Are you longing for an autumnal adventure? September and October are ideal months for going lakeside! It’s off-season enough to avoid the crowds, yet it’s arguably the most picturesque time of year.
If summer’s ending has left you feeling restless, these great European lake destinations offer an unbeatable combination of bustling town life and scenic settings. By these great lake cities you can calm that restless energy by boating, cycling, hiking, or enjoying waterside picnics. Admire the gently falling ombre leaves as you walk or play along the water’s edge.
Find out where to go and how to get there so that you can explore some of Europe’s most idyllic lake towns for yourself this autumn. And best of all, these three lake towns are easily accessible by bus or train.
Think you’ve stepped into a Disney movie? No, it’s just Annecy, also known as the Venice of the Alps—less famous but just as spellbinding. The town has a uniquely soothing atmosphere, due to its natural serenity and architectural harmony. Annecy was built around the medieval Château d’Annecy, which still forms the centerpiece of the Thiou river and is the capital of the Haute-Savoie region.
Along its idyllic canals run many small, winding paths that take you through the Vieille Ville (Old Town) center and across the many waterways. The colors of the houses dotting the banks of the canal are mirrored in the clean turquoise lake water, which is popular for swimming and sailing.
Jump on a boat cruise to discover more of one of France’s biggest lakes and its surrounding villages. Another great way to see the lake is to rent a bike and follow the old railway track from Annecy to Albertville. The flat path stretches across 31 miles and makes for a relaxing picture-postcard ride. If you’re feeling a bit more adventurous, book a paragliding session to literally fly over the lake instead!
Getting there: The bus from Geneva to Annecy takes less than an hour.
Head to the small town of Bled to explore the Slovenian Alps and a one-of-a-kind lake experience. The glacial lake resort champions green tourism and is truly a haven for outdoorsy travelers and nature lovers. The town, situated at the foothill of the Julian Alps, was formed when several small villages that encircled the emerald-green lake merged during the mid-19th century.
Bled offers myriad outdoorsy autumnal activities with water sports and mini-golf on offer until mid-October. The spectacular surrounding nature and light traffic makes Lake Bled an inspiring getaway for avid cyclists who traverse the countryside paths through mountain passes or along the Radovna Valley’s pine forests.
Visitors can also row a boat to Bled island (the only natural island in the country) and climb the bell tower for spectacular views and, if you’re lucky, catch the rising autumnal mists over the lake. The pristine Radovna River, whose water is safe enough to drink, runs through the rugged Vintgar Gorge. But the highlight of any trip to the island is the view from the wooden bridge—you’ll be rewarded with the Sum Waterfall at the end.
Another must see is Bled Castle, perched on a steep, lush rock overlooking the lake. The castle is the most-visited attraction in Slovenia and was first built in 1011 as a defensive site in the form of a Romanesque tower. More towers and a moat were added in the Middle Ages with a Gothic arch placed above the drawbridge. To find out more about the castle’s 1000-year history, visit the museum in the Baroque wing to live out your medieval fantasy.
Getting there: The bus from Munich to Bled takes 5 hours and 20 minutes.
Desenzano del Garda, Italy
In Lombardy, Lake Como may get more attention but Lake Garda is equally impressive. The little town of Desenzano del Garda is an under-the-radar gem on the eastern shore of the mountainous lake. Even though it’s the largest town by the lake, it’s less touristy than many of its Lombardian neighbors.
Chill out at the spacious marina or follow the relaxing promenade Lungolago Cesare Battisti for lakefront views (try to time the sunset) before exploring the historic town center. Check out the Venetian Palazzo Todeschini and its arcade porch and grab a coffee at the Piazza Malvezzi.
Climb Via Castello to the crumbling fortress Castello di Desenzano del Garda, which affords some of the most IG-worthy views of the lake. Opera performances are sometimes arranged here, so keep an eye out for those as the ruins make for a pretty epic backdrop! For history buffs, check out the Roman villa, which boasts ancient ruins and mosaics.
The town is a great base for a Lake Garda stay with good ferry connections to other villages. You’ll be mixing with locals on the weekday, and on the weekend, there’s always a party to crash as many Northern Italians flee the hustle of big cities like Milan to let off steam in the pristine surroundings.
Hot tip: If you’re traveling with kids, Italy’s biggest theme park, Gardaland, is just around the corner and is open throughout September. Instagram the Fontana di Trevi Venice replicas here—no one will get you didn’t do a whole tour of Italy during your rejuvenating lake stay!
Getting there: A train or bus from Verona to Desenzano del Garda takes 23 minutes.