Unique atmospheres on Lake Maggiore, rich in history, culture, luxury, charm and pure beauty. A riot of colours and scents of times gone by envelop this corner of the territory between Lombardy, Piedmont and Switzerland. With a length of 68 km of glacial origin and 170 km of coastline, it is the second largest lake in Italy, but not for its beauty and charm. Lake Maggiore has been described as “One of the ten most fascinating places in the world” by the prestigious New York Times. It is an obligatory stop for anyone visiting Italy. The colours, flavours and scents here are priceless, as is the arcipelago of the Borromean Islands in the middle of the lake, with its historic villas and luxuriant botanical gardens.
- Where to go and what to do on Lake Maggiore
- Places to visit
- The flavours of the territory
Where to go and what to do on Lake Maggiore
Suitable for all types of holiday, Lake Maggiore offers unique and hidden places that are worth discovering. The lake is pleasant to visit in all seasons thanks to the mild climate and the versatility of the landscape. The lake is a must-see, but it also offers itineraries to be experienced. Many possibilities outside the usual tourist routes, with nature, sport, beaches and excellent local dishes. You can easily choose to spend moments in contact with nature on Mottarone, from where you can enjoy the spectacular view of Lake Maggiore and nearby Lake Orta, which, with Villa Crespi, offers the possibility of tasting a starred menu by chef Cannavacciuolo. Relax on the many well-equipped beaches along the coast or choose to visit the beautiful Borromean Islands to enjoy an atmosphere of times gone by.
There are various possibilities of accommodation such as villas on the lake for exclusive use, Bed&Breakfasts, campsites, hotels with spas. Thanks to an efficient navigation network, with boat timetables and prices available on the official website, it is easy to move from one place to another on the lake. Those who prefer to travel independently can take advantage of the numerous public boat services on board a comfortable water bus, where it is possible to agree on the departure time and points of interest to visit.
Lake Maggiore Express also offers boat trips between Switzerland and Italy. There is also an interesting circular route through the Centovalli and the wild Vigezzo Valley with the historic train, stopping in Santa Maria Maggiore at the Chimney Sweep Museum or the Multisensory Perfume Museum.
Places to discover
One of the unmissable tours of Lake Maggiore is a private visit to the Borromean Islands, to be done strictly at sunset with the Borromeo Experience. When the islands are empty of tourists, you can immerse yourself in a unique atmosphere, wandering through the rooms of Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella. Take a private tour of the rooms amidst the gilded tapestries, enjoying every room, to discover the wonders of a princely residence.
From a simple rock inhabited by fishermen, it was transformed by the Borromeo family into the sumptuous island it is today. With the Teatro Massimo and the Italian Baroque garden, which has no less than ten unique terraces, full of colour with every bloom. From the Parterre of Azaleas, to camellias, boxwood hedges, and rare plants such as the centuries-old Camphor, Gunnera, Mexican Pine, Olea Frangrans and the extremely rare Halesia Diptera.
The jin of the lake
On the terrace of the Torre della Noria, you can enjoy an aperitif at sunset, surrounded by seasonal flowers and the sound of the waves breaking on the rocks. Here you can have the privilege of sipping Lake Maggiore’s Jin, dry or riserva or in a cocktail created especially for lake patrons. Cherries from Piedmont, juniper from the Alps, citrus fruits from Cannero Rivera and the touch of tea from the infusion of Camellia Sinensis leaves from the Ossola Valley make Major Gin a unique product of this area. On its label stands out the steamship Piemonte. Launched with the name Regina Madre in 1904, it is the oldest steamship in Italy and is still operational. A cruise on this vessel allows you to savour all the charm of the past.
Isola Bella also offers the unique experience of staying in holiday homes, once the old fishermen’s lodgings, which have been given a new lease of life thanks to careful renovation work with the Borromeo Experience. Even the Elvezia restaurant, perfectly integrated in the ancient village on Lake Maggiore, offers rooms and suites as well as a culinary proposal that skilfully combines the flavours of the hinterland with those of the lake. The Val D’Ossola beers, spiced and flavoured with mint or enhanced with corn and honey from the valley, are perfect to pair with the dishes on the menu.
The largest of the Borromeo Islands is Isola Madre. It has always been considered a place of peace and rest. Its romantic garden was described by Flaubert as ‘the most voluptuous place seen in the world’. The 16th-century Palazzo Borromeo was built on the remains of the Church of San Vittore and the adjoining cemetery, from which the island originally took its name. It was the family residence of the Borromeo family. Its interior has been reconstructed with the furnishings of the time, where you can admire the famous Sala delle Bambole (Dolls’ Room). There are others enchanting rooms as Sala delle Stagioni (Seasons’ Room) as well as the ancient puppet theatres that were used to entertain guests.
The villa and its English garden were opened to the public at the end of the 1970s and since then thousands of visitors have flocked to these unique places. Numerous colourful birds such as peacocks and pheasants live in perfect harmony in the botanical garden. Also rare subtropical plants, exotic flowers, and authentic rarities such as a bicentennial Kashmi cypress and a Jubaeae Spectabilis palm over 120 years old lives all in complete harmony. Botanical enthusiasts will enjoy the Lake Maggiore Botanical Experience, with garden curator Gianfranco Giustina taking them on a unique journey through the stories of these primordial plants.
There is no accommodation on Isola Madre, but it is possible to taste dishes linked to the lake’s tradition at the “La Pirateria” restaurant, such as lavaret and lake trout.
Island of fishermen
The only island in the Borromeo archipelago to be permanently inhabited all year round by about fifty people is Isola dei Pescatori. A place of quiet charm, far from the hustle and bustle of the city. With no cars or noise, as the only way to reach the mainland is by boat. A life of other times that fascinates thousands of tourists every year. Everybody attracted by the idea of tasting the typical dishes of the lake area in the panoramic restaurants of Lake Maggiore.
Taste the typical dishes of the local cuisine expertly cooked by the hands of traditional cooks or reworked by renowned chefs. From perch served on risotto, to fried or soused bleak, but also pike and trout served boiled. These dishes can be found at the La Pescheria restaurant and at the Osteria Ara 36, which also offers a boat service from Stresa and Baveno in addition to dinner.
On the upper island, it is also possible to stay and enjoy the charm of a unique place. There are not many accommodation options for tourists, but Signora Giusy with her guesthouse, offers two holiday flats complete with everything. If, on the other hand, you want to immerse yourself in a romantic atmosphere with a candlelight dinner and a panoramic view, Albergo Belvedere is the best solution.
Visiting this beautiful corner of the territory also means choosing a holiday dedicated to sport and nature. Mottarone offers a breathtaking view from its summit, ranging from the Maritime Alps to Monte Rosa, and on a clear day you can count all seven lakes: Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, Mergozzo, Varese, Comabbio, Monate and Biandronno.
In this place of wild nature there is a great variety of activities both in winter and summer, from skiing to trekking, from the trail park (with the possibility of renting mountain bikes and e-bikes at the station bar) to the adventure park with tree climbing with routes suitable for both children and adults. For thrill-seekers, the descent on the Alpyland “rollercoaster”, which travels on a 1,200-metre-long rail, over bumps, curves and a 100-metre drop, is a must. Open all year round, it offers guaranteed fun for all ages.
Descending from the summit of Mottarone, it takes twenty minutes to reach Lake Orta, a small gem set in the landscape. Lying on a mountainous peninsula is Orta San Giulio. It is considered one of the most beautiful villages in Italy and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. On the shores of this enchanted lake you can enjoy a Michelin-starred experience at the Relais Chateau Villa Crespi run by chef Cannavacciuolo.
If your holidays on Lake Maggiore permit, an interesting itinerary through nature and flavours is the one on board the historic train that crosses the Centovalli and the wild Val Vigezzo. It departs from Domodossola and arrives in Locarno, stopping in Santa Maria Maggiore at the chimney sweep museum and the multi-sensory museum of perfume. In autumn, the 52 km of the railway is transformed into a multicoloured painting of red, orange and yellow forests with the foliage train.
Stresa, the pearl of Lake Maggiore
Called the pearl of Lake Maggiore, Stresa has always attracted an international clientele, with its elegance suspended between the present and the past. Positioned below the slopes of Mottarone, its varied landscape is unique, as are the sophisticated restaurants and hotels that welcome visitors. Luxury goes hand in hand with tradition, amidst gardens, Art Nouveau villas and fashionable clubs. On the lakeside
The charm of the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromées , where the famous writer Hemingway stayedand where he partly set his famous novel ‘A Farewell to Arms’, is known worldwide. Famous and recognisable in the novel is the aperitif that was served, consisting of salted almonds and chips, a tradition that the hotel has maintained over the years. Staying in one of the Thousand and One Nights suites could be very expensive but unique.
The historic centre is characterised by noble villas and well-kept gardens, including the enchanting Villa Pallavicino with its boundless English garden and the zoo, which is home to over fifty species of mammals and birds. Definitely a place in contact with nature to see with children.
At the 4-star Hotel La Palma you can enjoy an aperitif on the terrace and take a dip in the swimming pool on the seventh floor of the hotel with a view of the islands. At “Il Gigi Bar” you can taste the typical Stresa daisies. Shortcrust pastry biscuits, created in honour of Princess Margherita’s First Communion.
The town of Arona overlooks the Piedmontese shores of Lake Maggiore and has a unique charm with a medieval heart. Piazza del Popolo, the Palazzo del Podestà and the Baroque churches of Santa Marta and Santi Martiri are the most representative corners of the town. Arona is also the departure point for numerous ferries to visit the Borromean Islands and the Rocca di Angera, the twin of the Borromean Fortress of Arona, which stands majestically on a rocky spur dominating the southern shore of Lake Maggiore. Inside, an interesting itinerary leads to the discovery of the historical rooms with the majolica room.
The romantic lakeside promenade is full of places and restaurants where you can taste typical local dishes. The Taverna del Pittore is one of the most romantic places on the lake, where you can enjoy a refined menu of meat or fish, as well as the restaurant La Piazzetta, which offers typical Mediterranean cuisine with flavours of Neapolitan culture.
The largest town on Lake Maggiore is Verbania. Rich in gardens and splendid villas, it is also the starting point for numerous excursions on the lake, inland, to the Val Grande National Park, Monte Rosa and the Ossola Valleys. Thanks to its privileged geographical position it has always been a popular tourist destination. In 2009 Verbania was named the most ecological city in Italy, for the purity of its air and quality of life. The historic centre offers numerous monuments to admire. From the Church of the Madonna di Campagna, considered a national monument, to the Basilica of San Vittore and the Oratory of San Remigio.
Not to be missed is a visit to Villa Taranto with its gardens set between Pallanza and Idra. 16 hectares of gardens to admire in an evocative spectacle, especially in the spring period with the blooms.
Themagnificence of this English-style garden is the work of Captain Neil Boyd Watson McEacharn, who bought the villa in 1931 and turned the garden into a true work of art with thousands of plants and flowers from all over the world. Some specimens are very rare and adorn the garden.
There are many things not to be missed at Villa Taranto. The Viale delle Conifere (Conifer Avenue) with rare conifers from all over the world, the Fontana dei Putti (Fountain of Puttos) and the Labyrinth of Dahlias, with over 1700 plants in bloom. Inside the Villa, the Mausoleum houses the remains of Captain McEacharn at his wish and, finally, the terraced gardens with their water features.
The flavours of the territory
After visiting and discovering the surrounding places, you can relax at the Rifugio Genziana, which offers an a la carte menu with typical local products. The chopping boards with the production of the valleys, the mortadella ossolana, the ham and the goat violin of the Vigezzo Valley. Lard with herbs from Macugnaga served with honey and cheese. Toma del Mottarone, fresh goats’ cheese from Valcuvia and Formaggella di Luino, not forgetting Gorgonzola DOP. These dishes go well with full-bodied red wines such as Ghemme Docg and Nebbiolo from the Novara hills, the well-known Prunent, Nouv Bruschett and Cà d’Matè from the Ossola valleys. To round off the meal, Amaro Mottarone or a good distillate such as “Fil da Fer”.