Isola Bella

Lakes of wine and roses

Britain isn’t the only country with a northern Lake District. Rupert Radcliffe-Genge loves Italy’s, as did Catullus, Churchill and Jack Kennedy

The look on the waiter’s face said it all. ‘This man’s an idiot,’ he was thinking. My wife turned to me and muttered, sotto voce (we were in the Italian Lakes, after all), “He thinks you’re an idiot, darling.”



Seeing lakefish as dish of the day, I had inquired what type of fish it was. “It’s fish from the lake,” he said with studied patience, as though explaining the two-times table to a particularly stupid child.

And indeed, it was. It was also delicious, as are all the other culinary delights to be savoured in the region, from bresaola, or air-dried beef; to frittata al formaggio, the perfect light main course; mozzarella in carrozza, or a fried mozzarella sandwich; anolini alla piacentina, small ravioli stuffed with braised beef; and gelato di crema, a smooth, fresh, lemony custard ice cream.

And those are just the staples of lunchtime menus to be found in the hundreds of small restaurants and cafés dotted around the 23 lakes that form one of the most attractive parts of Italy – in fact, one of the most attractive parts of Europe.

We were staying in an apartment in the little town of Bellagio, on the apex of the inverted Y that is Lake Como. For my money, it has the best view in the world – a sweep of lake in front of a wall of mountain. In most years, the peaks retain their snow well into summer. At night, the hills twinkle with the lights of 10,000 little and not-so-little houses. For your money, you might prefer the prettiness of Lake Lugano, the compactness of Iseo, the bustle of Maggiore or the sheer size and majesty of Garda. The others, less well-known and mere puddles by comparison, also have their champions, generally those who search for absolute quiet, even at the height of summer.