The pastel-hued villages on the shores of Lake Como and Lake Maggiore in northern Italy have been enticing second-home buyers since Roman times, when Senator Pliny the Younger acquired two villas-aptly named Comedy and Tragedy-on Lake Como.

The area’s natural beauty and amenities continue to draw visitors from around the world, seeking what they imagine as the classic, unspoilt image of the country: blue water, sleepy, flower-filled villages and sunny skies. Indeed, Bellagio, on the shore of Lake Como, is often called Italy’s most beautiful town. It’s this enduring attraction that means that, these days, finding the perfect, unspoilt location for a lakeside home requires some careful research. Here’s our pick of the best villages on the shores of Como and Maggiore.

LAKE COMO

Menaggio

Situated halfway up Lake Como’s sunny western shore, only an hour and a half’s drive from the Swiss ski resort of St Moritz, Menaggio has a bustling year-round community.

The elegant main piazza, shops, restaurants and cobbled lanes throng with life in the summer. The second largest conurbation in the area-the biggest being Como -it also has an excellent hospital, a rare taxi rank and, even rarer, an 18-hole golf course. Menaggio is wider than many of the ribbon thin villages around the lake, and this has allowed for more development, so there isa good mixture of period and new-build homes.

Prices start from about €400,000 for a two-bedroom apartment and rise rapidly the closer you get to the lake. ‘Usually, new-build properties have a garage or a storage room, which you should try to get included in the price,’ advises Gemma Bruce of Casa & Country estate agents.

Menaggio property for sale
Menaggio
€450,000-€1.2m

Le Pergole di Sonenga is a hillside development of 42 apartments (of which 27 have already been built) made from local stone and wood. Apartments have wide French doors, private terraces and panoramic views, and owners have access to shared landscaped gardens, a heated outdoor pool and a Jacuzzi

For sale through Ultissimo (02031784975; www.ultissimo.com)

Lenno

Lenno is small, very pretty and basks in direct sunlight all year round-unlike other lakeside villages, which are frequently in mountain shadow, especially in winter. The area has its own mild micro-climate, which is ideal for gardening. For inspiration, visit Villa Balbianello, with its magnificent, exotic gardens, on the outskirts of the village.

It’s a popular location for weddings and for film-makers-recent appearances include Casino Royale and Star Wars: Episode II Attack of the Clones. On one of the prettiest inlets of the lake, Lenno has a small marina, a market and an elegant promenade, dominated by beautiful 18th- and 19th-century lakefront villas.

Local period homes usually have high ceilings, original marble floors, frescoes and, if you’re lucky, a garden. It’s still rare, but a few of the villas have been converted into luxurious apartments. Prices range from €10,000 to €15,000 per square metre. A period two-bedroom apartment is about €1.5 million to €1.9 million. Modern, high end apartments can be found further back from the lakeshore and start from €400,000.

Laglio

Understated Laglio, also on Lake Como’s western shore, is more of a hamlet than a village-it has fewer than 1,000 inhabitants and if you blink, you’d probably miss it altogether. Nevertheless, it does boast some splendid neo-Classical villas, although most are hidden behind dusty high walls and bland outer doors.

If you want the combination of privacy with direct access to the lakeshore, then this is the place for you-which is probably why George Clooney bought his villa, Oleandra, here 10 years ago, and he’s since been made an honorary citizen of the village. ‘What changed my life in a very pleasant and unexpected way was buying the villa in Laglio,’ he has said. ‘That was a pure investment decision. Then, I realised how beautiful life was in Italy and how it really helped to calm me and not feel so pressured.’ Smaller villas start from €4 million and larger ones from €10 million. However, step just 10 minutes away from the lakefront, and prices plunge: a comfortable two bedroom apartments starts from €600,000 -about €6,000 per square metre.

Argegno

Set comfortably at the mouth of the Intelvi valley, on Lake Como’s western shore and offering dramatic views up and down the lake, Argegno has a lively piazza, good restaurants and a range of quality period and new-build homes.

Popular with UK expatriates, Argegno is less expensive than quieter villages such as Laglio and a home within walking distance of the centre, with excellent lake views, is about €5,500 per square metre. Expect to pay more than €400,000 for a central, upmarket two-bedroom apartment. However, be careful to choose the angle of your dream house carefully. ‘On the southern side of the Intelvi valley, the sunshine hours can be much shorter, especially in winter,’ warns Paul Belcher of Ultissimo buying agency.

Property for sale in Argegno
€4.5m

This three- to five-bedroom period home is situated on the waterfront, just outside Argegno and less than an hour away from Milan Malpensa airport. It comes with a garden, private jetty and mooring Knight Frank (020-7861 1058; www.knightfrank.com)


LAKE MAGGIORE

Arona

Arona is the southern gateway town to Lake Maggiore and has a busy, popular marina. Because the lake has a more gentle shoreline than Lake Como’s, the best properties here are on the surrounding low hillsides. Arona is a good choice if your idea of outside space is a generous lawn rather than a large terrace. The town’s ornate turn-of the- century villas have pools, gracious gardens and amazing vistas of the lake and the quaint Borromean islands. Most of the properties are period and traditional, as this is a ‘very restricted area in which to build’, says Andrea Albertani of Dimore & Dimore estate agents. However, it is possible to find examples of cutting-edge design and modern homes, particularly in isolated positions.

Arona property for sale

Arona
€3.6m

Casa sulla Collina is a striking Minimalist home

with openplan living spaces, huge windows, and an internal pool, as well

as a swimming pool, an outdoor barbecue area and wide views of Lake

Maggiore. For sale through Ultissimo (02031784975; www.ultissimo.com)

Verbania

Locals call Verbania ‘the garden on the lake’ and it’s the largest town on Lake Maggiore. It has a lively commercial centre and a number of beautiful gardens, such as the Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens, the Villa Giulia and the Museo del Paesaggio (the landscape museum), and museums.

Only 40 minutes from Milan’s Malpensa airport, it’s slightly less expensive than the busy nearby town of Stresa-property prices are about 5% lower. The best homes are in the hillside spots, away from the town centre, or on quiet sections of the shoreline. Holiday lets are popular on both lakes and a three bedroom, top-tier lakefront home here lets for about €5,000 per week.

Verbania property for sale

€3.8m
La Antica Cappella is a beauti-fully converted former chapel outside Verbania, once part of a grand estate. Set on the lakeshore, with its own private access, this state-of-the-art home is on the market with Dimore & Dimore (00 39 0323 40 50 40; www.dimoreedimore.it)

Stresa

Bustling Stresa, on Lake Maggiore’s western shore, was a popular 19th-century watering hole for Europe’s aristocrats following the opening of the Simplon rail tunnel. Ernest Hemingway was such a regular visitor that the town appears in A Farewell to Arms.

Its sumptuous fin-de-siècle homes reflect this history. The best-located mansions are on the hillsides and a safe distance from the busy Sempione lake road and railway line. A few villas have been converted into luxurious apartments with communal gardens. A smart three- or four-bedroom conversion with good views costs about €1.3 million to €1.5 million. Stresa’s popularity has ensured a broad choice of homes in a range of prices.

Property buyer Andrew Kluge paid €300,000 (it had been reduced from €330,000) for a two-bedroom hillside apartment through buying agent Fiona Casarini in September 2011: ‘I felt that Maggiore offered better value than Lake Como-it’s about 15%-20% cheaper and is closer to Milan’ (the airport is about an hour away)

* Italy property for sale