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It quickly became a favoured holiday retreat for Europe's nobility; Hemingway was a regular visitor and the Grand Hôtel des Iles Borromées (00 39 0323 938 938; features in A Farewell to Arms.It remains as stuffy as ever, with doubles from €450/£309, including breakfast. Squeezed below steep cliffs on the east shore of Lake Como is Varenna, its idyllic "Lovers' Walkway" coiling along the shore.No house use & require generator, catering tent etc. Own fully furnished marquee for up to 400, set a little apart from hotel, for £5500. Free choice of suppliers, hotel can cater for up to 250.Tel: 01442 349955View website For the mega rich (Simon Cowell had his fitieth here): palladian mansion set in 2,500 acres. Marquees encompass the front portico, creating a spectacular entrance.SHOW ME SOMEWHERE REALLY GRAND Bellagio, on Lake Como, has been called the most beautiful town in Italy. There is a promenade planted with oleanders and lime trees, fin-de-siècle hotels painted shades of butterscotch, peach and cream, a spectacular mid-lake location facing west and a heart of stepped, cobbled alleyways, all of which make Bellagio the quintessential Italian Lakes destination.
That means CHEAP Chatting, Cheap Flirting and Cheap dating!At the southern end of Lake Garda, within the chic little spa resort of Sirmione, you find Villa Cortine (00 39 0; built in 1870 and now an exclusive holiday retreat spread over a beautiful waterfront park. The family-run Albergo Milano (00 39 0341 830 298; freshly modernised this year, is tucked into the narrow alleys higher up - all patterned tile floors and crisp white linens, with doubles for €140/£96 including breakfast.Its interiors are lavish to the point of bombast, with frescoes, marble and gilding everywhere, dovetailing perfectly with the atmosphere of monied seclusion. In a similar vein is Gandria on Lake Lugano, a tranquil hamlet of stone-built cottages, with no access by car (only a few boats stop in each day); and Cannobio, a genteel old Lake Maggiore town with an expansive promenade backed by high mountains. There are plenty of lakes all over Italy, but here the phrase refers specifically to an area in the north, where a string of narrow glacial lakes lies interspersed between the Prealpine foothills, straddling the border with Switzerland.The four most important lakes are, from west to east, Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano, Lake Como and Lake Garda.