Optical satellite remote sensing represents an opportunity to integrate traditional methods for assessing water quality of lakes: strengths of remote sensing methods are the good spatial and temporal coverage, the possibility to monitor many lakes simultaneously and the reduced costs. In this work we present an overview of optical remote sensing techniques applied to lake water monitoring. Then, examples of applications focused on lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy are discussed by presenting the temporal trend of chlorophyll-a (chl-a), suspended particulate matter (SPM), coloured dissolved organic matter (CDOM) and the z90 signal depth (the latter indicating the water depth from which 90% of the reflected light comes from) as estimated from the images acquired by the Medium Resolution Imaging Spectrometer (MERIS) in the pelagic area of the lake from 2003 to 2011. Concerning the chl-a trend, the results are in agreement with the concentration values measured during field surveys, confirming the good status of lake Maggiore, although occasional events of water deterioration were observed (e.g., an average increase of chl-a concentration, with a decrease of transparency, as a consequence of an anomalous phytoplankton occurred in summer 2011). A series of MERIS-derived maps (summer period 2011) of the z90 signal are also analysed in order to show the spatial variability of lake waters, which on average were clearer in the central pelagic zones. We expect that the recently launched (e.g., Landsat-8) and the future satellite missions (e.g., Sentinel-3) carrying sensors with improved spectral and spatial resolution are going to lead to a larger use of remote sensing for the assessment and monitoring of water quality parameters, by also allowing further applications (e.g., classification of phytoplankton functional types) to be developed.