6 Glamorous Lakeside Towns in Europe You’ll Fall in Love With
You don’t have to be seaside to enjoy sweeping water views and sun-soaked beaches. A lakeside getaway in Europe is arguably even more romantic. Just think: serene water as still as sun, historic villages lost to time, and, often, stunning mountain backdrops that even the magical Riviera lacks. Here, six lakeside towns as glamorous as the people who vacation in them.
This low-lying resort town on the northern shore of Lake Maggiore is as Mediterranean as Switzerland gets—we’re talking five-star hotels, lake tours by Riva boat, and endless Aperol Spritzes, all just 30 minutes from the Italian border. There’s beauty everywhere you look, from the snowcapped distant Alps to the cobbled streets of Old Town, known as Borgo, where strolls take you past the 16th-century Pietro d Paolo Church and colorful buildings to the waterfront piazza. It might prove difficult to find a menu in English, but that’s part of the charm: Europeans come here to escape the Riviera crowds, relax in one of the local lidos (public swimming pools), and enjoy the warm days of summer and fall at resorts like Eden Roc, which has no less than four restaurants, three pools, a 21,000-square-foot spa, and swoon-worthy lake views.
Lake Como, Italy
No list of European lake towns would be complete without a mention of Lake Como, the glamorous aristocratic playground in Italy’s Lombardy region beloved by today’s biggest stars—the Clooneys, Madonna, Versace, and Richard Branson, to name a few. Among the many villages along Como’s shores, Cernobbio is one of the most picturesque, with historic homes lining a beautiful lakeside promenade and a small but lovely garden called Il Giardino Della Valle. Just five minutes away, you’ll find Villa d’Este, a 16th-century old-world palace famous for its fountain-filled formal gardens and floating pool. Ask the concierge about renting the hotel boat for a cruise across the lake to the town of Torno, where you’ll find one of the area’s most exciting new hotels, Il Sereno Lago di Como—a contemporary showstopper designed by Patricia Urquiola.
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Tired of competing with the crowds (and prices) of Italy and France? For a blissed-out, under-the-radar escape, set your sights on the Balkans. Lake Ohrid, which straddles the Albania-Macedonia border, is one of Europe’s deepest and oldest lakes and has been a holiday destination for locals for centuries. The town of the same named earned a UNESCO World Heritage designation in 1979 for its Byzantine landmarks, Ottoman architecture, and lake’s prehistoric plant and animal species. Visit the Church of St. Jovan Kaneo, check out the lake’s many tiny beaches, stroll the shops and bazaars lining the 10th-century main square, and go for dives to explore underwater excavations from the Museum on Water.
An Iron-Age hamlet on the shores of Lake Hallstatt, Hallstatt looks plucked straight from the pages of a fairytale. The tiny village, all 16th-century alpine houses and Baroque churches, spills down a slope to the water’s edge, from which steep forested hills rise up into the clouds. The area is known for the world’s oldest salt mine as well as its scenic trails that take in the area’s glaciers and, come autumn, incredible fall foliage. Winter is also a fantastic time to go, when the town is often blanketed in a thin cover of snow and a charming Christmas market takes over the main square. Seehotel Gruener Baum, right in the center of town, dates as far back as 1700 and has played host to everyone from Empress Sissi to Agatha Christie. Order a glass of Austrian wine to enjoy on the open terrace, which extends over the lake.
On the shores of Lake Annecy, the gorgeous lake town of Talloires is like a village stuck in time. That might be because it remains off the radar to all but the French, who spend their summers here lazing on beaches, sailing, cycling, and indulging at Michelin-starred restaurants. The 17th-century Abbaye de Talloires is the town’s most storied hotel: cells once occupied by Benedictine monks (and where Cézanne painted “Le Lac Bleu” in 1896) are now individually designed guest rooms where you might find beamed ceilings, marble fireplaces, parquet floors, or Flemish frescoes. But if it’s good food you want, you’ll find it at Auberge du Père Bise, once a haunt for Brigitte Bardot and Charlie Chaplin.
Take it from us: Lake Bled is more than just a dreamy photo-op. You’ll also find history and adventure here in spades. Backed by the looming Julian Alps, the cobalt-blue lake itself is tranquil and mirror-like, with a 15th-century spired church on a central islet reachable via pletna (traditional wooden boat) that houses old frescoes and a gold Baroque altar. Once you return to shore, it’s off to Bled’s 11th-century clifftop castle, which houses its own chapel, museum, and printing press. Romantics make Vila Bled hotel their base before hikes through forested trails in Triglav National Park and visits to Vintgar Gorge—home to the country’s tallest waterfall. As for that photo-op, you’ll get the bird’s eye view at Ojstrica viewpoint, a short hike best taken before sunrise or sunset to beat the crowds.
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