Claudia Da Rin

Nine ways to discover Lake Maggiore

Seductive, appealing and lovingly ethereal

Seductive, appealing and lovingly ethereal, the realm of enticing lakes crowning Italy’s northern regions is a powerful reminder that the country is always ready to impress. An unexpected Mediterranean feel, coupled with a gentle climate and the stunning juxtaposition of snow-capped mountains and tranquil, blue waters, from Lake Orta all the way to Lake Garda, riveting discoveries follow one another in what becomes a dazzling journey of the senses.

Lake Maggiore is Italy’s second largest lake and presents a wondrous array of pretty villages, magnificent islands, lush botanical gardens and history in droves.

Come and explore the endless appeal of this charming corner of Italy.

1. An archipelago of wonders - the Isole Borromee

“No man is an island” is a famous line by the English poet John Donne. He still hadn’t seen the Isole Borromee though! Oslands always bring an aura of fascination and charm and visiting this delightful archipelago will add some fancy dolce vita vibes to your experience. Made up by four islands  - Bella, dei Pescatori, Madre and San Giovanni – planning a stay or an outing on three extraordinary gems  - the latter cannot be visited –will amaze you. Think white peacocks on Isola Bella’s tiered gardens, a magnificent baroque Palazzo Borromeo – the Borromeo family have owned the islands since the 17th c. and dreamy views all around.

Enjoy the true fishermen’s atmosphere on the Pescatori island, the tiniest and the only one with permanent residents. Visit on 15th August and you will admire the boat parade that ferries a statue of the Virgin around the island. Isola Madre hosts a superb palazzo with a lovely Salone Veneziano, with trompe l’oeuil decorations and enticing botanical gardens. Pick one island or see them all to soak in the exceptional atmosphere of the lake. 

2. Landscapes of dreams – the Museo del Paesaggio

One may say that Italy as a country can enthuse and dazzle, such is the wealth of enticing hamlets, cities and views, across mountains, lakes, gentle hills or azure sea waters. The shores of lake Maggiore have provided one such backdrop for inspired artists and learned souls, who enjoyed the tranquil surroundings and the gentle, wide open views onto mountains and villages perched on lovely hills. Between the end of the 19th c and the beginning of the 20th c, the cultural and economic elite enjoyed the perfect union between man and nature that can be found on the lakes and artists chose to spend time on lake Maggiore, depicting its serene surroundings. Palazzo Viani Dugnani in Pallanza hosts the Museo del Paesaggio (landscape museum), displaying an exceptional selection of Italian and foreign artists who managed to convey the calm beauty of the lake on canvas, but also with photographs and on a three-dimensional scale, with arresting sculptures.  The Troubetzkoy plaster cast gallery, in fact, completes the experience: here you will enjoy a superb collection of various works by the Intra-born impressionist sculptor.   

3. Golfing on lake Maggiore

Originating on the east coast of Scotland in the Middle Ages and generally associated with the town of Saint Andrew’s, where the first 18-hole golf course was established in 1764, the game of golf is enjoyed the world over and is a highly respected form of sport. In Italy, golf initially developed in the northern regions, courtesy of the many British tourists who travelled to the peninsula for the Grand Tour, and that’s where the majority of courses are found, later to expand to southern parts of the country as well.

In the Lake Maggiore Golf District you will find some of the most scenic golf courses in the world, with views over the Sempione and Monte Rosa mountain ranges, the lakes and even the Milan skyline on a clear day.  Marking its centenary this year, the Golf Club Alpino in Stresa was planned by the Irish architect Peter Gannon – famous for having designed many renowned courses in Italy and abroad – and hosted the first Open competition in the country in 1925. Located on the hill above Stresa and Lesa, at 600m above sea level, the Des Iles Borromées Golf Club offers exceptional views onto the entire Alpine range and the four lakes (Maggiore, Varese, Monate and Comabbio). The Golf Club Bogogno is an exclusive club and resort with stunning views of Monte Rosa and offers a spa, a swimming pool, a fitness centre, a restaurant and a hotel, while the Golf Club Castelconturbio sees an open-air swimming pool, for the exclusive use of its guests. Founded in 1934, at the Golf Club Varese you will find a spectacular 18-hole golf course in an area where playing is a true joy. Time to choose your favourite golf clubs and play!

4. Cycle to explore the marvel

Italy’s love affair with cycling goes back a long way and through a humble bike one may come to define the nation’s identity. Thanks to heroic figures, from Coppi to Bartali, Gimondi to Pantani, Nibali and Ganna, the passion for this sport has lit the hearts of many fans, stirring emotions that accompany challenging adventures, made of intense effort, determination and sincere adaptation. Whether you are into challenging routes or after easy days out, the lakes offers diverse opportunities to explore the area and admire the natural beauties that set them apart.

Choose a tour of lovely lake Orta: start in Orta San Giulio, reach Pettenasco, then Omegna, famous for the Alessi and Bialetti outlets – fancy a spot of retail therapy? – and as the birthplace of Gianni Rodari, a renowned author of children’s books. The route then goes uphill and, via Nonio, Quarna and Brolo, the views onto the lake and picturesque Isola di San Giulio are mesmerizing. Go down as far as Pella and continue on to Alzo, then back to your starting point. If you are after a longer effort, why not cycle around Lake Maggiore? Start in Arona and continue as far as Angera, famous for its imposing Rocca, then it’s Laveno, Luino and on to Switzerland. Descend back into Italy via Cannero, Baveno and Meina. Catch a glimpse of the lovely Borromean islands while passing by Stresa, then it’s Belgirate, Meina and back to Arona. You may also choose various cycling routes that go along canals, such as the ones in the Parco del Ticino, the ciclovia del Toce, starting in Verbania and going on to Val Formazza and Val Cannobina, or the Stresa-Fondotoce-Mergozzo cyclepath. Wear your helmet and start cycling!

5. Blooms of glory – botanic gardens on the lake

The country that saw the first ever botanic garden in the world – Giardino botanico dell’Università di Padova, established by the Republic of Venice in 1545 – can only boast a supreme selection of some of the most sublime gardens and botanic gardens. Given its varied climate, exposures and soils, Italy offers an unmatched array of small natural wonders that will please the eyes and enrich your souls. On the shores of ethereal lake Maggiore you will find the splendid Villa Taranto in Pallanza, Alpinia above Stresa and Intragnola gardens by Laveno Mombello, on the Lombardy shore of the lake. Spring is naturally the best season to visit these impressive sites.

Villa Taranto is perhaps the most celebrated and was founded by the Scottish captain Neil Mc Eacharn in 1940, with the gardens opening to the public in 1952; now the garden impresses with a stunning collection of rare botanical species, lotus flowers, a herbarious and a wellness garden, creating a stunning scenario with more than twenty thousand flower varieties. The Alpinia garden is located in Alpino, 800 m above sea level and is made up by two interconnecting, circular paths that go via a wood and the main garden. A rich collection of more than 700 species of flowers, the garden also features a natural spring that comes directly from the Mottarone mountain. The park at Villa Intragnola dates back to the early Novecento and hosts an English-style garden with a lovely collection of exotic conifers. Visits are by appointment only. Cannero Riviera dedicates two week-ends in March to citrus fruits, with visits to the Parco degli Agrumi and added concerts, exhibitions, themed menus and sensorial labs where you can train your sense of smell and learn to select the many varieties. A special mention also goes to the Bercencione, a citrus-scented tea created by students of local schools, this year celebrating its twenty-year anniversary. Cannero will also dedicate the last week-end in March to camellias, in a tribute to this glorious flower, as a way to kick off the spring season. A triumph of scents and colours awaits

6. An international adventure – cruising on the lake

Visiting arty villages and museums, lovely gardens and sensational villas can be a fabulous way to appreciate the lake and its magic feel, but as it’s often the case, nothing beats the joy of approaching a site with a boat. Cruising on Lake Maggiore, touching on the many picturesque villages along its shores, is a lovely way of capturing the essence of this unique place. Sitting across two Italian regions, Piedmont and Lombardy, the lake ends in Switzerland, in its northern section, making a cruise and exclusive international escapade.

Start in Arona, where the mighty Statue of Saint Charles Borromeo towers on the horizon, moving up along pretty Belgirate and Stresa, for a glimpse of charming Borromean Islands and evocative Santa Caterina del Sasso on the Lombardy shore. Go past Verbania – the union of Intra and Pallanza – and then you’ll come to Cannero, with the famous castles, now interesting ruins of charming islands that will soon be open to visitors. Further north, Luino is famous for its pastel coloured houses and traditional markets. Go past Cannobio and its charming lido and then you’ll come to Ascona and Locarno, crossing the border into Switzerland.  Famous for its film festival, Locarno hosts a 12th c. castle and a lovely camellia garden, as well as a Sanctuary dedicated to the Virgin Mary. This is a cruise you shall not forget!

7. Routes of devotion – sacred mounts in northern Italy

Pioneering adventurers and tranquil, daydreaming souls will agree on the poetic beauty of natural lakes encased within a mountain backdrop. Among its many lovely places, Friuli boasts several, lovely lakes that lure you with their natural appeal. The Fusine lakes, close to the border with Slovenia, are indeed magical. Made up by an upper lake and a lower one, they lie at the foot of the Mangart massif in the Julian Alps in a wild, imposing setting, part of the natural border with Slovenia. South of Tarvisio, Predil Lake is spectacular, being surrounded by a lush wood populated with various animals, and imposing mountains featuring waterfalls and ponds: ideal for sport lovers, you can hike around the lake, swim, take up windsurf or even go canoeing on this splendid stretch of water.  Cavazzo Lake, also known as Lago dei Tre Comuni, is Friuli’s largest natural lake, touching upon three different municipalities. Its crystalline waters mean water sports are superb, such as kayaking or swimming, but also hiking or simply lounging by the water, making this the ideal place for families as well. And the list continues with other stunning natural lakes such as Avostanis, Volaia, Bordagna or Ragogna, for a region that keeps on revealing its sparkling side.

8. A walk on the wild side - Parco natural Alpe Veglia e Devero

Coming up close with the natural beauties that define the Italian peninsula, walking along meadows, paths and routes of various intensity is one of the finest way to get in touch with your inner natural self. We cannot count the number of exciting opportunities that crop up everywhere on the Belpaese, as every corner seems to hide a lovely surprise. North west of  Lake Maggiore, the protected areas of the Veglia and Devero Natural Parks are a pleasure island for climbers – the mecca of Cadarese, Esigo, Croveo or Premia for starters – but if you come to Crampiolo on Alpe Devero you will reach a dream: The entire meadow and the surrounding pastures are car-free and hiking is a joy. Veglia is known as the mountain pasture of light, being bathed in the sun, with routes that go around smaller lakes, evocative mountain pastures and remote mountain hamlets.

Mountain bike lovers will also find exciting trails, such as one connecting Devero to Vannino, but you could also plan a longer trek and stay in a mountain hut or a bivouac, traversing from the Devero to the Veglia parks, admiring the striking colourful meadows that come alive with stunning alpine flowers in the summer. Enjoy a gentle stroll from Codelago, along the lake, and you will feel the warm embrace of nature, with lovely woods and emerald colours. In winter, the area is superb for ski mountaineering and snowshoe hiking, or cross-country skiing in Riale, to the south of the parks. This is surely an area worth exploring!   

9. Lake hopping in the district

Surely leisurely strolling along a lakeside or sipping delicious wine while admiring a picturesque sunset is a joyful experience, but don’t forget that the lakes in northern Italy are not far from each other. Lake Orta is very close to Lake Maggiore – and you could drive from Stresa to Orta via Gignese, reaching another spectacular view in no time. Going eastwards you will find the smaller Varese, Monate and Comabbio lakes, then it’s Lake Lugano and Lake Como. You could explore both branches, the Como and Lecco ones, with Bellagio sitting on the dividing line. Glitzy villas and lush gardens also crown this stunning lake, with interesting sights such as the silk museum in Como, lush Villa Carlotta and its gardens or the Vezio Castle in Varenna, What’s more, the lakes are not far from Milan.

Renowned as the economic heart of Italy, it is also rich in extraordinary artworks and museums, such as the Pinacoteca di Brera, the incredible Santa Maria presso San Satiro church with a stunning faux choir on the altar, by Bramante, Castello Sforzesco, hosting one of Michelangelo’s latest works, the unfinished Pietá,  and the world renowned Last Supper fresco by Leonardo da Vinci in Santa Maria delle Grazie church, as well as astonishing Liberty-style buildings around the city centre.  Milan is also where you’ll want to go to try delicious, trendy aperitivi and an eventful nightlife, with ongoing concerts and theatre shows. Life gets no better than this!  


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