How can we get the best out of a visit to the Italian lakes with our family?

Q We usually have a two-week beach holiday in Europe, late in the summer holidays. This generally involves a place with access to water sports plus a bit of biking and walking if possible. This year we would love to take our two children (aged 10 and 13) on a lake-based holiday and were wondering about the Italian lakes. Where is the best place offering a good combination of water sports and easy-going mountain walks/biking?
Tessa James, Essex

AHistorically the preserve of fusty English types, Italy's lake region is today a long way from its traditional fin-de-siecle image. The Italian lakes have become something of a haven for Lycra-clad cyclists, hill walkers and young water sports enthusiasts. Yet many of the lakes remain postcard-perfect with old-fashioned resorts, pleasure boats and grand old hotels. The three biggest lakes, Garda, Maggiore and Como, each have their own distinctive character but all benefit from a backdrop of hilly terrain, criss-crossed with mountain valleys - perfect walking and biking country.

Lake Garda is the biggest of the lakes with the cleanest water. This is also one of the best spots in Europe for windsurfing and sailing due to the favourable winds that funnel their way between the mountains at the lake's northern tip. This area is backed by rugged mountains, with good biking and hiking opportunities. The town of Malcesine offers mountain access via a "rotating" cable car rising to 6,000 ft. Local bike hire companies can transport bikes to the top for you, allowing you to follow waymarked trails back to lake level.

Italiatour (01883 621 900; has hotel accommodation at various resorts around Lake Garda, including the northern harbour-side town of Torbole, a resort favoured by windsurfers and divers. Accommodation is in the four-star Piccolo Mondo, a hotel with two pools, a tennis court and a health club. Departing 18 August the cost of a 14-night holiday is £1,043 per person (there is no child discount unless sharing a room with parents) based on two sharing, on a half board basis. The cost also includes transfers and British Airways flights from Gatwick to Verona.

For general information about hiking, biking and water sports around Torbole and Lake Garda contact the regional tourist office, APT Garda Trentino (00 39 0464 554 444;

A good alternative to Garda, a little further west, is Lake Como. With slightly less frenetic water activities, Como still offers good sailing, walking and biking opportunities. It is also considered to be the "beauty" of the Italian lakes and its narrow shores are plied by steamers and fringed by such grand old belle époque towns as Bellagio, Varenna and Menaggio, well located for hiking and biking in Como's mountainous hinterland (the local tourist office has good route maps and guides in English).

Lakes and Mountain Holidays (01329 844 405; is an independent specialist offering apartments and hotels around lakes Como, Maggiore, Orta and Garda. Staying in Menaggio, on Lake Como, two weeks in a one bedroom self-catering apartment, with swimming pool costs a total of £1,176 for a family of four. Departing 16 August this self-drive price is based on four sharing a one-bedroom apartment (with two sofa beds in the lounge) and includes short-sea ferry crossing for one car.

For general information on activities in and around Menaggio and Lake Como, contact the tourist office, APT Lake Como (00 39 031 269 712;