Como is Italy’s most famous lake, beloved by the rich and famous — and lots of other people.

Beautiful Lake Como is ringed with grand homes and luxury hotels. (iStock)

All of Italy is essentially a coastline — you’re never more than a few hours away from a sea view. But the lure of the lakes draws folks inland, particularly to the sapphire waters that hang across the north of the country, set against a backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

The most famous is Lake Como, an upside-down Y just a quick jaunt from Milan that has attracted celebs for centuries. (Pliny the Younger and Leonardo da Vinci were chilling there long before George Clooney bought his place in Laglio.) Ringed by grand homes, chichi restaurants and luxury hotels — including a new Mandarin Oriental property that offers a private three-bedroom Neoclassical villa with a garden, terrace and outdoor Jacuzzi for about $12,000 a night — it’s paradise for those looking to drop some serious cash, or at least fantasize about it.

But it can seem like practically everyone has bopped around the boutiques of Bellagio. And in the summer, it feels like they’re all there at the same time.

Location: Lake Como is about 30 miles from Milan, or about a one-hour drive.

Trasimeno offers sunsets, rustic-chic accommodations and easy access to countless attractions

Isola Maggiore is a car-free fishing island in Lake Trasimeno. (iStock)

For a more laid-back trip, you could consider one of Como’s lesser-known neighbors. (Ever even heard of Lake Iseo?) Or, you could head about 300 miles south to Lake Trasimeno.

If you look at a map, it’s easy to imagine that this is a body of water that got lost; instead of lining up with Italy’s other large lakes, it’s located halfway between Rome and Florence. But this quirk of location makes it a smart choice for travelers short on time, because you can combine a lake break with Tuscany and Umbria’s greatest hits.

Trasimeno is less than an hour’s drive to Siena, Assisi, Perugia, Montepulciano or Cortona, plus it has relaxing thermal springs and countless other area attractions.

Trasimeno is set in rolling hills rather than Como’s dramatic mountains, and you probably won’t spot any movie stars. But there’s no shortage of things to see. Follow a trail dedicated to Hannibal’s victory over the Romans here in 217 B.C., or storm Castiglione del Lago’s hulking medieval fortress, which also hosts summer concerts. Ferry over to Isola Maggiore, a car-free fishing village where Saint Francis is said to have spent a Lent in the early 13th century. (The island’s other claim to fame: Since the early 1900s, its female residents have specialized in making intricate Irish lace.) Splash by the sandy — and often uncrowded — beaches, or rent a stand-up paddleboard.

There’s luxury if you want it. But instead of glam resorts, expect rustic-chic farmhouse accommodations at family-run agriturismi. Even if you’re on a budget, you can land a place with a pool and a view.

“You don’t need to go far from here to see a good sunset. The sky turns all red, and the water reflects the colors. It’s like the Caribbean,” says Marina Parisi, who produces olive oil near Vernazzano, a town with a tower that’s more tilted than the one in Pisa. She’s originally from near Lake Garda in the north, but she prefers the tranquility of Trasimeno. “The rhythm is different here,” she says.

Location: Lake Trasimeno is 75 miles from Florence (about a 1 1/2- hour drive or train ride).

Hallett is a writer based in Florence. Her website is

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