Lake Maggiore, Italy, one of the most beautiful of the Lombardy Lakes

Photo of Lake Maggiore (Lombardy region)

Visit Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore is one of the 'Lombardy lakes' of northern Italy. The 65 kilometre long lake nestles in a valley surrounded by forested slopes and mountains and the numerous attractive towns and sections of lake shore, luxurious villas and gardens and picturesque islands make it a very popular summer destination with visitors.

Note:Lake Maggiore is in less mountainous terrain than the other lakes further east, so the backdrop to the lake is rather less dramatic than Lake Garda and Lake Iseo for example.

The eastern part of Lake Maggiore is within the Lombardy region of Italy, the west is within the Piedmont region, and the northern area of the lake falls within Switzerland. Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda

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.

Along the shores and in the gardens of the villas you will also see many of the flowers, trees and plants that make Lake 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.

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 also get off at the halfway point to visit the Alpine Botanical Gardens. See Stresa guide.

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. See Arona guide.

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 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 Lake Maggiore

The Borromean Islands are a group of five islands in the centre of the lake between Stresa and Verbania. Three of the islands can be visited and are among the most popular attractions of Lake maggiore.

Isola Bella, just off the shore from Stresa, is the most visited of the islands. On Isola Bella you can see the baroque style villa and gardens of the 17th century Palazzo Borromeo (17th century origins, remainder is more recent but in the original baroque - classical style) and an attractive little village with cobbled streets winding between ancient houses.

The beautifully maintained Italianate gardens are in Baroque style on terraces down to the lakeside and include lots of statues, water features and impressive plant arrangements. You can visit the opulent interior of the palace which includes numerous tapestries and works of art. The rooms in the caves below the main palace are also fascinating, with the modest rooms decorated with themes inspired by the sea.

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; and

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.

See the Borromean Islands guide for more details.

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 around Lake Maggiore. The principal towns and villages here 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.

Other information

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.

See also:

Map of Lake Maggiore and places to visit

Lake Maggiore places to visit

See more places nearby in the Lombardy guide