Immerse yourself in the world’s loveliest lakes

I’ve dived off a boat into the chalky waters of Lake Sainte-Croix in France, spent my honeymoon hiking through the peaks that surround Nahuel Huapi in Argentina, and woken before dawn to watch tropical birds flitting on the banks of Rwanda’s Lake Ruhondo. Lakes are where I head when I want to feel the calm of the water married with a dramatic backdrop of mountains or beaches. Here is my choice of the loveliest the world has to offer…

Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire

The largest of New Hampshire’s lakes, Winnipesaukee (above) is the very definition of New England charm

Picture this: The largest of New Hampshire’s lakes, Winnipesaukee is the very definition of New England charm. Adventurous types can head out into the 21-mile-long lake for wakeboarding and waterskiing, while those keener on more relaxing pursuits have the option of lying on a towel at Weirs Beach and just enjoying a dip.

Hop on the scenic railroad at the Weirs Beach boardwalk, or take a tour of the surrounding villages, including Wolfeboro, which claims to be America’s oldest summer resort. With 250 islands, the lake is also ripe for exploring by boat or paddleboard.

Best enjoyed: As New England’s famous ‘fall foliage’ sweeps across the surrounding woodland in autumn.

Fly to: Portland in Maine, and drive west to New Hampshire. Stay at Mill Falls, which has four traditional inns, all with boardwalk access to the lake.

Stay: Inn at Mill Falls has rooms from £163 a night (millfalls.com).

Lago Nahuel Huapi, Argentina

Picture this: Sitting high in the national park of the same name, Nahuel Huapi’s crystal-clear glacial waters are fringed with spotless beaches and surrounded by the towering Andes. Playa del Centanario is the main spot for cooling off in summer, although with the water rarely topping 14C, swimming is only for the brave.

Kayaking tours offer the chance to explore Centinela Island and spend time on the Brazo Tristeza branch of the lake, which is one of its most biodiverse and underexplored corners.

Alternatively, hike to the top of Cerro Lopez for unrivalled views across the water.

Best enjoyed: In April or May, when summer heat has dissipated but before the icy winter arrives.

Fly to: Bariloche, the base for all adventures in this corner of Argentina.

Stay: Llao Llao Resort rooms cost from £181 a night (llaollao.com/en).

Lac Sainte-Croix, France

Boating on Lake Sainte-Croix in France, which a 'haven for those who love to spend their holidays in and on the water'

Boating on Lake Sainte-Croix in France, which a ‘haven for those who love to spend their holidays in and on the water’

Picture this: Provence doesn’t usually evoke images of warm azure waters and towering limestone cliffs. But Lac Sainte-Croix offers both in abundance. This 1970s man-made lake is now a haven for those who love to spend their holidays in and on the water. Electric boats can be hired from its eastern beaches, with water- lovers able to sail into the Gorge du Verdon, the deepest gorge in France. The lake is best reached via the hairpin roads high above the gorge, and there are gorgeous views down into the valley.

Best enjoyed: On a hot summer’s day, when the chance to jump into the limestone-rich water is too good to pass up.

Fly to: Nice, and then take the winding roads west.

Stay: Chateau de Trigance has rooms from £168 a night (chateau-de-trigance.fr).

Lake Ruhondo, Rwanda

Picture this: Close to the Ugandan border and surrounded by the peaks of the Virunga volcanoes, this is one of Rwanda’s most arresting sights. Keen ornithologists will find much to love on the water, with cranes, stalks and herons making their homes there. The views from the dirt tracks high above the lake are impressive as the sun rises. The area is the perfect base for gorilla tracking in the rainforests of Volcanoes National Park, with the chance to explore projects set up by numerous lodges, too.

Best enjoyed: As part of a trip around Rwanda and Uganda, getting to know the diverse wildlife.

Fly to: The Rwandan capital Kigali and take the scenic drive north.

Stay: Virunga Lodge has rooms from £453 a night (volcanoessafaris.com).

Lake Inari, Finland

Autumn glow: The burnished trees on the shore of Lake Inari, which spreads itself across an area of 400 square miles

Autumn glow: The burnished trees on the shore of Lake Inari, which spreads itself across an area of 400 square miles

Picture this: High above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland, the lake spreads itself across an area of 400 square miles. Anglers will be in their element – the waters are brimming with salmon, Arctic char and pike. Swimmers can take a dip in summer, with the promise of a warming sauna if staying at one of the summer houses or lodges that dot the banks. The area is home to the Sami, indigenous Finns who are fiercely proud of their heritage.

Best enjoyed: As the autumn colours take hold during September. This is also the best time to catch a glimpse of the Northern Lights.

Fly to: Ivalo and head to Nellim. Isolated and beautiful, it’s the ideal place to relax and recharge.

Stay: Nellim Wilderness Hotel rooms cost from £100 a night (nellim.fi).

Lake Bohinj, Slovenia

Lake Bled might grab all the headlines, but Bohinj (above) is every bit as beautiful. Slovenia’s largest lake, it sits within the Triglav National Park

Lake Bled might grab all the headlines, but Bohinj (above) is every bit as beautiful. Slovenia’s largest lake, it sits within the Triglav National Park

Picture this: Lake Bled might grab all the headlines, but Bohinj is every bit as beautiful. Slovenia’s largest lake, it sits within the Triglav National Park. Hardy travellers can try to scale Mount Triglav, although those keen on something less strenuous can explore the lakeside trails, either by foot or on a mountain bike. Don’t miss the Savica Waterfall or the village of Stara Fuzina.

Best enjoyed: At the height of summer, when the water is warmer.

Fly to: Fly to Ljubljana and head for the village of Ribcev Laz, the ideal base for exploring the area.

Stay: Hotel Jezero has rooms from £128 a night (hotel-jezero.si).

Lake Hillier, Australia

The pink waters of Lake Hillier on Middle Island, Australia. Its pink shade is said to be derived from microalgae, although some scientists believe it may be due to bacteria in its salt deposits

The pink waters of Lake Hillier on Middle Island, Australia. Its pink shade is said to be derived from microalgae, although some scientists believe it may be due to bacteria in its salt deposits

Picture this: Found on Middle Island, off the coast of southern Australia, Hillier isn’t your average body of water. Its pink shade is said to be derived from microalgae, although some scientists believe it may be due to bacteria in its salt deposits. The stark contrast with the blue of the Pacific Ocean, just across the white- sand beach, is a sight to behold. The lake is best viewed from the air, with flights taking off from Esperance.

Best enjoyed: On a clear day, when the blue of the ocean throws the pink of the lake into sharp relief.

Fly to: Esperance, via Perth. This remote town has access to some of the most beguiling landscapes.

Stay: Esperance Island View Apartments cost from £107 a night (esperanceapartments.com.au).

Maligne Lake, Canada

Stunning backdrop: Canada’s Maligne Lake is set within Jasper National Park and has glorious views of the Rockies

Stunning backdrop: Canada’s Maligne Lake is set within Jasper National Park and has glorious views of the Rockies

Picture this: Famed for its azure water, Maligne Lake is the most picturesque place in Canada. Set within Jasper National Park, it has glorious views of the Rockies, including Mount Paul, Mount Leah and Samson Peak. The famed Skyline trail sets out from Maligne’s shore, rising above the tree line, with camping grounds for those keen to attempt a multi-day hike to the town of Jasper.

More sedate trails can be found close to the lake’s edge – but beware: grizzly and brown bears are often found in nearby woodland. Boat tours take in Spirit Island, its tall pines perfect for framing a classic photo of the Canadian Rockies.

Best enjoyed: During spring, when the mountains are verdant and birds flit across the water.

Fly to: Calgary and hire a car for a dramatic drive through Banff and Jasper National Parks.

Stay: Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge has rooms from £464 a night (fairmont.com/jasper).

Sun Moon Lake, Taiwan

Picture this: A gorgeous, freshwater lake set within the Central Mountain Range, the lake is as fascinating as it is beautiful. It is home to the indigenous Thao people, who believe they were led to the water by a white deer, where they found plentiful fish. It’s worth pulling on hiking boots and exploring the well-marked trails. The annual Sun Moon Lake Swimming Carnival takes place during in mid-autumn – a two-mile race that’s open to anyone over the age of ten.

Best enjoyed: During the annual cherry blossom festival, which takes place every February.

Fly to: Taipei for a city break, before taking the train to Taichung. Sun Moon Lake is a bus ride away.

Stay: Fleur De Chine Hotel has rooms from £233 a night (fleurdechinehotel.com).

Lago d’Orta, Italy

Picture this: Como and Maggiore are better known, but Lago d’Orta is an underrated gem, the place for dreamers and lovers of the outdoors. Arrive early to catch a glimpse of the mist shrouding the lake’s surface, and spend the morning exploring the photogenic village of Orta San Giulio before lingering over an alfresco lunch.

Afternoons are best spent on the water, ideally on a boat trip from Orta to Isola San Giulio, a pretty island with tumbling villas.

Best enjoyed: On a midweek early summer jaunt, when there are few visitors and the light shimmers on the lake’s surface.

Fly to: Milan and then journey on to Orta San Giulio. It’s a 90-minute drive through some of northern Italy’s finest landscapes.

Stay: Villa Crespi has rooms from £359 a night (villacrespi.it).

Breitling See, Germany

Picture this: Breitling See, 90 minutes west of Berlin, is one of more than 3,000 lakes in the Brandenburg region. The dark forest that crowds its banks has excellent bike paths, ripe for exploration for those on a day trip from the capital.

The Havel river flows into the lake, forming a continuous body of water with Moserscher See and Plauer See. Swimmers will find plenty of like-minded types taking to the water during summer, with some locals even heading there to break the ice during winter.

Best enjoyed: On a summer’s day to escape the heat of Berlin.

Fly to: Berlin and take the train to Brandenburg for an alternative look at one of Europe’s most beautiful regions.

Stay: Marina Niederhavel has rooms from £124 a night (marina-hausboote.de).

Great and Small Prespa

Picture this: With banks in Albania, North Macedonia and Greece, Great and Small Prespa, among Europe’s most ancient tectonic lakes at one million years old, offer the chance for a truly idyllic, off-the-beaten-path escape. The area of wetlands is a mecca for birdwatchers. Cormorants and herons are easy to spot, as is the huge Dalmatian pelican.

Agios Achilios, an island off Small Prespa, features the ruins of a 10th Century church and an abandoned village. Visitors to Great Prespa should take a traditional boat, called a plave, out on to the moody water, with the mountains of the Balkans glowering overhead.

Best enjoyed: As winter takes hold, there’s a chance to see a side of Greece few tourists experience.

Fly to: Thessaloniki and journey on to Florina. A few miles east of Small Prespa, this pretty town is a great base for exploring the lakes and nearby national park.

Stay: Phaidon Hotel and Spa has rooms from £61 a night (phaidonhotel.gr).

Lagoa Azul, Azores

Double delight: The twin Sete Cidades lakes in the Azores, above.  It is best enjoyed as summer slips into autumn and the high season crowds die down

Double delight: The twin Sete Cidades lakes in the Azores, above.  It is best enjoyed as summer slips into autumn and the high season crowds die down

Picture this: The Azores might bring to mind sand and the crash of Atlantic waves but Lagoa Azul (which with Lagoa Verde makes up the twin lakes known as Lagoa das Sete Cidades) offers the perfect alternative to the bustle of the beach. Found on the island of Sao Miguel, Azul is ripe for wild swimming, with the sound of birds providing every reason to keep your head out of the water rather than ploughing out a neat front crawl.

Best enjoyed: As summer slips into autumn and the high season crowds die down.

Fly to: Ponta Delgada, the main Azores hub, and drive along the coast road to Lagoa Azul.

Stay: 7 Cidades Lake Lodge offers bungalows costing from £357 for three nights (7cidadeslakelodge.com).

AND DON’T FORGET THE BEST OF BRITISH… 

Misty morning: A new day breaks over Scotland’s Loch an Eilein

Misty morning: A new day breaks over Scotland’s Loch an Eilein

Llyn Cwm Bychan, Wales

Picture this: Found at the end of a winding track west of the village of Harlech, Llyn Cwm Bychan is one of Wales’s most gorgeous lakes. Its shallow eastern reaches are perfect for swimming, and there is easy access to the surrounding Rhinog mountains.

Best enjoyed: In late summer when the holiday crowds abate.

Drive to: Llyn Cwm Bychan is 25 minutes from Harlech.

Stay: Maelgwyn House, Harlech, has rooms from £80 per night (maelgwynharlech.co.uk).

Loch an EilEIn, Scotland

Picture this: Loch an Eilein, in the Cairngorms National Park, is a tiny treasure and a great alternative to larger, busier Highland lochs. Set within the Rothiemurchus Forest, the area is home to red squirrels and golden eagles. Swimmers can reach the ruins of a 14th Century castle on the loch’s small island, just a few feet from the beach and close to the car park and cafe.

Best enjoyed: In early autumn, as the midgies die down.

Drive to: Aviemore is just three miles from Loch an Eilein and has excellent facilities.

Stay: Loch an Eilein Cottage offers week-long stays for £1,500 (hiddenhighlandretreats.com).

  • Joe Minihane is the author of Floating: A Life Regained (Duckworth Overlook).

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