While beach breaks have their place, lake holidays can offer pretty much the same idyllic experience, without the sand in your sandwiches and the moisture sucking of saltwater in your hair. And yet, our default setting for a late summer’s holiday is to the coast. Well, let us tempt you away from the shores of Europe and on a journey inland to one of these dreamy lakeside holiday destinations.
Lake Orta, Italy
Arguably the Godfather of lakes in Europe, Italy’s lakes have something for everyone depending on budget and celebrity spotting requirements. While dangerously close to the throngs of tourists that descend upon Garda, Maggiore and Como, Lago d’Orta is still staying under the radar for the most part and it certainly boasts all the scenic and culinary delights of its bigger brothers. Just an hour’s drive from Milan, it’s too convenient a weekend break to ignore.
Plitvice Lakes, Croatia
Croatia joined the EU and the Euro this year and thus long-term fans of this rich, diverse and beautiful country began to twitch about the price of their Croatian beer going up. However, thanks to National Park rules, the stunning Plitvice Lakes will remain carefully protected from a stampede of tourists, eager to glance upon its aqua waters and impressive series of waterfalls; a truly unique sight.
Loch Awe, Scotland
credit: Dmitry Shakin
Before we get lost in continental Europe – a dangerously easy thing to do – let’s pop over to the British Isles to see what they have on offer. Loch Awe in Scotland is certainly competition for most on this list, with rolling hills in the background and crystal clear waters alongside which stand a collection of centuries-old castles and ruins.
Lake of Sainte-Croix, France
Man-made it may be, thanks to a purpose built dam back in the 1970s, but Sainte Croix makes up for its lack of natural origins with ridiculously pleasing views and bright blue waters in which you can swim, kayak and pedalo. While other French lakes like Annecy are forced to cope with high numbers of visitors all year round, you’ll find Sainte-Croix an almost secret sanctuary in September.
Lake Hévíz, Hungary
If you’re not convinced that European lake waters are warm enough to swim in, then Lake Hévíz is the lake for you. This is the largest thermal lake in Europe and is considered a “geological curiosity”, thanks to its waters which stay warm at 38.5 degrees celsius all year round. While still relatively small in size at just 12 acres, Lake Hévíz is only a short distance from the much bigger, slightly cooler but equally beautiful Lake Balaton.
Lake Bled, Slovenia
Slovenia is home to many of Europe’s hidden gems and Lake Bled has to be one of them, though it’s true that the secret of its beauty has long been out. With a fairytale-like church peaking through the trees on Bled Island, surrounded by the lake’s topaz blue water, you shouldn’t be put off visiting Lake Bled at any time of the year as it looks almost magical under a layer of winter snow. As it’s just twenty-two miles from Ljubljana airport, there’s very little stopping you from visiting Lake Bled and soon.
Lake Ohrid, Macedonia & Albania
credit: Hannes E.
Considered to be one of Europe’s oldest and deepest lakes and an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979, Lake Ohrid has long been one of the go-to locations for lazy lakeside holidays for residents of Macedonia and Albania, the two countries it touches. While visitors now come from across the Balkans and further afield, there is still charm, beauty and most importantly peace and quiet to be found along the banks of these turquoise waters. Furthermore, on the Macedonian side you’re only a few miles away from Lake Prespa, which is rumoured to have its own lake monster… and it’s not the Loch Ness Monster on her summer holidays.
Lake Constance, Switzerland, Austria & Germany
credit: Genji A
It seems a little harsh to compile a list of the best lakes in Europe without a nod to Switzerland and Austria, two landlocked nations who make great strides to maximise the stunning potential of their freshwater lakes. Lake Constance happens to stretch across both country’s borders as well as into southern Germany. With the Alps watching over from most sides, it’s hard to sit on the banks of Lake Constance and not be impressed by the view.
Lake Saimaa, Finland
credit: Miguel Virkkunen Carvalho
The largest lake in Finland, Lake Saimaa is considered somewhat of a national treasure and when you see photos of perfectly still waters promising endless calm it’s easy to see why. Scattered with islands, the whole region offers all types of outdoor activities and there’s even a chance of seeing the sadly endangered Saimaa ringed seal.
But more importantly, what do you think? Have you ever found yourself floating in a different body of European water, thinking to yourself, “this has got to be the best lake in Europe and I won’t hear anyone say otherwise.” Please tell us which European lakes you think we’ve missed.
Featured image by grand Yann.