three of europe’s most beautiful lakes to visit – by travel experts

Lake Annecy, Haute-SavoieFrance

A light breeze rustles the palm fronds of our parasol as we sip Orangina and watch the windsurfers skim the water. The beach café plays soft Balearic beats. But these are not the Balearics and that shimmering blue expanse is not the Mediterranean. We are in the foothills of the French Alps and the nearest coastline is over 250 miles away.

Annecy is an absurdly beautiful medieval town on the shores of a stunning Alpine lake of the same name, an hour’s drive from Geneva. It’s known as the “Venice of the Alps” for the network of canals that crisscross La Vieille Ville (Old Town) and – like the real Venice – Annecy’s narrow cobbled streets and flower-bedecked bridges can be overrun with tourists in the summer. But Annecy has a trump card – a fantastic network of reliable local buses, free to use in July and August, that ferry tourists and locals around the perimeter of the lake and up into the surrounding mountains. There’s also a cycle path that follows the shoreline if you’d rather explore on your own.

As we sail along the lake, we catch tantalizing glimpses of turquoise water and dreamy waterfront villas and hotels

At nine miles long and two miles wide, Annecy is the third largest lake in France, so it’s easy to escape the crowds. 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 the local bus that’s the first to leave. As we cruise along the lake, we catch tantalizing glimpses of turquoise water and dreamy waterfront villas and hotels with private pontoons and beaches.

Get off at the stop that takes your fancy: Menthon St Bernard with its château, said to have inspired Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty castle; romantic Veyrier-du-Lac with its hikes to the top of Mont Veyrier and views of Mont Blanc; or peaceful Doussard with its nature reserve and a number of family-friendly campsites.

There are a dozen public beaches dotted around the lake, from the sandy Saint-Jorioz, with its beach volleyball courts and children’s pool, to the lively Marquisats, which are an easy walk from the town of Annecy. Our favourite is the “plage municipale” in Talloires, where we spend the day sunbathing on the grass, playing boules, swimming in the lake (not as cold as you might think) and watching teenagers compete for the most bizarre jumps from the diving board. Above us, a handful of paragliders soar on the thermals in a cloudless blue sky.
Joanne O’Connor

Lake BraccianoLazio, Italy

From the centre of Rome, it takes just over an hour to get to Lago di Bracciano by train, but it’s a world of difference from the hordes of tourists and endless traffic of the Italian capital.

It’s lively in the summer months, but never as chaotic as the flashier alternatives along the Tyrrhenian coast, and if you get bored of sunbathing there are plenty of walking and cycling opportunities to keep you entertained in the nearby countryside. All of which makes it a perfect summer retreat for day-tripping Romans and curious sightseers alike.

Created from the collapsed magma chamber of a volcano, this idyllic lake is surrounded by woods, olive groves, ancient Roman ruins and three picturesque towns: Trevignano Romano, Anguillara Sabazia and Bracciano, where the impressive ramparts of Castello Orsini-Odescalchi tower above the water.

The 15th-century castle is one of the largest and best preserved in Italy, and it features an extensive collection of Renaissance art and historical artifacts. The real attraction, however, is the panoramic view from the towers.

Bracciano embodies the relaxed pace and laid-back charm that travelers expect during an Italian summer vacation

Anyone with an appetite will be well catered for in Bracciano, as its proximity to Tuscany and Umbria makes the region a culinary crossroads, and while the dishes definitely have a Roman accent, there are strong Apennine influences, particularly in the cheese and charcuterie. But just as much as the local salmon, caciofiore cheese and roast porch that no trip to Bracciano would be complete without a cartoccio of lateini friesa paper cone filled with fried sand eel, fresh from the lake.

If you feel like exploring, Trevignano Romano is a short bus ride from Bracciano, on the lake’s northern shore. It embodies the relaxed pace and laid-back charm that travelers expect to find on an Italian summer vacation, and there are plenty of restaurants and bars nestled among the winding cobbled streets of the historical centreor spread out along the waterfront promenade. The town has a Blue Flag beach, and if you’ve overindulged at lunch and need to get some exercise to make room for dinner, there’s a vertiginous path to the ruins of Rocca dei Vico, for even more breathtaking views.

For a more rustic experience, you can easily take a trip to nearby Lago di Martignano, a crater lake above Bracciano that, apart from a few farms, has undergone virtually no human development. It’s an ideal spot for a picnic and a dip after a hike.

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

Mecklenburg Lake DistrictNorthern Germany

Although Germany Mecklenburgisian sea plain Located less than two hours north of Berlin by train, it is a largely unknown region to non-Germans. Admittedly, the landscape is not as dramatic as mountainous Bavaria, but it is an idyllic escape from the big city – rural and peaceful, with over 600 interconnected lakes. Its nickname, “the land of a thousand lakes,” is only a slight exaggeration, and it boasts charming, laid-back towns and villages, country houses and nature parks.

The nickname ‘the land of a thousand lakes’ is only a slight exaggeration, and the country boasts charming towns and villages, country houses and nature parks

There are several places you can use as a base: Mirow, Neustrelitz, Plau am See – all easily reached by a train and bus network. Waren an der Müritz is a personal favourite. A fairly lively town on the northern shore of Müritz, the country’s largest lake that lies entirely within German territory, it has a picturesque old town dotted with medieval architecture and a range of cafés and restaurants, including the Fischerhof Waren, where you can dine on the daily catch. It is also home to the Mürizeum, a freshwater aquarium for native fish species with an interactive, multimedia exhibition about the Müritz National Park, a World Heritage Site on its doorstep.

The park has protected beech forests and heathlands and over 100 private lakes, and there are miles of hiking trails and well-maintained cycle paths, including one that circles the entire Lake Müritz. As the park is also an important breeding ground for endangered birds, you can spot sea eagles, ospreys and cranes, as well as red deer, black storks and other local wildlife. There are also a few rescued bears, although these do not roam freely but can be found in Bear Park Müritz, the largest such reserve in Western Europe.

Waren, and the lake district in general, has some beautiful, interesting places to stay, from timeless guesthouses and affordable campsites to houseboats. It’s even possible to rent a houseboat, raft or sauna boat to sail around the lake at your own leisure (no special permit required), or use scheduled boat services to explore other towns such as Klink, Röbel, Plau am See and Malchow.
Paul Sullivan

There are InterCity and ICE connections to Berlin from all over Germany. From there you can take the more district and Waren an der Müritz in about 1½ hours

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