Lake Como, situated in northern Italy close to the Swiss border, has attracted visitors for centuries. Today, the actor George Clooney has a villa here, but wealthy Lombardians and Milanese holidayed here long before the region was 'discovered' during the 19th century, when Europe's writers, artists and composers began to arrive. The lake, shaped like an inverted 'Y', boasts a delightful, sub-tropical climate, and the resulting vegetation, olive and citrus groves, bougainvillea and palm trees, looks remarkable against the backdrop of snow-clad mountains.
The Sentiero del Viandante, or Wayfarer's Trail, is an ancient mule path connecting the villages along the lake, originally used for bringing goods both from Milan, to the south, and the northern plains. Nowadays it is a little piece of hiker heaven, with Orange signs marking the route. Starting at Lierna, a lovely, medieval town with two of the lakels best beaches, follow the path up towards Ortanello, through the forest to the 13th century church of St Peter.
This is a perfect spot for a picnic. A sunny, grassy space – complete with fountain, tables and even barbecue equipment - spreads out around the church, and by now you'll need a break. Follow the trail through Ortanello and soon you'll be heading down to Varenna. You are now high over the lake and this is the trickiest part of the hike, but the views over the sparkling blue lake and the mountains are glorious. Visit the ruins of Vezio Castle - from the top of the tower you can see over the entire lake. Varenna, perhaps the most picturesque town on Lake Como, has steep, narrow lanes that wind down to the harbour, past lovely houses, their balconies a mass of colourful flowers. Here you can finally sit down and sip a glass of cold Prosecco whilst looking over the water.
WHEN TO GO
Late March to October
TIME IT TAKES
Five to six hours
Fiume Latte - the shortest stream in Italy appears in spring from a grotto, white-ish in colour because of its steep descent.
Villa Cipressi - named for its Cyprus trees; now a hotel, its splendid gardens reach right down to the lakeside.
Villa Monastero - another historic building, now an international cultural and scientific centre, with a magnificent garden.
Take the ferry from Varenna to Bellagio and Menaggio.
YOU SHOULD KNOW
In 2007 Lake Como was reported as being too polluted for swimming.
Check on the situation before you dive in.