Northern Italy’s seductively beautiful lakes district – in the shadow of the Alps – seems heaven-sent for communing with nature. Though just an hour north of Milan, this area feels a world away from the business and bustle of Italy’s second city.

In this romantic region, wistful 19th-century villas are overgrown with old vines that seem to ache with stories to tell. Stunted palm trees appear to be held against their will in this northern location. And vistas are made-to-order for poets. In fact, it was early nature lovers who wrote and painted here and put this area on the tourist map in the 1800s.

Tourists have several lakes to choose from, and all have their charms – especially Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore. But my favorite is Lake Como, offering the best mix of accessibility, scenery, sightseeing and relaxation, with a heady whiff of aristocratic old days.

Lake Como is lined with luxurious villas, crowned by snowcapped mountains, and busy with fleets of little ferries darting from one cute town to another. The most famous town is Bellagio, the self-proclaimed “Pearl of the Lake” – a combination of old-world classiness and new-world luxury. Steep steps rise from the harbor front up to a smattering of sun-splashed squares. With spendy five-star hotels and high-end shopping, Bellagio pleases well-heeled travelers.

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