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Frequently  Asked  Questions
 

We have put together a number of frequently asked questions that we have received through e-mails and also some our own that we think will answer many of your inquiries and questions.

 


Oria, Lake Lugano
 

   
 

 

 

The lake district might possibly be Italy's best kept secret!

 


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Where is the lake district?1
The Italian lake district is located in the very north end of Italy close to the Switzerland border and just south of the Alps.  The major lakes consist of Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano, Lake Como, and Lake Garda and the minor lakes of Lake Orta, Lake Verese and Lake Iseo.  Parts of Lake Maggiore and Lake Lugano are located in Switzerland.   Lake Garda is the largest lake and Lake Maggiore is the longest.  Lake Como, Lake Lugano and Lake Maggiore are located a short drive north of Milan.

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What are the best months for travel?2
In our opinion the best months to travel to the lakes are May, June, and September.  August is the month when most Italians take vacations and it is very crowded and difficult to travel in this month.  We find July is also a busy month with European tourists.  Also July can get quite hot.  April can be a nice month, especially with all the spring flowers coming into bloom, but weather can be less predictable.

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What is the weather like?3
The Italian Lakes are blessed with their location on the sunny side of the Alps and enjoy many sun filled days.  The plants here are very Mediterranean.  Temperatures for the most part are mild although this last winter was unseasonably cold and this summer is proving to be hotter than normal.

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What are the roads like?4
The secondary roads around the lakes are quite narrow and curvy.  We suggest if you are renting a car to rent a small car and drive with much caution around the lakes.  There are many blind turns and the entries of many small streets are quite hidden.  There are many mirrors used to see if traffic is coming on a blind entry to the road.  They are difficult to use if one is not accustomed to using them.   The Italian drivers are known to drive quite fast and will pass in almost any situation.  The speed limit on most of the lake roads is 50 km/hour (about 30 mph).  Our best advice is enjoy but drive with extreme care.

In contrast, the autostrada, which is similar to an American freeway are excellent highways with a maximum of 130 km/hour limit.  The Italians who drive quite fast on the autostrada, do however, drive with consistency in that they very rarely pass on the right.  Once they have passed a car, they will move over to the right lanes.  We suggest strongly that you drive the same on the autostrada.

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What is the best way to get to the lakes?5
Malpensa airport just outside of Milan is the probably the best airport to fly into.  From Malpensa, one can rent a car, take a bus or train up to the lakes which are only an hour or less away.   Zurich, Switzerland is also not a bad choice if you planning on renting a car and driving down to the lakes.  One can also take a train from Zurich to the lakes quite easily.

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Is there much English spoken?6
In the larger hotels and cities you will find a limited amount of English spoken.  The smaller towns around the lakes will be less English but for the most part, you will probably not have a problem communicating.  Learning a few phrases will certainly make your visit more fun.

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Is there good public transportation?7
You will find that there is a very good network of trains, buses, boats and airport transport services.   We have hardly ever come across a town that is not serviced by a bus, no matter its location.   A very good way to see the lakes is by the boat navigation system.  You will need to check the boat schedules in your area for the current times of departure and arrival.

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Are the roads safe for bicycling?8
Although Italy is known for its bicycles and Italian drivers are much more aware and patient with bicycles than you would probably see in the US, we do not recommend riding on the main roads around the lakes.  You will see many bicycles on the roads, but we feel with the amount and speed of traffic, that unless you are a very experienced rider in traffic, you are best not to select bicycling as a mode of transportation on the lake roads.

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Where do I buy bus tickets?9
Bus tickets are usually bought at a local tabaccheria, which is a small bar serving coffee and drinks and selling tobacco and newspapers, etc. One will need to purchase the tickets before getting on the bus.

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Do I need to carry my passport at all times?10
Yes, you should definitely carry your passport with you at all times.  Especially if you are going into Switzerland from Italy, there is a reasonable chance that they will ask for your passport as Switzerland is not in the European Union.  If they do ask you for it at the border and you don't have it with you, they will not allow you to cross the border.

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What does "Sciopero" mean?11
If you see this word, it means there is a strike.  Usually they are advertised before the day of the strike so you can plan around them.  You will see this happen occasionally with the transportation systems.

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What emergency numbers should I know?12
112  Carabinieri
113  Police
115  Fire
116  Road Assistance
118  Ambulance

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Is there daylight savings time?13
Yes and usually daylight savings starts a week earlier than in the US.

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Best time to enjoy botanical gardens?14
Although the botanical gardens are always nice to visit at any time, April and May are the two months when the spring blossoms and colors are the most abundant.

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Are dinner reservations needed?15
In our area, Lake Como and Lake Lugano, we find that for most of the local restaurants reservations are not needed except for possibly in August.  Also on special holidays, it is a good idea to call for a reservation.  For very popular or more upscale restaurants and small trattorias' , it is advised to make a reservation.

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When are outdoor market days?16
Listed below are some of the larger outdoor markets but nearly every little town has some kind of a market during the week.  You will need to check with the town you are in for the times and day of the week.

Argegno - Lake Como (Monday Morning)
Bellano - Lake Como (Thursday Morning)
Canobbio - Lake Maggiore (Sunday)
Como - Lake Como
(Tuesday & Thursday morning and all day Saturday)
Domaso - Lake Como (1st and 3rd Tuesday)
Dongo - Lake Como (1st and 3rd Thursday morning)
Menaggio - Lake Como (2nd and 4th Friday morning)
Lecco - Lake Como (Wednesday morning Saturday all day)
Luino - Lake Maggiore
(Wednesday)
Gravedona - Lake Como (1st and 3rd Wednesday morning)
Porlezza - Lake Lugano (Saturday)
San Bartolomeo - Val Cavargna (Thursday morning)
Varenna - Lake Como (Wednesday)

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Where are the internet connections?17
Usually in the larger towns, you will find a few internet cafes that provide internet connections.  Also at some of the information offices and larger hotels.

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What days are public places closed?18
For most of the year we find that almost all stores and markets are closed on Sundays and often Monday mornings for the retail shops.  In the summer the larger super markets are open on Sundays.  We find that restaurants usually have one night of the week that they are closed.  You would have to check the local area to see when the restaurants are closed.

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Is tipping expected at restaurants?19
In our area on Lake Como and Lake Lugano, our experience is that one does not need to tip for the most part.   Nearly all restaurants add a cover charge (coperto) to cover table linen and bread (pane).  If service is very good or we know the people, we might leave a euro or two or round up to the next even amount.

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Daily store hours?20
Many small stores open around 9 to 10 in the morning and close for lunch from 12:30 to 3:30 and then remain open until 6 or 7.  In larger shopping centers, the stores remain open during the lunch hours.  Store hours may change during the summer tourist months.

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What time are evening dinner hours?21
Most restaurants do not start serving dinner until 7:00 or 7:30.

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Are there freeway (autostrada) tolls?22
Yes, there are tolls for Italy's autostrada (freeways).  If you are a visitor, as you are approaching the toll booths, look for large signs that show a person handing coins to a person.  These signs will direct you to the lanes where you where hand cash over to the cashier.  Make sure you get into these lanes, which are usually on the right side.  If you make a mistake and go into one of the lanes where they don't take cash, it can be somewhat embarrassing and difficult to have to back out.  We know.

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Can I use Euros in both Switzerland and Italy?23
Our experience is that we can use Euros in Switzerland, but change back is given in Swiss Francs.  For the parking meters and parking lots in Switzerland you will need to use Swiss Francs.

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