Northern Italian lakes have drawn travellers for centuries. There is a special attraction, an allure that pulls people as if by magic. Rowers are also enchanted by the charms of this region. The Northern Lakes have cast their spell on us, becoming one of our favourite places to run rowing trips. Every year since the inception of Rowing The World, we have been drawn here for some of the most spectacular rowing in the world. Our first trips combined lakes in Switzerland and Italy; Bellagio was the focus of a weekend short escape; then for the last few years we have run gorgeous trips on Lago Maggiore. We have decided to expand our repertoire and create this new trip combining Lago di Como and Lago di Garda – why not, there is so much to enjoy!
While every northern Italian lake is enduringly charming and beautiful, each has a slightly different personality. Lago di Como is where we ran our first rowing trip ever, so has a special place in our hearts. While the whole lake is spectacular, we have chosen to feature Bellagio, perfectly situated on a stunning peninsula at the intersection of the Como and Lecco branches of the lake. The lake feels narrow and intimate. It is long and narrow, offering views of snow-capped Alps in some directions, and in other directions there are tantalizing curves that entice you to row just a little bit further. Charming villages with pastel coloured buildings and stone churches climb up the steep hillsides. Beautiful villas set among colourful gardens grace headlands and shorelines. Lago di Garda is a bigger lake, splashed by sunlight and with a mild climate. We will explore the southern basin. The Alps are in view, even as the lake widens into a broad plane of vineyards, olive groves and lemon orchards, with towns dotting rounded hills. Join us and let this region surprise you with its charm, warmth and variety.
While the focus is on the rowing, we will squeeze in a few cultural and off water activities. A highlight is a visit to a beautiful villa on a peninsula surrounded by gardens. The towns that we stay in and visit each have their own characters and style too, but all share a focus on fabulous food and wine. Sit in the warmth of a sunny café to watch chic people passing by in a square decorated with buildings painted white, yellow, pink and ochre, the vowels of Italian floating above the clink of glasses. Savour a morning cappuccino and pastry, for lunch enjoy fresh panini or a hot slice of pizza, and at dinner sample a heaping bowl of risotto alla Milanese or a serving of polenta with lake fish. Enjoy local wines or perhaps prosecco or just a refreshing glass of sparkling water. Be charmed and enchanted. This is the good life.
Read some of our blog posts about this trip:
This tour is timed to finish just in advance of our Vogalonga weekend package. Why not extend your rowing pleasure in Italy?
|Daily Distances||Boats||Group Size|
|15 – 30 km per day||Coastal coxed quads.||Minimum group size is two quads (9 guests); maximum is four quads (19 guests)|
Non-rowers welcome. The priority is on the rowers and rowing. Fully independent non-rowers can easily be accommodated – ask us for pricing. It may be possible to welcome semi-guided non-rowing companions, and to offer walking and sightseeing options. Note that the price for semi-guided non-rowers will depend on the numbers participating. Please contact us to discuss.
Note that this is the first time this trip will be run, so it is somewhat experimental in nature. The itinerary could change. While we will be rowing coastal boats, wind and water conditions may alter our plans. Guests must be flexible and adaptable.
Arrival in Bellagio. Arrive early enough to start the holiday right with an afternoon kayak trip with Michele Gandola, a local rowing and paddling guide and friend. Tonight your dinner is at Baita Belvedere, a mountain house perched high above Bellagio. It is renowned not only for its view, but also its dedication to local cuisine. And the owner was a rower.
Today we see Bellagio from the best possible views: on the water. After breakfast, a quick ferry ride takes us to Menaggio where our boats will be waiting. We will row south, following the shore passed villas and villages. The highlight of the day will be a visit to Villa del Balbianello. Adjectives such as “striking, grand, spectacular” are applied, and you will understand why as you see it from both land and water. Non-rowers will be able to shadow the rowing tour on foot, joining us for the visit plus lunch and coffee breaks. Dinner is on your own tonight.
North of Bellagio the scenery is just as fabulous. The highlight of today’s row on Lago Como is a stop in the beautiful village of Varenna, considered by some to be even more beautiful and charming than Bellagio. Non-rowers will be able to enjoy a climb to castle top views above Varenna. This is a shorter row, with the boats returning to Menaggio, leaving time to visit Villa Serbolloni and its gardens. Best of all, tonight is your cooking class with genuine Italian housewives (to be confirmed). You’ll eat what you prepare, and it will be good!
We will be sad to leave Bellagio and Lago di Como, but it is time to drive to Lago di Garda. We might just detour up to the little-known Lago d’Iseo for lunch and a stroll. Our initial destination is Peschiera. The old town, surrounded by “fair and strong” fortifications according to Dante, is on an island at the mouth of the River Mincio. We will take the opportunity of a short afternoon row on the river, a nice stretch of the legs and body. Then we will head to Desenzano del Garda, our base for the next three nights. After dinner, an evening stroll along the waterfront to find the perfect gelato is in order.
A quick return to Peschiera and the boats after breakfast. We begin our exploration of Lago di Gardo by rowing shell. Just when we feel the need for a coffee break, there is Sirmione. On the end of a promontory pushing 4km out into the lake, the setting is spectacular, this is a famous spa town and once the haunt of Roman poets. You will understand why. But there is more lake to explore, with our day’s destination the stunning Salò. Small and elegant, it is yachters’s town and slightly off the beaten path. Perfect. A short drive takes us back to our home in Desenzano.
Our last day of rowing is, as expected, spectacular. From Salò we will head across the lake to explore the eastern shore of Lago di Garda. Our stops will include the namesake town of Garda, plus Bardolino and Lazise. While these used to all be fishing villages, they have varied and interesting histories. Garda is the gateway to the Valpolicella wine region as well as boasting a particularly charming waterfront promenade. From the water Bardolino looks like a resort town, but its real claim to fame are the vineyards in behind making a light red wine. Lazise still retains its castle and customs house. The latter was at first used for shipbuilding for Venice, then later as a sheep storage area. Did you know sheep urine was used in gunpowder! After we load the trailer, it is another short drive back to our base in Desenzano, and a bittersweet farewell dinner.
After breakfast, departure. Desenzano is on the main train lines heading east and west, from where your Italian adventures can continue.