The lakes are perfect for water sports. Lake Garda offers excellent windsurfing, waterskiing and sailing facilities, as does Lake Como. Torbole, on Lake Garda, is a particularly prime spot for windsurfing. The lakes also boast a number of great beaches. The Italian Grand Prix is held on the second Sunday in September at the Monza track, 15km northeast of Milan.
Spa resorts are popular throughout the lakes becuase of the abundant supply of springs in the area.
One of golf's best kept secrets is the availability of beautiful and challenging golf courses in the lake area of Northern Italy, in particular around Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta and Lake Varese. Near Milan, you can be playing in delightful sunshine on a championship course against a background of snow capped Alpine mountains.
There are two new clubs near Lake Orta: Castelconturbia, a triple-nine designed by Trent Jones, and Bogogno, with its two courses designed by Robert von Hagge. For a more traditional atmosphere, try Varese, with its clubhouse in a former monastery; and Villa d'Este, set in beautiful woods beside little lake Montorfano.
One of the world's finest golf resorts is to be found in the luxurious Palazzo Arzaga near Verona, with a golf academy, tennis courts and a spa.
In the north-west of Italy, Turin is one of the most convenient budget airports for ski holidays. It is also the base for the 2006 Winter Olympics. Directly west of Turin, and very close to the border with France, lies the Valle di Susa, a valley on the Turin-Paris train line. In this area there are several busy ski resorts, including Sauze d'Oulx, Bardonecchia and the fashionable and modern Sestriere (2035m). Sestriere lies in the Valle del Chisone, and is a well-developed resort with 20 ski-lifts, an ice-skating rink and cross-country trails. Buses run to Sestriere from Turin; alternatively local buses travel from Oulx station on the Turin-France railway.
Further north lies the Valle d'Aosta, a large area with a distinct identity of its own. French is spoken here as well as Italian. Castles, pine forests and wooden chalets shelter in the shadows of high peaks including some of Europe's mightiest mountains: Gran Paradiso, Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Monte Rosa. Courmayeur is one of Italy's best and most glamorous ski resorts; offering masses of downhill skiing, ice-skating, cross-country skiing, cable-cars, chairlifts and helicopters. The resort lies at the foot of Mont Blanc, and caters for summer as well as winter skiing. Other good destinations in this area include Breuil-Cervinia, the spa town St Vincent, Pila and Cogne.
Over to the north-east of Italy are the Dolomites (Dolomiti), an extensive mountain range offering countless possibilities for winter sports and summer holidays. 12 different skiing areas are linked together to form the 'Dolomiti Superski' network. Resorts in this area include the popular Madonna di Campiglio and Cortina d'Ampezzo, one of the most well-known ski resorts in Italy.
Walking in the Lakes
Menaggio is situated halfway up Lake Como, on the western shore. The tourist information office can provide information about walks, and there are plenty of hiking possibilities in the surrounding area, or just across the narrow lake at Varenna.
Several buses a day run from Menaggio to Lugano (with its equally lovely waters) and from Menaggio up to the modern hill village of Breglia. From Breglia a well-signposted and popular route climbs up to Rifugio Menaggio in under two hours where there are fine views of the lake. A tougher extension continues to the summit of Monte Grona, with its big all-round panorama, including snow-clad Monte Rosa to the east. A much shorter walk also heads from Breglia through woods to the spectacularly sited chapel of San Domenico.
There is a steep walk of about two hours from Croce, from there you can either hike down a little alpine track to the lakeshore again via Griante which is the village connected to Cadenabbia and Tremezzo, or - for walkers who can cope with the challenge of a long day the domed summit of Monte di Tremezzo (1700 metres) awaits. Descent from this is long but easy, an old military road runs from just below this summit all the way down to the slopes above Argegno.
There is also a most beautiful little walk, well signposted from Griante, up alpine pastures - flowers and butterflies all the way - to the chapel of San Martino, high on a big ledge above the lake.
Try walking at Varenna, the walk leads up a mule path (signposted from the village) in under an hour to a ruined mediaeval castle perched right above the settlement. From there you can also walk on, contouring through woods and an olive grove, to the shortest river in Italy, Fiumelatte, which rushes from a cave a couple of hundred feet above the village of the same name. It takes an hour to get from the castle to this mysterious river.