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If ever you're going to explore a lake by boat, make it this one. It's four hours by steamer from medieval town Lucerne down to Flüelen at the far end of this sinuous, 40-kilometre lake, but not one minute is short of lovely landscapes, which change from open green meadows to rearing cliffs. Charming lakeshore villages such as Weggis and Gersau provide scenic walks, or you can tackle the Swiss Path around the lakeshore, which has many associations with the legend of William Tell and Swiss independence. Several mountain railways provide eagle's-eye views from on high. See luzern.com


For such a small lake (only 2.5 kilometres long) this is a corker, ringed by 1,600-metre cliffs that provide perfect reflections in waters so clear you can see fat trout swimming. At one end, the lake opens into cowbell-clanked meadows, where the town of Altausee sits amid apple orchards. Motorised boats are banned, but get a Lederhosen-clad local to row you onto the lake in a gondola-like Plätte for an hour of wild beauty and unsurpassed tranquillity. Water and reflections shimmer in blues and purples, swans paddle, and the only sound is the dipping of the oar. See salzkammergut.at


On the southern flanks of the Alps, Switzerland becomes Italian-speaking and hints of the Mediterranean. Thanks to its balmy climate, promenades at Lugano town are lined with palms, magnolia and lemon trees. Further along the lake, cars have barely enough space to scape between houses and water; waiters dart between the traffic to waterfront tables. The lake's steep flanks are occasionally dark and a little menacing, but most of the time the scenery is sun-splattered and beautiful, dotted with pastel villas, cobblestone squares and posh hotels with flower-filled gardens. See luganoturismo.ch


Founded by the Romans – who certainly knew about location and views – and a medieval seat of the counts of Geneva, castle-topped Annecy town sits on a river as it debouches into one of the Alps' most impossibly pretty lakes. Glacial waters are clear as gin and blue as a Bombay Sapphire bottle, and mountains ring the horizon. Flowerbeds and flowerboxes are a summer riot of geraniums and petunias. The gorgeous town is tourist-jammed, but the lake itself tranquil. Take a cruise or drive around the shoreline to lovely Talloires village and the twelfth-century Château de Menthon. See lac-annecy.com


The Salzkammergut region near Salzburg has numerous delightful lakes but Lake Hallstatt might be best. It combines a ring of muscular Alps and cliffs softened by a more feminine town of pastel-painted houses cascading with flowerboxes. As if on cue, swans paddle beyond the promenades. The terrace of its little chapel, dedicated to St Barbara, has the sort of gorgeous view you see in travel calendars. Flee the Korean tour groups and take to hiking trails above the lake, especially towards Bad Goisern. Even the 60-minute 'Panorama Trail' will keep your camera clicking. See hallstatt.net


The famous alpine resort town of Interlaken is a concrete blight but sits between Lake Thun and Lake Brienz amid 4,000-metre mountains of permanent snows. Lake Thun region, favoured by domestic tourists, is centred on Spiez, whose vineyards, flower-filled gardens and lake-gazing white castle are presided over by a perfect pyramidal slab of mountain. Hit the lido in summer for a chilly but refreshing swim. The town of Thun sits slightly upriver and is very pretty, with a magnificent alpine panorama from its 900-year-old castle. The lakeshore botanic gardens have views of the mighty Jungfrau. See thunersee.ch

Brian Johnston travelled as a guest of Switzerland Tourism, Austria National Tourist Office and at his own expense.

from traveller.com.au