It’s the shimmer of the water, catching shadows from the surrounding trees. It’s the opportunity for discovery—perhaps a hidden cave at water’s edge, or maybe a fabulous waterfront nightclub—it all depends on what you want. It’s a way to play where Hollywood superstars vacation, or to be stone alone deep in the wilderness.
Whatever your vacation dream is, there is a lakeside vacation for you.
For: A two-country experience paired with fine wine
Call it Lac Léman in free-wheeling France. Rename it Lake Geneva when you are in prim and pretty Switzerland. Either way, you will see lovely scenery. This crescent lake is backed by towering snow-capped Alps and fronted by pretty vineyards (including the historic Lavaux Vineyard, a UNESCO World Heritage Site). Don’t miss the thousand-year-old Chateau de Chillon, rich in history. Go out on a CGN boat for great photos. Perhaps treat yourself to a night in the five-star Beau Rivage Hotel overlooking the lake in pretty Lausanne, Switzerland, and dine at its Michelin two-star restaurant, Anne-Sophie Pic.
Lake Geneva, Wisconsin
For: For relaxing away from it all
A favorite retreat for residents of the Midwestern cities, including folks whose last names were Wrigley and Schwinn and Maytag, Lake Geneva also welcomes non-billionaires to its pretty shores. Book rooms in the lovely Abbey, which combines good opportunities for kids to have fun with the elegance and fine dining that will delight solo couples. Explore the shops in the village of Lake Geneva, and walk the Lake Geneva Lake Shore Path, for a glimpse of the magnates’ mansions. Kick back for some fun on the Ice Cream Social Tour aboard the old-fashioned Grand Belle of Geneva. Star gaze at Yerkes Observatory.
Lake George, New York
For: Forts and family fun
Kids love pretty Lake George, packed with all of the souvenir shops, factory outlets, and fudge stores that make vacations fun. Take the family to tour Fort William Henry, right in town. It played a pivotal role in the French and Indian War, and now it even offers spooky evening ghost tours between July 4 and Labor Day. Fort Ticonderoga, north of the lake, is another popular family stop. Those in search of a more sophisticated experience should book into the Sagamore Resort, a classic grand hotel on an island in the lake. Folks in search of true tranquility will find it on the lake’s far less developed eastern shore.
Lake Como, Italy
For: Playing where celebrities play
Fly into chic Milan. Shop, or simply admire, the fabulous fashion scene, and book well ahead to catch an opera at La Scala and also reserve in advance to see da Vinci’s “The Last Supper.” Head out some 40 to 50 miles to Lake Como, where the beautiful people—George Clooney, for one—play. The lake’s 145-mile shoreline is dotted with fabulous villas and the occasional grand hotel. The backdrop: The snow-capped Alps. Explore Bellagio, best visited in less-busy spring or fall. Take the funicular up from town, to hike mountain trails with vast views. Treat yourself to a night at the posh Villa d’Este.
Lake Louise, Alberta, Canada
For: For enjoying nature in a luxurious setting
This perfectly situated glacial lake, ringed by towering mountains topped with tall evergreens, and capped by an icy glacier that shimmers in the summer sun, is probably the loveliest place you will ever find to paddle your own canoe. Visitors get double the scenery for their money, since the glorious setting is all reflected again in the green-blue waters of the lake. Treat yourselves to a lakefront room at the classic Chateau Lake Louise. But don’t linger too long there. This is a place custom made for hiking and biking and (and in winter for skating). Drive to nearby Banff for restaurants and nightlife.
Lakes of Killarney, Ireland
For: The great outdoors combined with rich history
This lovely chain of three lakes—Lough Leane (also known as Lower Lake), Muckross Lake (sometimes called Middle Lake), and Upper Lake, in Ireland’s Black Valley—offers both natural beauty and superbly built structures. Start with a visit to lakefront Ross Castle, proudly independent into the 17th century, when it fell to Oliver Cromwell. From there, it is possible to board a boat that will take you along the 14-mile-long Chain of Lakes, for touring or fishing. Your journey will take you past a ruined abbey, under ancient stone bridges, and past waterfalls and mountain vistas, as well as 4,000-year-old copper mines.
For: Big vistas, raw nature, and a little gambling
Postcard-perfect Lake Tahoe—the second-deepest lake in the United States—straddles the California and Nevada border at more than a mile above sea level. Summer visitors get to hike the high ski trails far above the glimmering blue-green water below, and can mountain bike up steep trails, with a return zoom down straight to the lake. Sand Harbor State Beach in Incline Village is a great place to take a dip in the chilly lake waters, or simply to chill out. In July, you can book tickets for the Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival. And of course, you can hit the casinos on the Nevada side of the lake every day.
Lake of the Woods, Minnesota, U.S.; and Manitoba and Ontario, Canada
For: A true wilderness experience
While many Americans (as opposed to Canadians) may not know Lake of the Woods, it is, in fact, both massive—we’re talking a 65,000-mile shoreline— and magnificent, as well as far enough off the beaten path to delight folks who really want to be alone. It also boasts an epic 14,000 islands, perfect for romantic picnics, and is a definite paradise for those who love to fish—imagine fresh bass on the grill after a hard day of play. (You can hire a guide who knows where to find the big ones.) The town of Kenora, on the north shore, has a good weekly farmers market, plus shops, galleries, and restaurants.
The Finger Lakes, New York
For: Wineries, pretty villages, and the great outdoors
Oenophiles can explore the more than 100 wineries that line the shores of these 11 long, slim Finger Lakes, created by glacial activity more than two million years ago. Wine tour maps are available, or hire Finger Lakes Winery Tours to take you around. Don’t miss the village of Skaneateles, so pretty that Norman Rockwell might have created it. Book rooms at the nearby Mirbeau Inn and Spa, which has an excellent restaurant. Visit the Corning Glass Museum, where you may also make your own glass object. Save time to hike in Watkins Glen State Park in Ithaca, where you can climb past 19 waterfalls.
Lake Titicaca, Peru and Bolivia
For: Floating islands and rich culture
Surely one of the world’s most exotic lakes—as well as the world’s highest navigable lake, at 12,500 feet—Lake Titicaca offers rich scenery. The lake crosses the border between Peru and Bolivia, with its shores ringed by the towering Andes Mountains. Titicaca’s floating islands, built of straw, and occupied by groups of Uros Indians who live out their lives in this squishy setting, is a must visit. Larger islands include pretty Taquile (it resembles Tuscany), which boasts serious pre-Inca ruins, and is known for its handicrafts. The men knit, starting as kids, and the women do museum-quality weaving.