On Lake Maggiore, discovering the Borromean Islands and other jewels
Lake Maggiore, a natural, historical paradise nestled between Piedmont and Lombardy, is home to the Borromean Islands.
The lake’s shores are dotted with small villages, lakeside promenades, noble villas and ancient hermitages.
Near the shoreline, you can find nature trails to explore by foot, mountain bike or horseback.
The queen of the lake is Stresa
Just like a queen, the town of Stresa is adorned with many jewels. Stresa offers dreamlike villas, Art Nouveau palaces and a lakefront promenade with magnificent views of the mountains and Borromean Islands. The best time to walk is in the evening, when the lights illuminate the islands and shimmer on the water, creating a dreamlike landscape.
Isola Bella, the most beautiful island
When you arrive on Isola Bella, the closest to the coast and arguably the most beautiful of the Borromean Islands, you will be enchanted by its baroque palace, full of treasures that seems to rise up from the water, with an 80-metre-long façade. Inside, the two-storey Hall of Honour with its domed roof is sure to leave you speechless. All around is a beautiful garden that leads to the Teatro Massimo, a spectacular display of statues and fountains. Also not to be missed are the sea-themed caves.
Isola Madre, the largest island
The largest island of the archipelago, Isola Madre, has been previously known as Isola Maggiore and Isola di San Vittore. Be sure to spend some time in the Venetian drawing room inside Palazzo Borromeo, built in 1500, which hosts a home puppet theatre, where the Borromeo family entertained their guests. You can end your visit strolling through the English garden, where there is a rare specimen of Kashmir cypress, whose seeds were brought to the area in the mid-19th century: it is the largest and oldest in Europe.
Isola dei Pescatori, the smallest island
The smallest of the islets opposite Stresa, it is also the only one inhabited all year round. Alleyways branch off from its central square, leading to the panoramic promenade at the tip of the Isola dei Pescatori. We highly recommend stopping at a local restaurant to try the lake fish. If you happen to be in the area in mid-August, check out the boat procession on the lake – it is truly magical!
Borromeo Castle, a trip to the Middle Ages
Borromeo Castle, on the southern shore of the lake, boasts a long history from the 11th century to the 17th century, evidenced by its different parts: the Scaligera Wing, the Viscontea Wing, the Tower of Giovanni Visconti and the Borromeo Wing. Make sure to visit the Historic Rooms with their stunning frescoes and paintings and to stroll through the Medieval Garden.
Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso
Perched overlooking the water, clinging to the rock face, this is an unmissable stop. You can access it from the stairs that comes down from the car park, by taking the lift or climbing the stairs rising up from the water – the effort will be worth it when you see the view! The convent dates back to the 12th century and is one of the most spectacular places on Lake Maggiore.
The Sacred Mount of Ghiffa
The Sacred Mountain of Ghiffa offers magnificent views of the lake. At the foot of Mount Cargiago, this sacred place is composed of a sanctuary, three chapels and the Via Crucis portico, all surrounded by a large nature reserve that offers beautiful woodland walks.
The Villa Taranto Botanical Gardens
Though you can’t visit the villa itself, it is well worth visiting the magnificent gardens open to the public, home to a flourishing collection of plants and flowers from every corner of the world. These are the result of the visionary dream of Scottishcaptain Neil McEacharn, who created the gardens in the 1930s. And if you’re left wanting even more greenery, you can take the Stresa to Mottarone cable car and get off at its mid station: here, you will find the Alpinia Botanical Garden, which offers unique views of the lake from an altitude of 800 metres.
The Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo
At 35 metres high, it held the record for the tallest statue in the world for a long time. The Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo is affectionately known locally as the Sancarlone. Dating back to 1698, it stands above its hometown of Arona.
You can climb the ladder inside to the top of the statue and enjoy the view through the eyes of San Carlo. It is also worth heading down to the village to walk or cycle along the lakeside promenade. If you travel all the way to the end, you can admire Borromeo Castle under a pergola of wisteria.
The Zoological Park of Villa Pallavicino
The Zoological Park of Villa Pallavicino is the perfect destination for a family holiday. The little ones will be delighted to discover the more than 40 species of animals it is home to, roaming free, while you take in the views of the splendid neoclassical villa overlooking the lake. The zoo was created by Marquise Luisa Pallavicino in 1952.
The Castles of Cannero
The Castles of Cannero look as though they float on water, almost like a mirage. Located just opposite the comune of Cannero Riviera, you can visit these 11th-century Medieval towers and fortifications by taking a solar-powered boat or catamaran.