, although we did have to seek shelter under a restaurant canopy through one downpour. You can't allow your Aperol spritz to become diluted now, can you.
At the end of our first trip to the Italian Lakes we were suitably impressed. Even though the cold and wet weather dampened some of the exploring I had planned we saw enough to know that this is place we want return to in the future. From Garda our original plan had been to go to Verona but honestly the weather was just too shitty to imagine enjoying it. We decided instead to continue our drive north. Verona will have to wait until that time when we come back - that’s definitely gonna happen.
Recommendations & Tips
Where we stayed: We visited in the second half of May, with the weather we relied a bit more heavily on campsites than we normally would, but we found some really great lakeside camping with no significant planning ahead.
47: Camping Orta, Orta San Giulio, Lake Orta. Lovely spot, walking to town. 19€ a night with ACSI Card. GPS 45.8018, 8.42079
48. Parking Area near Como. Full motorhome service point and electricity, both pay per use. You pay by the hours, 12€ for 24 hours. GPS 45.83506, 9.06095
49. Camping La Fornace, Oliveto Lario, Lake Como - stunning spot on the edge of the lake. The drive here is a little hairy. The last 5 km is very narrow and windy. We went very slow, and followed the locals lead by tooting our horn at every bend. 32€ a night with elec. GPS 45.92093, 9.28836
50. Area Camper Bergamo - 18€ a night with elec. GPS 45.71314, 9.70182
51. Camping Covelo, Iseo, Lake Iseo - 22€ a night with ACSI Card. We paid a supplement for a lakeside spot. We had a great meal with killer views at the onsite restaurant. GPS 45.66742, 10.06893
52. Camping Sereno, Moniga del Garda, Lake Garda. 27.40€ a night with elec, we paid for an extra large lakeside spot. GPS 45.52972, 10.55181.