Photo of Isola Madre

Visit Isola Madre

Isola Madre is the most northern of the Borromean islands in Lake Maggiore, about half way between Stresa on the lake shore to the south-west and Verbania to the north-east. It is also the largest of the islands. Historically the island was also called the Isola di San Vittore and the Isole Maggiore.

Exploring Isola Madre

Italy This Way review: Isola Madre is a very pleasant island to visit, with an interesting villa, extensive gardens...and less crowds than Isola Bella!

Unlike the other Borromean islands, as soon as you disembark from the ferry you are at the ticket office for the palace, so there is little point coming unless you plan to pay to enter...there is nowhere else to go on the island.

Inside the villa on Isola Madre

Your visit is divided in two parts: a tour of the palace, and exploring the gardens. To reach the entrance to the palace you cross a pretty courtyard with a large fountain in the middle.

The place was built in the 16th century: originally a church and cemetery were here, but these were completely lost during the construction of the villa.

There are numerous impressive rooms in the House of Borromea, although it is all at a much smaller scale than the rooms in the Borromean Palace on Isola Bella. Among the most imposing rooms are the main Hall, the Venetian Lounge, the Hall of Seasons and the Hall of Battles.

The vist to the house is made more interesting by the content of the rooms, most of which are furnished as if the house is still occupied. There are also numerous mannequins incorporated in the displays - usually I find that these detract from a visit to a historic house, but here they seemed to work quite well.


Other rooms in the House of Borromeo contain museum items, of which the most interesting are the puppets and stages from when puppet shows were presented to the family.

Apparently the gardens of Isola Madre were once an orchard, then became an olive grove, then later a citrus grove. There is no trace of these earlier gardens since it was completely redesigned about 150 years ago in an informal English style garden covering about eight hectares.

Although the layout and general appearance is English, the plant selection is rather different because of the more exotic plants that can grow in the climate here. As a result there are many plants that you will see and wonder if they would grow in your own garden: the answer is quite possibly no!

Various paths in the gardens lead to the edge of Lake Maggiore. As well as the gardens, there are numerous birds walking around the lawns including white peacocks: these birds seem very used to having their photographs taken...

Gardens of the villa on Isola Madre

Attractions nearby

You will visit Isola Madre as part of your tour of the Borromean Islands (the others are Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori) and it is possible to visit all three islands in one day.

There are various other places of interest around the lake, including Cannobio and Stresa, see the Lake Maggiore guide for details.

You can find more local travel ideas in and the Piedmont guide.

See also: 

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Map of Isola Madre and places to visit


Isola Madre places to visit

Borromean islands

Borromean islands

The Borromean Islands, in the centre of Lake Maggiore, feature lovely villas and gardens and are a highlight of a visit to Maggiore

Borromean islands guide
Isola dei Pescatori

Isola dei Pescatori

The Isola dei Pescatori is one of the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore, and has a traditional fishing village to explore

Isola dei Pescatori guide
Isola Bella

Isola Bella

Isola Bella, one of the Borromean islands in Lake Maggiore, is best known for its extraordinary Palazzo Borromeo and gardens

Isola Bella guide


Verbania, on the Borromean Gulf of Lake Maggiore, is famous for the botanical gardens of Villa Taranto

Verbania guide


Stresa, on the western side of Lake Maggiore, is the main resort for visitors to the lake

Stresa guide
Parco Pallavicino

Parco Pallavicino

Parco Pallavicino is a park with a villa and zoo on the edge of Stresa and on the shore of Lake maggiore

Parco Pallavicino guide

...or see all our recommended places to visit in Piedmont