Visit Lake Maggiore
Lake Maggiore is one of the popular 'Lombardy lakes' of northern Italy. The 65 kilometre long lake nestles in a valley surrounded by forested slopes and mountains and with numerous attractive towns and sections of coastline which make it very scenic and a very popular summer destination with visitors.
Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda.
Along the shores and in the gardens of the villas you will also see many flowers, trees and plants that make Maggiore so popular - indeed for many visitors it is the very beautiful gardens on the shores and around the villas of the Borromean islands that are the highlight of a visit to Maggiore.
Explore Lake Maggiore: tourism and travel guide
The western coast of the lake is the most popular with visitors, and includes the main town on the lake at Stresa (in the Piedmont region), the small town of Arona and access to the Borromean islands. The northern part of the lake towards Switzerland is quieter.
Western Lake Maggiore
Stresa is an elegant town on the western banks of Lake Maggiore, and the principal town for visitors. Stresa has lots of attractive gardens and lovely villas to admire as well as a pretty promenade along the waterfront. Several of the villas are now converted into luxurious looking hotels.
The cable car from behind Stresa can carry you up Monte Mottarone (summit 1491m) for spectacular views across the lakes and mountains. The whole journey takes about 45 minutes, although we suggest you get off at the halfway point to visit the Alpine Botanical Gardens.
Hikers can of course use the cable car to access the high mountains, as can skiers during January and February, and mountain bike enthusiasts will be pleased to know you can take your bikes up in the lift with you and then follow a long descent back down
Arona, to the south of Stresa, is also interesting and has the ruins of an ancient (9th century) castle as well as an imposing statue of Cardinal San Carlo Borromeo in a raised position whith attractive views across the lake.
Numerous other small towns are found around the coast of the lake, many worth a promenade and an explore. Among those in Italy we particularly recommend Verbania to see the botanic gardens of Villa Taranto and Cannabio to see the pretty houses along the waterfront and to take the boat trip to see the Orrido di Sant'Anna gorge and waterfall.
You can also visit Lucarno which is on the northern shores of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland.
Isola Bella and the Borromean islands of Maggiore
The most popular of the lake islands is Isola Bella, part of the Isole Borromee group of islands just off the shore from Stresa. On Isola Bella you can see the grand baroque style villa and gardens of the 17th century Palazzo Borromeo and a very picturesque small village with narrow cobbled streets winding between ancient houses.
Note: a substantial part of the Borromeo Palace was constructed more recently, but using the same baroque - neoclassical techniques as the original
The opulently decorated interior of the palace and its many artworks and tapestries comes as quite a contrast after passing through the streets of the village! The 'cave rooms' below the palace are also fascinating, with relatively modest rooms decorated with various sea themes.
The baroque style gardens of the palace are also particularly impressive and the main highlight in Isola Bella, running in terraces down to the sea and featuring many statues, water features and impressive plant arrangements. This is a very picturesque island and a visit to explore its harbour and old village center is highly recommended and a highlight of a visit to Lake Maggiore - although it is true to say you will not be alone if you visit in summer!
Two of the other beautiful Borromean Islands can also be visited:
- Isola Madre is visited for the botanical gardens and 18th century villa of the Palazzo Madre - these gardens are stunning with numerous individual features of interest and a highlight of your visit to Lake Maggiore
- Isola dei Pescatori has a small traditional village occupying almost the entire small island.
- The fourth island in the group, Isola San Giovanni, is privately owned and closed to the public.
Eastern Lake Maggiore
The eastern side of the lake is much less visited, but also has better access if you are planning to hike in the mountains here. The principal towns and villages are at Maccagno, Laveno and Luino.
The Wednesday market in Luino is very popular although the influx of tourism means it is no longer the small traditional market that was presumably found here 50 years ago and many of the things in the market could now be bought in every tourist market in Italy.
You should be aware that the character of Stresa and the other towns around Lake Maggiore changes substantially according to when you visit. During July and August it is very busy and the main highlights are very crowded, in late spring and late summer things are much quieter, and outside this main season you will find many restaurants, hotels and shops are closed.
The very popular novel by Ernest Hemingway called A Farewell to Arms is partially set in Stresa so you might like to read it before you visit!
Where is Lake Maggiore?
To the north-east of Milan, the lake runs north along the border between the Lombardy (to the east) and Piedmont (to the west) regions of northern Italy and across the border to Locarno in Switzerland to the north.
Selected places to visit near Lake Maggiore
See the Lombardy guide for more travel ideas...