Skip the coast: three of Europe’s loveliest lakes to visit – by travel experts

Lake Annecy, Haute-Savoie, France

A light breeze ruffles the palm fronds of our parasol as we sip Orangina and gaze at the windsurfers skimming across the water. The beach cafe is playing gentle Balearic beats. But this isn’t the Balearics and that shimmering expanse of blue is not the Med. We’re in the foothills of the French Alps and the nearest coastline is over 250 miles away.

Annecy is an absurdly pretty medieval town on the shores of a beautiful Alpine lake of the same name, an hour from Geneva. It is known as the “Venice of the Alps” due to the network of canals which crisscross La Vieille Ville (old town) and – just like the real Venice – Annecy’s narrow cobblestone streets and flower-decked bridges can become overrun with tourists in summer. But Annecy has an ace up its sleeve – a fantastic network of reliable local buses, free to use in July and August, that whisk tourists and locals around the perimeter of the lake and up into the surrounding mountains. There is also a cycle path which follows the shoreline if you’d prefer to explore under your own steam.

At nine miles long and two wide, Annecy is the third largest lake in France, so escaping the crowds isn’t difficult. Each morning we pack beach towels and a picnic, walk from our rented apartment in the old town to the bus station and hop on whichever local bus is ready to leave first. As we skirt the lake, we catch tantalising glimpses of turquoise water and dreamy waterside villas and hotels with private pontoons and beaches.

A peaceful bay at Talloires on Lake Annecy. Photograph: Jaubert French Collection/Alamy

Jump off at whichever stop takes your fancy: Menthon St Bernard with its chateau, which is said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle; romantic Veyrier-du-Lac with its hiking routes to the top of Mont Veyrier, and views to Mont Blanc; or low-key Doussard with its nature reserve and handful of family-friendly campsites.

There are a dozen or so public beaches dotted around the lake, from sandy Saint-Jorioz, with its beach volleyball courts and children’s pool, to the lively Marquisats, which is easily accessible on foot from Annecy town. Our favourite is the “plage municipale” at Talloires, where we spend the day sunbathing on the grass, playing pétanque, swimming in the lake (not as cold as you might think) and watching teenagers competing to perform the most outlandish jumps off the diving board. Above us a handful of paragliders ride the thermals in a cloudless blue sky.
Joanne O’Connor

Lago di Bracciano, Lazio, Italy

Bracciano, near Rome. Photograph: Sandrixroma/Getty Images

It takes just over an hour to get to Lago di Bracciano by train from downtown Rome, but it’s a world away from the swarms of tourists and ceaseless traffic of the Italian capital.

It is lively in the summer months, but never as chaotic as the flashier alternatives along the Tyrrhenian coast, and if you get bored sunbathing, there are plenty of hiking and biking options to keep you entertained in the nearby countryside. All of which makes it a perfect summertime retreat for day-tripping Romans and inquisitive tourists.

Formed from the collapsed magma chamber of a volcano, this bucolic lake is surrounded by forests, olive groves, ancient Roman ruins and three picturesque little towns: Trevignano Romano, Anguillara Sabazia and Bracciano, from where the imposing ramparts of the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi loom over the waters below.

The 15th-century castle is one of the largest and best-preserved in Italy, and it boasts an extensive collection of renaissance art and historical artefacts. Its real attraction, however, is the panoramic view from its towers.

Anyone with an appetite will find themselves well catered for around Bracciano, because thanks to its proximity to Tuscany and Umbria, the region is a culinary crossroads, and while the dishes definitely have a Roman accent, there are strong Apennine inflections, particularly with the cheese and charcuterie. But as fine as the local salumi, caciofiore cheese and roast porchetta is, no trip to Bracciano would be complete without trying a cartoccio di latterini fritti, a paper cone filled with fried sand smelt, fresh from the lake.

Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, Bracciano. Photograph: Luca Antonio Lorenzelli/Alamy

If you feel like exploring, Trevignano Romano is a short bus ride from Bracciano, on the lake’s northern shore. It epitomises the leisurely pace and laid-back charm travellers expect to find on an Italian summer holiday, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars nestled among the winding cobbled streets of the centro storico, or dotted along the waterside promenade. The town has a Blue Flag beach, and if you’ve overindulged at lunch and need some exercise to make space for dinner, there’s a vertiginous path to the ruins at Rocca dei Vico, for more breathtaking views.

For a more rustic experience, it’s easy to escape to the nearby Lago di Martignano, a crater lake above Bracciano that, save for a few farmhouses, has avoided any human development, making it an ideal spot for a picnic and a dip after a hike.

Just a couple of hundred metres from Bracciano’s train station and the Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, the Albergo della Posta (doubles from £86) is an old-fashioned but charming family hotel, with simple, well-appointed rooms and a central location perfect for exploring the town and the lake below. The upmarket Relais Vigna Caio (£255) is situated directly beneath Bracciano’s castle, with uninterrupted views of the lake, and a price to match. It was originally a private residence, built in the 1930s, and it has been lovingly restored by its current owner, who is an interior designer from Rome.
Colin O’Brien

Mecklenburg lake district, north Germany

Serene Mecklenburg is Germany’s ‘land of a thousand lakes’. Photograph: Westend61/Getty Images

Although Germany’s Mecklenburgische Seenplatte is less than two hours north of Berlin by train, it’s a largely unknown region for non-Germans. True, the scenery isn’t as dramatic as mountainous Bavaria, but it’s an idyllic escape from the big city – bucolic and peaceful, with over 600 interconnected lakes. Its nickname, “the land of a thousand lakes”, is only a slight exaggeration, and it features charming, laid-back towns and cities, manor houses and nature parks.

There are several places to use as a base: Mirow, Neustrelitz, Plau am See – all easily accessed by a train and bus network. Waren an der Müritz is a personal favourite. A fairly lively town set on the northern shore of Müritz, the country’s largest lake located entirely within German territory, it has a quaint old town dotted with medieval architecture and an array of cafes and restaurants including the Fischerhof Waren where you can eat the daily catch. It also hosts the Mürizeum, a freshwater aquarium for native fish species with an interactive, multimedia exhibition about Müritz national park, the world heritage site on the doorstep.

White-tailed eagle can be spotted on Lake Müritz. Photograph: Buiten-Beeld/Alamy

The park has protected beech forests and moors as well as more than 100 lakes of its own, and there are miles of walking trails and well-maintained cycle paths, including one that circles the entirety of Lake Müritz. Since the park is also an important breeding ground for endangered birds, you might spot white-tailed eagles, ospreys and cranes, as well as red deer, black storks and other local fauna. There are some rescued bears too, though these are not roaming free but can be found in Bear Park Müritz, the largest such sanctuary in western Europe.

Waren, and the lake district in general, has some lovely, interesting places to stay, from time-warp guest houses and affordable campsites to houseboats. It’s even possible to rent a houseboat, raft or sauna-boat to pootle around the lake at your own leisure (no special licence required), or make use of scheduled boat services to explore other towns such as Klink, Röbel, Plau am See and Malchow.
Paul O’Sullivan

There are InterCity and ICE connections to Berlin from all over Germany. From there, you can reach the lake district and Waren an der Müritz in around 1½ hours

The Guardian

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