The azure waters, lush lakesides and temperate climates of Europe’s most popular lakes make them a dream destination for those who want to connect with the vista they see from their hotel window, whether walking, cycling, bird-watching or plant-spotting. I have selected my very favourite four- and five-star accommodation throughout Italy, Slovenia and Croatia that offers the perfect luxury lakeside experience for nature lovers.
Italy’s largest lake has been attracting visitors to its picturesque shores since Roman times, and no wonder! As the area is so large, it is important to choose a location on the lake that suits your holiday style. I would recommend Gardone Riviera for budding naturalists – the ‘Botanical Garden’ of Lake Garda.
Located on the western shore of the lake, this beautiful resort has a fascinating array of plant life, with Mediterranean, Central European and sub-tropical flora in its extensive parks and gardens. I recently had a client who gushed about her morning walks along the waterfront boulevard, watching as the impossibly blue water lapped against the shore.
Hotel Villa del Sogno
My top pick for clients looking for an intimate hotel with a sense of old-world glamour is the Hotel Villa del Sogno. Each of its 35 rooms has been individually styled to reflect its early twentieth-century heritage. The villa sits in centuries-old rolling parkland that slopes down towards the water’s edge, with a terrace that offers guests the chance to have breakfast with a five-star view.
If you’re lucky enough to be a guest at the Villa del Sogno, I would highly recommend the easy twenty-minute walk from the hotel to Heller Garden, which boasts 10,000 square metres of botanical plants from five continents.
70 kilometres west of Lake Garda is another of Italy’s famous idyllic retreats: Lake Como. Shaped like an upside-down Y, the lake is slender, long and very deep. With the snow-capped Alps as a backdrop to the lush vegetation and glinting water, it’s no wonder that the romantic towns and villages around the lake have been popular with tourists for hundreds of years.
Casta Diva Resort and Spa
On the south-easternmost tip of Lake Como is the luxurious Casta Diva Resort and Spa. Its glamorous past is reflected in its sumptuous period furnishings; imagine waking up in a four-poster bed looking out at the clear blue water of Lake Como just outside the window. I have received a lot of positive feedback from clients who have stayed here – again and again they compliment the staff, who do everything they can to make your stay as pleasant as possible.
If you take a ten-minute drive south from the hotel, you will find the Como-Brunate funicular. The railway, which has been transporting visitors up the hillside since 1894, stretches a kilometre from the Piazza Alcide de Gasperi in Como to the mountain village of Brunate. You can enjoy the spectacular elevated views of the lake before a steep walk up to the Volta Lighthouse – what a way to get the blood pumping!
If you’re on the lookout for a lakeside location that sparkles with Alpine charm, Lake Bled in Slovenia is the destination for you. The surrounding hills are garlanded with hiking trails, making it a walker’s paradise. I always recommend that my clients walk the circumference of the lake, which only takes a couple of hours, if they want to appreciate the beauty of the area.
Grand Hotel Toplice
The Grand Hotel Toplice offers you the chance to experience a Grande Dame hotel in a truly memorable setting, which can be admired through the huge panoramic windows of the Aperitiv Bar and Lounge. The red-tiled roof of Bled Castle perched on the steep cliff side can be seen from the majority of the luxurious rooms, many of which benefit from stone balconies.
It is said that the waters of Lake Bled have healing properties; if, after all that hiking, you want to soak in the restorative waters, the Toplice has its own thermal spring-fed pool. In my experience, this hotel has proved particularly popular with couples celebrating special occasions, such as honeymoons, birthdays and wedding anniversaries – they tend to feel as if they’ve lost themselves in a fairytale…
The Plitvice Lakes in Croatia are the most visited attraction in the country; this otherworldly landscape consists of sixteen lakes connected by towering waterfalls. Granted UNESCO World Heritage status in 1979, the Plitvice Lakes National Park is a haven for wildlife lovers who can spy bears, wolves and boars in the surrounding woodland, as well as a variety of rare birdlife.
Tip: In my opinion you can’t visit the area without exploring the plank walks that snake around – and through – the terraced lakes, past plunging waterfalls, limestone dams and shaded woodland.
At just four years old, the Hotel Degenija is the youngest accommodation option on my list but more than matches up to its older counterparts. This cozy, Alpine lodge-like hotel offers just 20 rooms which emanate calm and relaxation. Although it doesn’t sit on the waterfront like my other suggestions, the Hotel Degenija is located in a small village that nestles in the National Park.