This family holiday in the Italian Lakes kept parents and teens happy. A two week road trip included villa stays in Lake Maggiore and Lake Como, city breaks in Milan and Turin, designer discount shopping and a hike round a hidden gem of a lake.
- The Italian Lake District
- Boat trips
- Swimming in the lakes
- Wonderful scenery
- Fashion outlet shopping
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Who went Cath, David and their daughters Caitlin, 19, and Alice, 15
Where did you go and how did you get there Cath: We flew Ryanair from London Stansted to Turin and returned from Milan Bergamo. We hired a car and spent two weeks in the Italian Lake District of Piedmont and Lombardy in July.
Family holiday in the Italian Lakes
Itinerary Cath: We wanted to combine some city sightseeing and shopping with relaxing and exploring in the Italian Lake District. For the first couple of days we stayed with friends in Turin and then drove on to Lake Maggiore. We stayed here in an apartment for a week then drove on to Lake Como for three more nights. We rounded off the trip with two nights in Milan.
Things to do in Turin
Cath: We hadn’t visited Turin before and it was a revelation. It’s the capital city of Piedmont in North Italy and is an elegant mix of architecture from the Renaissance through to Art Nouveau. Much of it was built by the Savoy family in the eighteenth century. People associate Turin with the Fiat factory but that’s out on the outskirts, in contrast the centre has wide boulevards, beautiful buildings and airy piazzas.
Two days in Turin
On the first day our friends drove us around the city to point out the sights. We went to the Mole Antonelliana – the city’s most famous landmark – which was originally a synagogue. It’s now a museum of Italian cinema with a restaurant and a glass lift to the top of the tower for views. We had ice-cream, ate in the restaurant then drove up to the viewing point at Monte dei Cappuccini. There are amazing views over the city and the River Po.
On the second day we took the tram into town and toured the city on foot. Most key sights are within walking distance and the tram and metro systems are brilliant. We wandered around the shops – Caitlin’s studying to be a fashion buyer so visits to Prada and Armani were a must. Everyone spoke English and was very friendly – unlike the rather hushed atmosphere in some of London’s fashion stores. Many of the shops are in grand arcades, along with some of Turin’s famous historic cafés. For lunch we ate piadine – wraps made from a thin Italian flatbread and sold in cafés or as street food. It’s typical of the region and you can choose your own fillings like prosciutto and salad or mozzarella and tomato.
More places to visit in Turin
- Cafés visit Turin’s elegant and historic cafés like Caffè Fiorio, Cavour’s favoured HQ during the Risorgimento. Or perhaps try a bicerin at Caffè al Bicerin: a potent mix of espresso, bitter hot chocolate and whipped cream.
- Chocolatiers Turin has a long history of chocolate making. The hazelnut and chocolate paste combo called gianduja, now made famous by Nutella, was first created in Turin. Artisan chocolatiers in the city still create local specialities. Take a chocolate tour to sample their work!
- The Shroud of Turin there’s an exhibition in Turin Cathedral although bear in mind that only a replica is currently on display.
- National Automobile Museum car buffs can get their Ferrari fix at Turin’s modern and interactive car museum which traces the history of motoring in Italy.
- Juventus Stadium football fans will love a tour of one of the world’s best known stadiums.
- Gran Madre de Dio you’ll recognise this church from the Michael Caine film The Italian Job: the gang drove their Mini Coopers down the wide front steps.
If you’re interested in booking ahead here’s a selection of tickets and tours to appeal to teens from Get Your Guide:
A Week at Lake Maggiore
Cath: From Turin we drove to Lake Maggiore, which is about an hour away. The scenery is breathtaking: mountains, lake, pine trees, everything is on a grand scale.
Stay in a lakeside villa
We’d rented a villa on the east coast of Maggiore near Porto Valtravaglia. It’s about two miles in each direction from Luino and Laveno. There are plenty of villas to be had with swimming pools and we debated several before going for a lakeside location. After all, why swim in a pool when you can have a lake! We can completely recommend it. We could hop into the lake from the end of the garden – along with the ducks and geese who’d join us for breakfast too.
Our trip luckily coincided with an Italian heatwave so the water was warm (and relatively clean). We spent most of our time swimming, sunbathing, reading or walking into Luino to the supermarket. There was a local restaurant a five-minute stroll away along the ‘beach’.
As far as we could see we were the only English people around. Luino is a little working town, not touristy at all. Laveno is prettier with a few bars to sit outside in the evening.
There are a lot of second homes in the area and a boat hire service too.
We cooked for ourselves most of the time and ate watching the sunset over mountains and lake. One night we booked a lakeside table for supper at Montesole, which has wonderful views. It was full of Italian families and couples – all glammed up to the max. Even at the local locanda, dressing down is not an option. The food, local dishes and pizzas, was delicious and the whole meal plus wine cost around 80 euros for the four of us – great value.
We loved the villa – it has huge windows and beautiful lake-and-mountain views from every room. What a treat to wake up to every morning.
A secret lake in the Alps
We took a couple of day trips from Porto Valtravaglia. Laveno has a car ferry and we used that to cross the lake and go up into the low Alps, to Domodossola to visit the brother and grandparents of our Turin friends. They took us to a ‘secret’ lake called Antrona.
It was like something out of a fairytale and very peaceful, there were only a few local families there. We didn’t take swimming kit but wished we had. Usually it isn’t warm enough to swim there but thanks to the heatwave it would probably have been OK. Instead we took a long stroll around the edge of the lake. It takes about an hour to walk right round it. The path leads under a waterfall at one point. It is one of the most magical places we’ve ever been to.
Fashion discount shopping in Switzerland
In complete contrast, on another day we went to the FoxTown outlet stores in Mendrisio, Switzerland. This is an air-conditioned mall on three levels with pretty much every major fashion designer at discount prices. The language is Italian but prices are in Swiss francs so we paid by credit card to avoid changing money again. I bought two Furla handbags (I know) which were cheaper than the bags we saw at sale prices in Milan later. We drove through Lugano on the way to FoxTown. It’s a pretty city and would be a good place to stop off and look round.
Visiting Isola Bella
Our final day trip was to Isola Bella. This is a beautiful island on Maggiore famous for its palace and terraced gardens owned by the Borromeo family.
In hindsight we might have been better catching a passenger ferry to get there. In the event we crossed the lake on the car ferry and then drove direct to Stresa which is the main hub for island visits. The atmosphere felt different as soon as we arrived. Touts surrounded us with tickets for the boats to the island. We felt hurried and hassled and ended up getting on a private taxi boat which seemed an expensive option. Isola Bella itself is very beautiful but it felt touristy.
The main focus of the island is the palazzo and gardens for which you pay an entrance fee. There isn’t a great deal to do apart from that and the inevitable souvenir shops. In the end David looked round the gardens and the girls and I settled down in a café. It felt very different to everywhere else we’d been on the holiday and not in a good way.
Staying in Lenno, Lake Como
After a week on Maggiore we drove on to Lenno, Lake Como. The drive was a very picturesque route along Lake Lugano that’s worth doing just for the scenery. Como was a lot more busy and upmarket than Maggiore. It’s slightly more built up as well but that hardly matters when the buildings are lavish eighteenth and nineteenth century villas. We spent three days in Lenno in a beautiful modern apartment with a pool that we’d booked through AirBnB. We were up high this time and had to drive when we went into Lenno but the views made up for it.
Lenno is a pretty village with lots of bars and restaurants along the waterfront and was fun to stroll around in the evening. Neighbouring Mennagio is bigger but equally picturesque.
We went there to hire a boat one day.
We took it out on the lake for three hours which was plenty of time for us all to practise our speedboat driving skills. And get a close up view of the villas from the water.
Shopping in Milan
Cath: We finished our trip with a couple of nights in Milan before flying home. Again, we booked an apartment through AirBnB. Using the metro, which is efficient and easy, we did some more shopping and sightseeing. David and Alice went to the Duomo, Milan’s Gothic cathedral with a rooftop view to the Alps.
Caitlin and I went to a temple of commerce instead: the Duomo branch of Zara has a vast marble entrance hall with sweeping staircases – very Milan!
Things to do in Milan
Milan is a smart city, it’s the fashion and finance capital of Italy and different in flavour to Venice or Rome. It’s a fascinating place and here’s our pick of more things to see:
- Duomo you can’t miss the marble splendour of Milan’s cathedral. Climb the steps or take the elevator to the terrace for city wide views.
- Golden Triangle Go window shopping in the Quadrilatero d’Oro, an up-scale fashion district of designer emporiums set around four shopping streets (yes, something did get lost in translation!).
- The Last Supper Leonardo da Vinci’s astonishing 15th century mural, is painted on a wall in the monastery of Santa Maria delle Grazie. Only 30 people can visit at a time, for 15 minute time slots, so book ahead.
- Risotto The traditional dish of Milan isn’t pizza it is risotto Milanese made with saffron to give it a rich yellow tone.
- San Siro Stadium Visit the stadium shared by both AC Milan and Inter Milan football clubs.
- Canals Walk or cycle along one of Milan’s last remaining canals into the surrounding countryside.
What to Read Next
Truffles are one of the most desirable and expensive foods in the world! Read Cath’s latest post about her truffle hunting expedition in Piedmont, click here, with expert Gino and his truffle-seeking dog Bobby.
Here’s a selection of tickets and tours to appeal to teens – and their parents – from Get Your Guide:
Family Holiday in the Italian Lakes
Car hire Maggiore
Villa on Lake Maggiore Villa Alba BFY111 booked via bookingsforyou.com
Apartment on Lake Como Residenza Simona, Mezzegra booked via AirBnB
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Photos taken by Cath and family are all rights reserved.
I love Italy and would love to go back. I have been to Milan but not Turin or the lakes. The scenery at the lakes looks stunning. Looks like you had a lovely holiday
Map & Family says
Thanks Alison, the family who went there go to Italy a lot, but they were still really impressed. There was something for everyone and not over-touristy either.
Dianne Sivulka says
I love this article! Lots of helpful info here. We are planning to visit next summer.
Map & Family says
That’s great to hear Dianne, glad it’s been helpful!
Oh the Italian lakes! We had a blast few years ago in Cernobbio, Bellagio and Argegno, friends wedding, bailing on the lake and indulging La Dolce Vita #culturedkids
Scarlett Roitman says
I don’t need many excuses to visit Italy! I have always longed to visit Isola Bella, and Milan is one of my favourite cities, especially during the Salone. Thanks for linking up with #CULTUREDkids
Catherine’s Cultural Wednesdays says
What a perfect mix of city and lakes, I could just do with a lake swim. #CulturedKids
Nicky@Go Live Young says
Italy is somewhere we’ve never really travelled with our boys! I think that needs to change #CulturedKids
Megan - TRuly Madly Kids says
We love Italy and you’ve proved there’s enough for them and us too! A really informative guide #culturedkids
Vyki from Museum Mum says
What a great itinerary, love the mix of relaxtion and city exploring, and they all sound close enough to do with younger kids. Bookmarking for later #CulturedKids
USHA SITAARAAM says
Such an informative post. Italy has been on our list, but we have not managed to visit yet. Beautiful photos. #culturekids