Cool Off in Italy’s Most Stunning, Secret Lakes
Including an underwater city a la Atlantis.
It’s true Europe is just as steamy hot these days as the States. Maybe that’s not stopping your travel plans, travel dreaming, or travel scheming, but we can offer you one truly glorious relief to not let this summer be totally meltingly ruined: submerge your entire body under cool, cool water. And take in the views while you’re floating there.
Because Italy won’t stop being so damn pretty, the country’s lakes are even more gorgeous than basically anything you’ll find closer to home. And many of the waters here—some Alpine in nature—stay cold year round. But the refreshing aspect isn’t the only temptation.
Forget Garda and Lake Como, which are usually overcrowded, pricey, and snobby. In these more hidden lakes, you can swim through a sunken city like a mini Atlantis, feel energy spikes that cause clocks to go ballistic, hear old legends of seducing witches, and be surrounded by stone villages on cliffs surrounding the waters. Here are the most fascinating lakes to visit in Italy.
There’s something spooky about this heart-shaped lake. Surrounded by pristine valleys and snow-capped peaks in Abruzzo, Lake Scanno has inspired many Lochness-like tales. But there’s no monster here, just mysterious underwater magnetic fields that make clocks go wild and have caused electricity spikes across centuries. Locals living in the clifftop village of Scanno say the lake has a “soul” and “spiritual power,” and some even honor it as a divinity. Swimming, paddle boating, and birdwatching are the best way to recharge your batteries and feel that electric pull.
Want to work on your tan without roasting? How about heading to an Alpine lake formed between Dolomites peaks dotted with fossils, where you can trek along the banks and sit at a cozy, water-side restaurant bar? Here you’ll find rocks that are purplish blue and water—freezing even in summer—with a silver hue. Prags, located in the Alto Adige region at the border with Austria, is a little water gem where aristocratic families still flock to detox. Surrounded by a dense forest great for hiking, you can also rent a dinghy or organize a picnic on wooden benches and tables.
Where Fallisci tribes once camped in the wild countryside near Rome now sits an artificial lake built in the 1930's to supply energy to nearby power plants. Two clifftop towns made of stone dwellings with panoramic balconies overlook the sparkling-green water. The view at Lake Turano is fabulous, and numerous activities await on the water. On the pebble stone beaches, you’ll find dinghies and canoes to rent, guided fishing boat tours, giant carp fishing competitions (just for sport—the carps are then thrown back into the water), and bike tours along the shores.
Lake Capo D’Acqua
Scuba diving in a 26-feet deep lake might not initially seem like your thing, but wait till you experience this one: swimming through an entire underwater medieval village with mills, ruins of crumbled stone homes, streets, tree trunks, and old objects which were flooded over time, with giant trouts as your companions. It’s dubbed the Atlantis of the Gran Sasso National Park in the Apennine mountains. The water is cold year-round, making it a perfect heat-killer, particularly in August, and guaranteeing unique underwater visibility, luring divers from across the world.
This very northern lake, located in Lombardy, was formed when glaciers melted ages ago, bringing down pure mountain water into a gorgeous pool. It’s an intriguing place: You’ll sometimes find a dense fog here and the fishy scent of sardines left to dry in the sun. You can rent a canoe or a fisherman’s gondola to visit the many tiny lake isles. One of them, known as Montisola, is made of a mountain sticking out of the deep blue water, where the main activity is indulging in those delicious sardine delicacies.
If you’re a dog fan and don’t mind swimming next to a Terranova or Rottweiler, the tiny Martignano lake near the city of Viterbo in central Italy is one for you. A former volcanic crater, this lake has some oddly exotic scenery for these parts, with palm and cactus trees lining dark pebble stone shores. Dog beaches are the main highlight here. Connected to the main road by a dusty rural track, it’s isolated and quiet (and great for camping), but comes also with a fine lakefront seafood tavern.
When Romans need a break, they flock here. At Lake Bracciano, visitors can check out four different lake-front medieval villages and the stunning Odescalchi castle where Tom Cruise had his second wedding. Given that it serves as the drinking water source for the Eternal City (and is used to extinguish wildfires), motor boats are forbidden on this lake. The water is as clean and pure as a mountain spring, ideal for swimming and sailing. Be on the look for cute little beavers that inhabit the shores.
Lake Posta Fibreno
There’s a magical ambiance at Lake Posta Fibreno, just north of Naples, where it seems like time stands still. Water lilies, old trees leaning towards the lake, liana, geese, swans, and fluorescent green water create a dreamy atmosphere. There’s a village nearby that seems to be inhabited by a bunch of residents who while away the hours staring at the lake. We totally get why. You can rent paddle boats or just relax on the grass. Cozy B&Bs, little fish taverns, and panoramic lakefront bars serve fishy aperitifs.
Lake Paola is a rare and wonderful place where you get to experience both the sea and lake life at the same time. Located within the Circeo protected park along the coast between Rome and Naples, you’ll find salty water and a whole lot of canoeing as the top activity. Here, the views are unique: You’ll be gliding past grazing buffalos, watermelon fields, and kiwi plantations. Once part of a wider marshland, the Ancient Romans used to come here to detox in lavish villas and spas. The mesmerizing Mount Circeo—where according to Homer, sorceress Circe bewitched Odysseus—rises at the foot of the lake and has the profile of the sleeping witch.
Meaning “the Jump lake” in Italian, this watery destination is appropriately named, particularly if you’re a fan of adrenaline water sports. Located in the Latium region, thanks to strong mountain winds, Lake Salto is a secret spot for wakeboarders and wake surfers who get to run wild on the waves without fear of crashing into noisy sunbathers. The lake has fjords, a zig-zag shape, and is circled by a road lined with chestnut and oak forests. You’ll also find tiny bridges over inlets, plus a medieval stone fortress and town worth exploring on bike or foot.