See The Italian Lakes District By Kayak

See the Italian Lakes District by Kayak

And celebrate its lush landscapes, unique history & enduring romance


Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, this is the area where George Clooney and Richard Branson own homes. And, no, I’ve never met them.

Fact is, those two are just a couple of Johnny-Come-Latelys in terms of the area’s suitors. Since the Romans settled the area in the second century BC, the Italian Lake District has had a long line of rich and famous admirers.

Pliny the Elder had a villa here. Leonardo da Vinci was a frequent visitor and painted “Virgin of the Rocks” here. Verdi composed La Traviata at Lake Como. The Villa d’Este, built on Como’s five-mile Riva Romantica in 1568 by a prince, later became a hotel where Alfred Hitchcock shot some of his film The Pleasure Garden. Winston Churchill vacationed and painted at Lake Como after the end of World War II.

Like much of Italy, it’s a region known for its beauty, and the Lake District has long drawn both celebrity types and the not-so-rich and famous with its share of appeal. But more than the wonderful scenery, it’s the area’s charm and enduring romantic allure that has kept us all coming back through the years.

From its brilliant blue glacial waters, lakeside gelaterias and quaint old-world villages to its sleek riviera boats, mild climate and lush vegetation, this region is one you will fall in love with.

And there’s no better way to enjoy it than by kayak.

Our unique nine-day tour showcases the very best of the District’s cuisine, scenery and historical attractions. Exploring Lagos Como, Lugano and Maggiore by kayak offers an intimate, unparalleled perspective of the area. Here are just some of the high points . . .


Lago (Lake) Como

After leaving Milan and heading north, we arrive at our first stop – the village of Laglio, from where we launch our trip. We waste no time getting into the cockpit, and a crossing of less than a mile takes us to the steeply wooded eastern shore and the village of Nesso, where a cascading waterfall and elegant Roman bridge make for picture-perfect scenery. The town of Brienno and the “villa-rich” west side of the lake back to Laglio make up the first day’s paddle. We head by van and cross by ferry to the “pearl of Lago Como” – Bellagio, where we rest and then enjoy a sumptuous private dinner at a local villa.

The next day’s paddle sees us cross one of “legs” of Lago Como to the romantic medieval village of Varenna and its Vezio Castle. There, we walk the narrow lanes of the village, cross Italy’s shortest river, the Flumelatte (River of Milk), and hike up to the castle to enjoy a sweeping view of the three branches of Lago Como. Afternoon paddling takes us along Como’s eastern shore past the village of Lierna, where we cross the lake and approach Bellagio from the east. Once landed, we take time to further explore the town and browse its many posh shops.

For our last day on Como, by special arrangement with the Italian Cultural Trust – Fondo Ambiente Italiano (FIA) – we’re able to land by kayak at Villa del Balbianello. Set on a headland on the western shore of the Lake, the iconic villa has appeared in a number of films. James Bond, anyone? A private tour takes us into the villa that was donated to the FIA by explorer Guido Monzino, and still houses a collection of artifacts from his expeditions. Rejoining the kayaks, we’ll visit the towns of Lenno and Tremezzina before the paddle back to Bellagio for a special dinner in town.


Lago (Lake) Lugano

The next day we set off by van to Lago Lugano in Switzerland’s Italian region. There we navigate a shoreline of fine villas and lavish gardens before reaching a set of sheer cliffs and finally the ancient village of Gandria. Perched on the steep slope of a fjord-like arm of Lago, the settlement enjoys dramatic views of snow-capped peaks. We get the chance to explore the village before crossing the lake to the wooded south shore. After lunch in the hamlet of Caprino, we’ll have time to relax and get in a swim before we paddle back to town. The night sees us dining al fresco at one of the best grottos in Lugano and enjoying the rustic charm of this regional institution.

 The next morning, a short drive overland takes us to another arm of Lago Lugano and our launch point at the village of Casoro. Our destination is the picturesque village of Morcote where we’ll explore the shaded arcades and flower lined alleyways of this village. A lakefront lunch is followed up by walking to the gardens of the 13th-century church of Santa Maria dal Sasso that has seen a few facelifts in its time. Back at the kayaks, we continue along the glacially carved shores of the lake to the town of Melide. There, we’ll have time to relax and enjoy some of charms of Lugano before our final dinner out in Switzerland.


Lago (Lake) Maggiore

After our Swiss adventure, we head back into Italy to the shores of majestic Lago Maggiore, the second biggest lake in the country and the setting for Hemingway’s, Farewell to Arms. We stay in the charming town of Laveno, from where we paddle along a shore lined with impressive villas that gives way to steeply wooded cliffs and finally the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso. Seemingly clinging to the cliff face, it was founded by a wealthy merchant whose life was spared after he prayed to Saint Catherine when his boat capsized in a storm. Kayaks offer us a unique view of the structure, but landing is precarious, so we’ll paddle on to the village of Arolo and drive back to descend the hermitage from above and enjoy a picnic in its gardens overlooking the lake.

Of course, no visit to the lakes is complete without a ride to high country, so from Laveno we’ll ride the Funviva del Sasso del Ferro and enjoy the stunning vistas and late afternoon sun.

The next day we set out across Lago Maggiore, passing from the province of Lombardy into Piedmont, to our destination of Isola Madre. The largest island in the Borromeo Gulf, it’s the site of a spectacular Palazzo and extensive gardens (which, of course, we’ll tour). From there we continue to Isola dei Pescatori. Arriving on the “island of the fishermen,” we’ll thread our way the narrow-cobbled walkways of the village to a waterfront restaurant. There will be time to enjoy the idyllic island atmosphere before we paddle toward the remarkable Isola Bella. Circling the island, we’ll have wonderful views of yet another Borromean palace with terraced gardens, after which we’ll head to the town of Stressa where we’ll have some refreshment before boarding the waiting van for the drive and ferry ride back to Laveno. Finally, we enjoy a special dinner that celebrates our journey of discovery through the Lake District.


The calm waters of the lakes make this trip ideal for beginner and novice paddlers. If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway to a peaceful and romantic corner of Italy, the Lake District does not disappoint. Sound too good to be true? Come see for yourself!


Have a look at our website and online catalog for further details about this and all our trips. And please feel free to get in touch through our website, by calling (800) 677-0877 or by emailing us at to find out more about this unforgettable trip.


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