Visit Lake Maggiore
Lake Maggiore is one of the 'Lombardy lakes' of northern Italy and the second largest lake in Italy, after Lake Garda. To the north-east of Milan, the lake follows the border between the Lombardy region (to the east) and Piedmont region (to the west) of northern Italy, with the northern part of the lake around Locarno in Switzerland.
The 65 kilometre long lake nestles in a valley surrounded by forested hills and mountains and the towns along the lake shore, as well as the villas, gardens and picturesque islands, make it a popular summer destination.
Explore Lake Maggiore
Italy This Way comment: Lake Maggiore certainly has places of interest and beauty and should be on your list of places to visit as you tour the lakes of northern Italy, but if you have limited time available we suggest you visit Lake Como and Lake Garda first, then visit Stresa and the Borromean islands of Lake Maggiore if time permits.
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 quieter, and outside this main season you will find many restaurants, hotels and shops are closed.
The western coast of Lake Maggiore is the most popular with visitors, and includes the main town on the lake at Stresa (in the Piedmont region) and access to the Borromean islands.
Along the shores and in the gardens of the villas you will see many of the flowers, trees and plants that give Lake Maggiore its charm, and for many visitors it is the gardens on the shores of the lake 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 a charming historic centre, attractive gardens and villas to admire as well as a pretty promenade along the waterfront where you can get ferries to the Borromean islands.
A cable car from Stresa can carry you up Monte Mottarone (summit 1491m) for spectacular views across the lakes and mountains, and you can disembark during the journey to explore the Alpine Botanical Gardens. See the guide to Stresa.
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.
To the north of Stresa, our favourite town is Cannobio which has a very attractive setting with pretty houses along the waterfront and a historic centre with several notable monuments. From here you can also take the trip to see the Orrido di Sant'Anna gorge and waterfall. Close to here the town of Cannero Riviera has an attractive small port.
The Borromean islands
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, usually by ferry from Stresa, and are the most popular attraction of Lake Maggiore.
Isola Bella, just off the shore from Stresa, is the most visited of the Borromean Islands.
On Isola Bella you can see the baroque style villa and gardens of the 17th century Palazzo Borromeo and an attractive small village with ancient houses. The beautifully maintained Italianate gardens are in the Baroque style and cover a pyramid as well as terraces down to the lakeside and include lots of statues, water features and impressive plant arrangements.
In the opulent interior of the palace you can see remarkable rooms with carved plasterwork, numerous tapestries and works of art. The rooms in the caves below the main palace are also fascinating, with the more 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 very pleasant, with peacocks and other birds walking around and numerous individual features of interest; and Isola dei Pescatori has a small traditional village occupying almost the entire small island.
See the Borromean Islands guide for more details.
Eastern Lake Maggiore
The eastern side of Lake Maggiore has much fewer visitors, 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.
Many other small towns are found around the coast of the lake, and often merit a promenade and to be explored, even if they are small. Among those in Italy we can recommend Verbania to see the botanic gardens of Villa Taranto and you can also visit Lucarno which is on the northern shores of Lake Maggiore in Switzerland.
The 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!
You can find more local travel ideas in the Lombardy guide.