On the south side of the Italian Alps 650 feet above sea level lies a sapphire jewel named Lago Maggiore. The Italian shore of Lago Maggiore is split between Piedmont and Lombardia. While the picturesque mountain ridge backdrop on the northern shore is none other than the Swiss Alps.
If it sounds idilic, it is. Here are my top 10 favorite photos from our visit followed by the a quick list of absolute must see ideas for Lago Maggiore (Lake Maggiore).
10 Photos of Lago Maggiore
What to Do With One Day in Lago Maggiore
The lakes of northern Italy boast all the activities lake enthusiasts love. Swimming, hiking, boating, rock-climbing, windsurfing, horse back riding, botanical gardens, stunning villas, hang-gliding, mountain-biking, rafting, and yes even golf. Add city promenades for shopping, dining and nightlife to the backdrop of the Borromean Islands and Lago Maggiore could easy entertain visitors for weeks on end.
That said, with so many stunning lakes including Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Iseo and Lake Orta within a few hours drive in Northern Italy’s lake region, it’s not uncommon to hop between the lakes in a single vacation.
If you plan to hop around the lakes in Northern Italy, there is one sure fire way to make the most of your time at Lago Maggoire. If you only have one day in Lago Maggiore a boat tour of the Borromean Islands is the best way to experience the scenery, history, food and famous white peacocks of Isola Bella.
Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore
Named after the Borromeo family who acquired them in the early 16th century this small bejeweled chain of islands makes up arguably the most beautiful part of Lago Maggiore.
Isolino di San Giovanni and Malghera are so small they are technically islets and San Giovanni is off-limits to tourists. Isola Madre (the largest) Isola Bella (the most beautiful) and Isola dei Pescatori (the liveliest) are however easily accessible by boat.
Isola Bella (Beautiful Island)
Isola Bella with its famous white peacocks, sculpted garden, and sweeping views was originally a barren rock until count Carlo III and his son Vitaliano chose it as the location for a summer palace now turned museum. Reminiscent of a wedding cake, meticulously-groomed garden terraces rise up 10 levels providing sweeping panoramic views of Lago Maggiore.
Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island)
As the only inhabited island, Isola dei Pescatori is a small fishing village with almost as many restaurants (15) as residents (20ish) making it the perfect mid-day spot for lunch. A stop at Ristorante Casabella includes a terrace view and the fresh pasta including my favorite, a delicate squid ink ravioli stuffed with cuttlefish.
Isola Madre (Mother Island)
The wild gardens of Isola Madre, the largest of the three islands, provides the perfect post-meal stroll. Colorful peacocks, hens, and pheasants roam the gardens freely posing and squawking much to visitor’s delight.
Lago Maggiore Weather
When afternoon Thunderstorms break, take refuge among 16th to 19th-century furnishings and paintings in the Isola Madre palace turned museum. A frequent summer occurrence thanks to the lake effect from the Swiss Alps.
Lago Maggiore’s location in the Alps perfectly balances a cooler climate and fresh mountain air. Making it a favorite respite from the summer heat and poor air quality in the Po Valley below.
Getting to Borromean Islands in Lago Maggiore, Italy
The drive from Milan to Lago Maggiore is just an hour and a half. While the drive from Torino to Lago Maggiore takes just over two hours. Both of which make Lago Maggiore a favorite getaway for Italy’s most cosmopolitan weekenders.
Stresa, Italy is the see and be seen resort town of Lago Maggiore. Villa Pallavicino and the Grand Hôtel des Îles Borromées, once visited by Hemingway glisten in the sun with regal opulence just off the main promenade.
Stresa offers easy access to the Borromean Islands with frequent boat tours easily booked directly at the docks. Belgirate sits 11 minutes down the road from Stresa and offers slightly more affordable but no less luxurious accommodations.
Lake Maggiore Hotels
Nearly all hotels in Lake Maggiore are blessed with lakefront views, but Hotel Villa Carlotta in Belgirate a relaxing 4-star hotel is my pick. It’s close enough to have an easy jaunt to Stresa but far enough away to miss out on some of the noise from frequent ferries.
Imagine waking up to long white curtains billowing in the cross breeze thanks to front and side views windows of the lake.
When it comes time to find that summer vacation in the Italian lakes, Lake Como is the most widely known outside of Italy. I would argue Lago Maggiore and even Lago d’Orta deserve their due.
Respectively less crowded than Lake Como but no less worthy of a visit. In fact, given the traffic around Lake Como, I’d opt for a three island-hop around the Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore any day.
Have you seen any of Northern Italy’s lakes? Which is your favorite or on your list of must see places?