Who isn’t dreaming of a great Italian holiday? Discerning travellers have flocked to the northern Italian Lakes since the 19th century and they remain a sought-after destination year-round, offering stunning mountain scenery, picturesque villages, a peaceful ambience, and a fascinating history. Susie Marquis, founder of TLTB, shares her pick of the best outdoor activities, magical experiences and luxury villas in the Italian Lakes.
LAKE GARDAThe five exceptional new luxury villas in Lake Garda we feature are located close to the south-western shore of the lake and the beautiful town of Gardone Riviera. The area is popular for its Mediterranean climate, lush vegetation, wonderful lake and mountain views, and the great variety of activities for visitors. Gardone Riviera itself is made up of a lower town on the edge of the lake (Gardone Sotto) with its high-end hotels and bars, and a charming, historic upper town (Gardone Sopra), just a short walk uphill.  Just a two-minute drive inland from Gardone Riviera, the five private villas, designed individually by a renowned architect, and each with beautiful lake views, are set within large resort grounds of 78,000m2, which include a hotel with concierge service. There’s also a helipad for those who prefer to arrive by private helicopter.
First-class concierge servicesEach villa, including Villa Telegrafo, Villa Bondone,Villa Caplone, Villa Cadria, and Villa Valdritta, is completely private, and guests can decide how much, or little, of the hotel facilities they wish to use – which include a top-class restaurant, and a luxury spa and wellness centre. The concierge here can arrange a great choice of services on-site for guests, ranging from spa treatments and massages, to wine tastings at the resort. A tempting choice of experiences can also be arranged off-site, including visits to famous wineries on Lake Garda, and in the regions of Franciacorta and Valpolicella. There’s also a choice of four golf clubs within an easy drive of the resort, suitable for both beginners and experts, and the concierge can provide advice and make bookings.  
Great outdoor experiences on Lake Garda For experiences on the lake, half-day excursions and transfers by motorboat, or sailing yachts, can also be arranged at the resort.  A popular outing is a guided tour to the small island of Garda, just a 17-minute drive south down the coast, and a 15-minute crossing by boat. The island is privately owned by the Cavazza family, who live here in a neo-Gothic Venetian style villa, surrounded by Italian-style parks and beautiful English gardens. The two- hour tour includes the gardens, the natural park, a few rooms inside the villa, and a welcome drink and olive oil tasting – and can be arranged for stays from March to October. Other outdoor activities include mountain biking, with the resort offering the use of e-bikes free of charge. Lake Garda offers 1,000 km of marked trails for beginners to experienced bikers all around the lake. 
Cultural attractions in Gardone RivieraFor lovers of history and gardens, there are two more unmissable attractions in Gardone Riviera itself: The Vittoriale degli Italiani, the estate of the eccentric poet, Gabriele D’Annunzio (1863-1938) is situated in Gardone di Sopra. D’Annunzio’s property, Villa Carnacco, previously owned by a German art historian, was expropriated by the government in 1920 and gifted to D’Annunzio. The extensive 10-hectare site includes a park, various gardens, an open-air theatre and a mausoleum. And Giardino Botanico Heller, just an eight-minute walk downhill from Vittoriale degli Italiani to Gardone di Sotto, was owned by famous scientist, Arthur Hruska, who visited Gardone in 1901 to learn about the special properties of the Lake Garda climate. From 1910-1971, he created the Botanical Garden around his residence, which contains over 500 plant species from all continents, along with numerous aquatic plants that bloom on small ponds between water features that are typical of Japanese landscape architecture.
LAKE COMO The 25 villas we offer to rent on Lake Comoare in various locations on both the east and west sides of the lake. On the east, several are close to the picturesque, historic town of Bellagio. Built on a steep slope with wonderful views over the lake, the town centre with its narrow, cobbled streets, charming cafés, restaurants and shops, is also the departure point for ferry and hydrofoil services to other villages and places of interest around the lake, as well as some special tours.  An exclusive boat tour is a great way to discover the lake and enjoy the main sights, by day and by night, without the crowds. You can take a four-hour day tour on a Venetian style boat for up to 10 people in total, including a glass of prosecco. Or a romantic three-hour sailing boat tour for two, to watch the sunset with an aperitivo and light snacks.  
Leafy attractions in BellagioBellagio is also home to two beautiful historic gardens, Villa Melzi and Villa Serbelloni, both definitely worth a visit. The gardens at Villa Melzi are stretched out along the lakeshore, while Villa Serbelloni is on the rocky and wooded promontory of Bellagio, and surrounded by 20 hectares of land, including a formal garden with curved terraces, which date back to the 18th century.  
Luxury villas on Lake ComoLocated a five-minute drive from Bellagio centre, on a hillside overlooking the lake, is Villa dei Sogni. The views are sensational – to the west over Tremezzo, east to the Grigne mountain range, and north over the beautiful promontory of Bellagio with the three branches of Lake Como, and the Alps in the background. At ground floor level, there is a well-stocked wine cellar, offering some of the best wines produced in the area, and a sauna and gym. With four bedrooms, and a lovely garden with swimming pool, the villa can accommodate up to eight people.
Just a few kilometres from Bellagio, is the small tranquil village of Vassena, home to another four-bedroom villa, Vassena Lake View. The villa is surrounded by large gardens and has a heated outdoor swimming pool, as well as a private gym and wine cellar. If you fancy an authentic local cooking course in Bellagio during your stay, at either of these villas, you might like to partake in a three-hour class with Gusto Italiano, which includes shopping for food in Bellagio town, and then cooking fresh pasta, followed by a tiramisu dessert. The village also offers a good selection of shops and restaurants, and guests can also take a boat to visit the towns of Bellagio, Como and Lecco.
On the western side of the lake, we offer the stunning Villa Sala Comacinain an equally impressive location, just outside the charming village of Sala Comacina. The villa benefits from outstanding views over the lake to the mountains beyond, which can be enjoyed from most of the rooms, as well as the outdoor swimming pool and heated jacuzzi. The villa owner can arrange boat chartering, chauffeur services and a chef on request. There are also views to theisland of Comacina, Lake Como’s only island, which can be reached by boat. The island is known for its archaeological sites and a Romanesque style church, as well as an authentic restaurant.
Also on the western side of the lake, around 20 minutes’ drive south of Comacina, is the renowned Villa d’Este, set within 25 acres of beautiful landscaped parkland. As well as the hotel, there are four independent luxury villas to rent here, ranging from two to six bedrooms: Mosaic House, Villa Cima, Villa Malakoff and Villa Garrova . The villas offer the facilities of a private home, as well as the services of a 5-star hotel, including restaurants and bars, a beauty centre, a gym, sauna, jogging path, tennis courts, and a golf putting green. There is also a floating pool on the lake, and guests can play at Golf Club Villa d’Este, just 12 km from the Hotel.
Outdoor adventures on Lake ComoOther activities available on Lake Como include beautiful cycling routes around the lake, some taking in small villages, and famous villas and gardens. Bicycles can be rented in Bellagio and Varenna, as well as the main town of Como. Hiking is also popular, with recommended hikes including the Wayfarer’s Path, between Bellagio and Varenna. Varenna is a beautiful and historic fishing village dating back to the 11th century, with a picturesque waterfront, and can be reached in around 30 minutes from Bellagio, by passenger or car ferry.
To the western side, situated high above the lake, just 300m from the mountain village of Pigra, is the ultra-luxurious Villa Pigra – accessed by cable car from the pretty lakeside village of Argegno.  Offering sensational lake, mountain and sunset views, it is surrounded by 4.5 acres of private gardens. The lake views can be enjoyed from the balconies of each of the eight bedrooms, as well as the main terrace, the pool house and infinity swimming pool. This unique property has its own boat on the lake at Argegno, which is available for guests on request. It’s particularly useful when visiting some of the lovely lakeside restaurants, and perfect for water sports. 
LAKE ORTALake Orta is a much smaller lake with a quiet natural beauty, an interesting history, and plenty of local activities on offer. We are offering just one peach of a home from home here.The10-bedroomVilla Lake Ortais perfect for an extended family or a group of friends. Situated in the main square of the small village of Pella on the western shores of the lake, it sits directly across from the pretty village of Orta San Giulio on the other side. The villa is also run as a 5-star hotel out of high season, so villa guests will have sole use of the beautiful garden, as well as an outdoor swimming pool (from May- September), and a solarium, steam room and hamman.
Authentic experiences on Lake OrtaOrta San Giulio village, can be accessed either by boatfrom Pella, or a 20-minute drive around the south of the lake. Dating back to medieval times, visitors can explore its cobbled lanes, small squares and antique shops, as well as craft boutiques and pretty cafés. On the lake, between Pella and Orta San Giulio, is the small, picturesque island of San Giulio, with its 13th century Romanesque Basilica, and Benedictine abbey, which can also be reached either by boat from the dock near the villa, or from Orta San Giulio village. There is also a restaurant on the island inside the 17th century Villa Tallone, also known as the venue for The Cusio Festival of Ancient Music, which takes place in June each year. To enhance the medieval atmosphere, burning torches are hung outside doors, and the staff wear period costumes. Active pursuits include walking, hiking, biking, swimming, canoeing, water skiing, sailing, and horse riding. Guided tours of San Giulio Island and Orta San Guilio village are also available. And just 15 km from Lake Orta, you’ll find the most important wine-growing areas of the Piedmont region, where wine tours can be arranged at the vineyards that surround the small town of Boca. For food enthusiasts, there are two Michelin starred restaurants in Orta San Giulio village, as well as plenty of typical Italian trattorias.
We also offer many more beautiful villas to rent in our Italian locations: Tuscany, Umbria, Amalfi Coast, Puglia, Sicily, Venice, Milan, Rome, FlorenceSign up for a bi-monthly catch up in which we share our latest luxury listings and unique travel itineraries here.