Where To Eat In Italy's Lake District

The area's special climate boasts olive oil, lemons, cheese, freshwater fish and sparkling wine

Italy's Lake District, which stretches across the country north of Milan, is best known for summer celebrity spotting and waterside vacations for Italians, Austrians and Germans. Less obvious, though, is that the area around Lakes Garda and Iseo boasts a quiet, homegrown food culture backed by the efforts of Slow Food Presidia, the farm-to-table organization that promotes small producers and their traditional production methods.

What to Do

Maria Pasotti, a graduate of the nearby University of Gastronomic Sciences who owns a Slow Food-focused tour company, Good Food Good Mood, shows guests the culinary highlights of the region, which include the sparkling wines of Franciacorta, the dried freshwater sardina from Lake Iseo, a variety of DOP-labeled raw cheeses, local olive oil, and ancient lemon and cedar groves.

At first glance, these sound like the products of the very southern Mediterranean Sea. "The continental lakes area enjoys a Mediterranean microclimate," Pasotti explains, despite it being a few hours' drive from any body of salt water. She credits the moderating properties of both the lakes and the nearby Italian Alps for this special climate. Pasotti also says the region boasts native breeds of cows and goats, ancient grains, and a proprietary method for small-batch olive oil production.

Where to Eat

Some of the region's best freshwater fish dishes are prepared at one of Pasotti's favorite restaurants, Locanda al Lago, on the shores of tiny Monte Isola, an island in Lake Iseo. The family who owns it dries their own sardina on-site, using an ancient technique that is almost extinct. Other dishes to seek out include cheesy casonsei pasta, beef stewed in olive oil with polenta and lesso e pearà, a peppered bread and meat sauce.

Where to Stay

To round out the experience, guests can stay at an agriturismo, an independently owned farm that also doubles as a hotel. Family-run Al Rocol, in the town of Ome in Franciacorta, not only makes its own lauded sparkling wine but also provides cooking classes on-site that focus on local specialties. 

Reciting the motto of Slow Food's manifesto, Pasotti promises those who visit will be up to their ears in "good, clean and fair food." Taking it slow has never sounded so indulgent.

Jackie is a food and travel writer based in San Diego. Follow her on Instagram at @jacqbry.