20 great European lakeside holidays

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Sometimes, even the most turbulent seasons can be soothed into serenity by a sighting of waves flowing softly to land. Ask Maxim Gorky. Exiled from Russia in the wake of the Moscow uprising of 1905 (a pre-cursor to the revolution that would ensue in 1917) and his imprisonment in St Petersburg, the great author would find himself at the edge of Lake Saimaa in Finland. And though he was ­already divorced from her, he would write to his first wife, Ekaterina Volzhina, and tell her: “It’s beautiful here, like a fairy tale.”

He had a point. Life usually looks better on the bank of an inland expanse of water – and Europe is awash with such locations. From Scandinavia to the Balkans via northern Italy and the quieter corners of Britain, the vision of a hot day reflected in the mirror of a lake will always enhance a few days (or a fortnight) of ­escapism, whether the time is used for relax­ation, exploration or activity. The following 20 natural joys are all distinct entities, yet all have something in common. You may want to glimpse them in the coming months.

Italy

1. Lake Como

The Italian Lakes are the brochure stars of Europe’s inland bodies of water – and Lake Como is arguably the most photogenic, ebbing through Lombardy for 29 miles (47km) and performing the splits at Bellagio, where its two legs kick further south towards Como and Lecco. A place ideal for woozy contemplation of the currents even in Roman times, it remains so today. A three-night sojourn at the five-star Grand Hotel Tremezzo, midway up the west shore (in Tremezzo), starts at £1,298 a head, with flights, transfers and breakfast, via Kirker Holidays (020 7593 1899; kirkerholidays.com). 

The Grand Hotel Tremezzo

2. Lake Garda

The largest of the glacier-cut grooves in northern Italy stretches 32 miles (52km), flirting with the lower reaches of the Dolomites in the north and basking in flatter terrain where its waves nuzzle the hamlet of Maraschina on the Lombardy-Veneto border in the south. Its dual personality makes it perfect for admiration by bike. Flexitreks (01273 410550; flexitreks.com) sells an eight-day Adige River and Lake Garda Cycling Holiday, which starts its 171-mile (275km) journey in the mountains at Bolzano, and descends to the lake (with the option of a ferry jaunt to Peschiera at the opposite end). From £561 a head – flights extra.

Combine peaks and waves at Lake Garda

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3. Lake Orta

If Garda and Como seem too obvious, the smaller Lake Orta – just eight miles (13km) long and concealed to the west of Lake Maggiore – is a quieter jewel. Undeniably pretty (with the Isola San Giulio and its Benedictine monastery at its core), here is a fine possibility for a genteel summer trip with children. A seven-night half-board break for a family of three at the four-star Hotel L’Approdo (which offers an outdoor pool) costs from £2,779, flying from Birmingham on July 18, via Inghams (01483 345633; inghams.co.uk).

Orta is the one of the quieter Italian lakes

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Switzerland

4. Lake Maggiore

Shared by Switzerland and Italy, Lake Maggiore is a tapering ribbon of such sun-dappled mystique that even the flight of Frederic Henry – the narrator of Ernest Hemingway’s First World War novel A Farewell To Arms, who rows north across the border under cover of darkness to evade a charge of desertion – sounds a romantic endeavour. Henry and his lover find refuge in a Swiss hotel – a step into shelter you can mimic today via a weekend at Hotel Eden Roc (0041 91 785 7171; edenroc.ch), a grand five-star with four restaurants on the water at Ascona. Double rooms in June start at 300 francs (£226) with breakfast. 

5. Lake Geneva

Switzerland is well practised at playing nicely over its great water features, holding joint custody of Lake Geneva with France, while laying claim to its prime urban area. Geneva is an underrated option for a city break, offering clever slabs of 21st-century flair in its Musée d’Art Moderne et Contemporain (mamco.ch) and first-rate lodging at the Mandarin Oriental (0041 22 909 0000; mandarinoriental.com/geneva), which adorns the Rhône at the point it leaves the lake. Doubles in June from 420 francs (£317), room only.

Lake Geneva

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6. Lake Lucerne

Switzerland does not have to haggle over visitation rights when it comes to Lake Lucerne, which lies wholly in its territory, 30 miles (48km) south of Zurich. Switzerland also specialises in train lines that inch through glorious rocky vistas and Expressions Holidays (01392 441245; expressionsholidays.co.uk) salutes this in its By Rail to Lake Lucerne trip. This seven-night tour rolls in from London via Paris and Zurich, slumbers in a five-star hotel in Weggis on the north shore, and includes a three-day rail pass for wider exploration. From £1,960 per person including train travel.

Lake Lucerne

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Central Europe

7. Lake Constance

The Bodensee (to use its German title) goes one better than Lake Maggiore and Geneva by lapping the shores of three countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland). It is a neat fit for a cycle break that flits across the European land mass. Freedom Treks (01273 224066; freedomtreks.co.uk) meets this demand with 4 Countries and 3 Lakes – a 205-mile (330km) self-guided eight-night circular route from Kreuzlingen, Switzerland. The trip costs £795 a head in July, with hotels and breakfast (flights and bike extra). The fourth country – pub-quiz kings will know – is Liechtenstein.

The Bodensee is shared by three countries

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8. Lake Bled

A postcard staple of such pastoral persuasion – thanks, not least, to the island at its centre, where the 17th-century Church of the Assumption raises its head – Lake Bled is probably more famous than anything else in Slovenia. It is a place to slow down in a waterside spa hotel – but can also be enjoyed in conjunction with the capital, which waits 35 miles (56km) to the south-east. Regent Holidays (020 3131 6400; regent-holidays.co.uk) sells a seven-day Ljubljana & Lake Bled Twin-Centre which divides its time equally between the two locations. From £725 per person, with flights and breakfast.

Lake Bled

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Newmarket Holidays

9. The Masurian Lakes

Poland’s countryside rarely appears on the British travel radar – a shame, as the Masurian Lake District is one of Europe’s marvels. It shines in the Polish north-east, sunlight bouncing on Lake Sniardwy, the biggest body of water in the country. Here is an area framed by marshland, where elk and bison roam. It is at its most fascinating in the coldest months – a corner of the calendar explored by Naturetrek (01962 733051; naturetrek.co.uk) and its seven-day Poland in Winter group trip, which visits the region to seek said animals. The next departure is on Jan 13, from £1,695 a head with flights. 

Nordic Lakes

10. Lake Saimaa

Finland likes to shimmer under the tagline “Land of a Thousand Lakes”. However, this is something of an underselling – there are 187,888 such expanses of water strewn across its forested contours. Saimaa, 160 miles (258km)north-east of Helsinki, is the largest, with 1,700 sq miles (4,400 sq km) in surface area. It is a joy in winter, when Best Served Scandinavia (020 7664 2237; best-served.co.uk) sells a four-day ice-skating break that allows participants to glide across its frozen skin from the Hotel Jarvisydan at Porosalmi. From £870 per person, including flights.

Only the brave swim in Lake Saimaa

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11. Lake Nasijarvi

Finland’s abundance of lakes seeps into its urban areas. Tampere is a case in point – the third-biggest city in the country is infused with a post-industrial charm by its position at the meeting of Lakes Nasijarvi and Pyhajarvi (the Tammerkoski Rapids are a splash-and-spray divider). With attractions such as the Nasinneula Observation Tower (sarkanniemi.fi), it makes for a niche but alluring mini-break. A three-night stay at the four-star Grand Hotel Tammer, flying from Heathrow on July 12, starts at £508 a head with Expedia (020 3684 2907; expedia.co.uk). 

12. Lake Animmen

Sweden can boast the biggest lake in the European Union in Lake Vanern, but this tiny (in comparison) neighbour of the 2,180 sq mile (5,646 sq km) behemoth opens a window on to the calm Scandinavian condition. Last September saw the installation of five glass-sided cabins on Henriksholm, a sliver island in the middle of Lake Animmen (which lies 100 miles/160km north-east of Gothenburg) – the idea being that guests learn to switch off in a pristine rural setting. The cabins contain double beds and can be hired from 3,995 krona (£343) per person for a three-night full-board stay at vastsverige.com/en/72hcabin.

The Balkans

13. Lake Skadar

Skadar helps to define the boundary between Montenegro and Albania. That it does so as a place hugely carpeted in lilies and home to bird life like the rare Dalmatian pelican adds to its air of mystery. Responsible Travel (01273 823700; responsibletravel.com) runs a regular seven-day group kayaking holiday that paddles out into Lake Skadar National Park, on the Montenegrin side of the water. From £595 a head, flights extra, with 11 departures in 2018.

Skadar straddles Montenegro and Albania

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14. Lake Vrana

Croatia is renowned for its splendid coastline, but it excels away from the sea in the form of Lake Vrana. Set 20 miles (32km) south-east of Zadar, this is the country’s largest lake, at 12 sq miles (31 sq km)– yet it is separated from the Adriatic by a strip of land hardly a mile (1.6km) wide at its narrowest and easily seen on a beach break. A seven-night stay at the Hotel Kornati in Biograd, flying from Stansted to Split on June 24, costs £767 a head, with breakfast and transfers, via Jet2Holidays (0800 408 0778; jet2holidays.com). 

15. Lake Ohrid

Those who think Europe can no longer spring a travel surprise reckon without a wonder so picturesque that it has been on Unesco’s natural and cultural heritage list since 1979. Like Lake Skadar, it helps to delineate the Albanian border, but it is the Macedonian side of Lake Ohrid that sings to travellers. The small city of Ohrid is a fine place to spend a weekend, in one of any number of waterfront hotels. And remarkably, there are direct flights from the UK. A four-night stay at the four-star Park Lakeside, leaving Luton on June 27, costs from £243, with breakfast, through Wizz Air (0333 155 4997; wizzair.com).  

A church on the banks of Ohrid

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The UK

16. Lough Neagh

The UK is festooned with lakes – but the identity of the largest is often unappreciated. This role falls to Lough Neagh – a giant of 151 sq miles (391 sq km) that fringes five of Northern Ireland’s six counties. A rippling refuge from it all? Certainly – via the Irish Landmark Trust (00353 1 670 4733; irishlandmark.com), which lists Ballealy Cottage. This three-bedroom oasis is pitched just north of the shore at Randalstown in Co Antrim – and is still available to rent in July from £806 per week. 

Lough Neagh

17. Loch Ness

While Loch Lomond is the biggest of the Scottish lakes, its profile is generally eclipsed by its compatriot, with its hoary talk of monsters. But then, Loch Ness is a spectacular context for a break. Water-holiday specialists Le Boat (023 9280 1385; leboat.co.uk) sell “The Grand Highland Fling Cruise” – a self-guided floating trip through Lochs Lochy, Oich and Ness, as well as along the Caledonian Canal, which covers 120 miles (193km) and is designed to take between a week and 14 leisurely days. Seven nights’ hire of a Horizon vessel (which sleeps four in two cabins), beginning on July 14, costs from £2,505 in total.

18. Windermere

Neither this titan of Cumbria nor its status as England’s largest natural lake require much introduction, but familiarity does not diminish Windermere’s majesty, nor its suitability as a backdrop to getaways on foot. Exodus Travels (020 3733 4525; exodus.co.uk) suggests a seven-day Literary Walking in the Lake District self-guided break that trawls the settings which inspired writers from Wordsworth to Beatrix Potter – the Lake District’s big beast among them. From £679 per person – including accommodation with breakfast.

Best of British: Windermere

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Hidden gems

19. Lake Onega

True, it’s hard to describe Lake Onega as “hidden”. Such a word barely befits a basin with a surface area of 3,700 sq miles (9,580 sq km)_which ranks as the second-largest lake in Europe. Its lack of fame is due to location. It skulks in Russia, although it is near enough to St Petersburg (which gleams 225 miles/362km to the south-west) to be accessible. It is the focus of a four-day adventure called Karelia & Kizhi Island (the latter being a church-dotted shard in the water), offered by On The Go Tours (020 7371 1113; onthegotours.com) which can be tailored to also take in the neighbouring Lake Ladoga, Europe’s biggest. From £599 a head, flights extra.  

Lake Onega

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20. Lagoa das Sete Cidades

There is something especially photogenic about two lakes merging. Lakes Michigan and Huron demonstrate this in the US Midwest, although neither has the visual wow factor of Lagoa das Sete Cidades – a volcanic oddity where two individual pools occupy the same caldera in the west of Sao Miguel, the main island of the Portuguese Azores. Helpfully, Lagoas Azul (Blue) and Verde (Green) identify themselves by being different colours – and are part of the seven-night family break on Sao Miguel sold by Azores expert Sunvil (020 8758 4722; sunvil.co.uk). From £4,039 in total for a family of four, including flights.



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