Tour on lake Maggiore in Italy
A tour on lake Maggiore in Italy can be as long as a day trip or it can last several days, depending on the time available.
The proximity of lake Maggiore to Milan Malpensa airport (about 45 minutes by car) makes it a perfect starting point of a luxury tour in northern Italy.
A lake-view hotel room, some spa treatments and the slow-paced lifestyle of these Italian towns, are what it takes to easily fight off the jet lag.
Moreover, a tour on lake Maggiore in Italy can include easy day trips to lake Como, Switzerland and wine tours to Gattinara (Nebbiolo grape).
Most hotels are located in the towns of Stresa, Baveno and Pallanza, on the western shore of the lake, in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Things to do in Stresa, Italy
Stresa is a town laid along the railroad connecting Milan to Brig and Geneva. For this reason, Stresa and the western side of the lake have always been more developed than the opposite one.
Hotels in this area are often inspired to the early 1900s atmospheres like the glorious Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees, a 5-star property where Ernest Hemingway used to stay.
Among things to do in Stresa, everyone enjoys souvenir shopping and strolling along the waterfront of lake Maggiore.
Things to do in Stresa: Villa Pallavicino
Villa Pallavicino is one of the best things to do in Stresa. Located just outside the town centre of Stresa, Villa Pallavicino is a former neoclassic private home which today hosts a zoo.
Several species live freely around the 20 ha (49 acres) garden such as tropical birds, llamas, Tibetan goats and macaques.
Things to do in Stresa: Mottarone funicolar (temporarily closed)
The mountain behind Stresa is called Mottarone and it stands as the natural barrier between lake Maggiore and lake Orta. To get to the funicular station one takes the lakeshore promenade, about 15 minutes away from the luxury hotels in Stresa.
The funicular takes visitors halfway on the slopes of Mottarone where it is possible to continue to the top by connecting to a sky lift. Even in the hottest summer days, from the top of Mottarone the fresh breeze makes views over lake Maggiore even more enjoyable.
The Mottarone funicular is the best way to get to the Giardinio Alpinia, one of the largest botanical gardens of the Alps. Situated at 800 m (2620 ft) above the sea level, the garden is a natural terrace overlooking lake Maggiore and the Borromean islands.
Boat trip on lake Maggiore
A boat trip on lake Maggiore is one of the best ways to take in the picturesque views of gardens with lush vegetation, private villas and secluded dwellings.
The beauty of lake Maggiore comes from its location set at the foot of the Alps. Like other prealpine lakes, its origin goes back to the last glaciations and lake Maggiore is the second one for extension after lake Garda.
Its 212 sq km (52400 acres) generates a mitigate micro-climate similar to the one of the Mediterranean, where the surrounding mountains protect the shores from cold winds. Therefore, despite the proximity to the Alps, the flora includes species normally hard to find at these latitudes.
About 80% of lake Maggiore is within the Italian territory, between Piedmont and Lombardy. The remaining 20%, instead, spread over the Swiss border in the Ticino Canton, all the way to the city of Locarno, the northern point of the lake.
Borromean islands: Isola Bella
From Stresa a short boat ride takes visitors to three small islands on lake Maggiore. The aristocratic Borromeo family, in the old days, controlled the lake and invested in enlarging the surface of what used to be a tiny set of rocks.
Architects, plasters, artists have worked to give origin to an astonishing retreat in the middle of the lake.
The result is Isola Bella, an island shaped as a ship where the bow is represented by the sumptuous Palace, built in the 1500s. The Borromean Palace can host private events and it deserves a guided tour.
Meet Piemonte recommends hiring a private tour guide to avoid the crowds and fully enjoy your luxury tour in northern Italy.
The guided tour of the Borromean Palace on Isola Bella includes walking through rich Baroque art and architecture, precious Venetian furniture, the ground floor grottoes, a unique collection of puppets and much else.
Nonetheless, Isola Bella boasts some of the most scenic botanical gardens where peacocks and other birds found home. One can sit on a bench overlooking lake Maggiore or walk around discovering man-made terraces full of flowers.
A boat trip to the Borromean islands
The second island of a boat trip on lake Maggiore is the so-called Fishermen island. Smaller than Isola Bella, this is the only one to be inhabited all year-round. The boat trip on lake Maggiore allows time for exploring narrow streets where photo opportunities are around each corner.
A lunch or dinner surrounded by the calm water of lake Maggiore is always recommended, avoiding the most touristy eateries.
The third island is called Isola Madre and, probably, the less visited. The private palace and garden can be visited with a tour guide.
A tour in northern Italy: Santa Caterina del Sasso
A boat trip on lake Maggiore can include a stop on the eastern shore to visit an interesting monastery carved into the cliff.
Santa Caterina del Sasso was built in the second half of the XII century and it literally hangs from the rocks. It can be reached with a steep flight of steps from either the water or from the road on top of the cliff.
Tour on lake Maggiore: Villa Taranto
Villa Taranto is a must-see for garden lovers, one of the richest displays within Europe of exotic trees and flowers. Open from March to early November, Villa Taranto is situated in the municipality of Verbania.
Because of the wide array of species, blooming occurs at different times of the year: from springtime tulips, to summer lotus, to dahlias and many more.
Tour on lake Maggiore: Pallanza
The municipality of Verbania was created by unifying the towns of Intra, Pallanza, Suna and Fondotoce. Therefore, Verbania gives the name to the local province.
Pallanza, especially, is worth a visit with its 1800s villas facing the lakefront and ornate baroque architectures. A few dozen of feet separate the shore of Pallanza to Isola San Giovanni, a small island owned by the Borromeo family but not open to the public.
Lastly, one of the highlights of Pallanza is the Romanesque cloister of S. Remigio known for its frescoes and paintings.
Tour on lake Maggiore: Cannobio
Following the winding road along Lake Maggiore that leads to Locarno in Switzerland, one can stop and visit Cannobio.
Cannobio is a charming village north of Verbania. Its evocative cobbled narrow streets, steep flights of steps descending toward the water, make it look like a movie set.
Palazzo Omacini and Palazzo Pironi, both built in the XVI century, dominate humble dwellings once owned by fishermen. On top of that, the XIII century Palazzo della Ragione is the oldest in town.
The beach of Cannobio is popular among Italians for its clear water certified by the coveted “blue flag” award.
For hiking lovers, Meet Piemonte arranges a day trip to the near Cannobina valley as part of a tour in northern Italy. This valley is part of the Val Grande Natural Reserve. The tour guide can tailor the difficulty and length of the hike on route to the gorges and canyon dug by the Cannobina river.
Angera and Arona on lake Maggiore, in Italy
The only outlet river taking water out of the lake is called Ticino and it is located in the southern part of lake Maggiore. In this area, the shores are dominated by the imposing Rocca of Angera, a fortress made of five different buildings, dating between the XI and the XVII century.
Each wing of the fortress was named after the aristocrat family who built it: Ala Scaligera, Ala Viscontea, Giovanni Visconti tower, Ala Borromeo.
A tour on lake Maggiore and northern Italy can easily include a guided tour of the Rocca di Angera, through rooms where frescoes, canvas and original precious decorations are preserved.
On the same site one can visit the Museum of Dolls and Toys, as well as the medieval garden overlooking lake Maggiore.
Arona and the statue of San Carlone
Opposite to the Rocca of Angera, stands the Rocca of Arona built by the Visconti family and defended for centuries by the Borromeo Counts.
Unfortunately, not much is left of the Rocca of Arona.
On the contrary, the town of Angera is a pleasant option for free time on a luxury tour on lake Maggiore. A wide selection of restaurants and shops are spread around a number of squares and narrow streets leading to the lake.
Outside the town center of Arona, one can visit the giant statue called San Carlo Colossus, exceeding 35 m (115 ft) in height. The statue commemorates the local cardinal belonging to the Borromeo family, a prominent man of the Church during the late XVI century.
It is possible to physically enter the statue and climb it on steep flights of steps all the way to the head.
Baveno and lake Mergozzo
Lake Mergozzo is nothing else than a portion of lake Maggiore that was divided from the main body of water by sediments carried by the Toce river.
This area hosts one of the Michelin-star restaurants of Piedmont.
A few miles from Stresa, lastly, lies Baveno which is a small town with a short but nice waterfront promenade. Baveno is a popular base for a tour on lake Maggiore and northern Italy as many larger hotels were built on the lakefront.
The Swiss side of lake Maggiore
The Swiss side of lake Maggiore can be reached with a scenic drive along the shores or by boat.
From Stresa, it takes just over an hour, passing through Verbania, Cannobio and crossing the Swiss border.
Locarno and Ascona are the two most important cities on the Swiss side of lake Maggiore. They are in the Ticino Canton where the official language is Italian.
A tour on lake Maggiore can reach, even just for a day trip, the cosmopolitan and modern Swiss shores known as the “Riviera of Switzerland” for the Mediterranean climate.
Locarno offers a pleasant lakefront promenade and the less-known Brissago islands deserve a visit as well.
The Sacred Mount Madonna del Sasso is higher than the city and it offers stunning views below. It was a pilgrim site with chapels spread around the site and a baroque church.
From there, a must-see experience consists of riding the funicular to the hamlets of Bre, Cardada e Cimetta, at an elevation of 1670 m (5479 ft).
Lake Maggiore express
On the way back to Stresa, instead of going on the same road along the lake, one can consider the train ride on the-so-called “Centovalli train”.
The scenic railroad goes back to Italy through Val Vigezzo up to the town of Domodossola. Guests will enjoy alpine views, forest and meadows as the train goes along valleys with pristine streams of water.
From Domodossola the same bus that took the group to Locarno, takes the group back to Stresa.
Meet Piemonte arranges the booking of train seats and schedules the private bus in order to offer an exclusive experience for guests on a luxury tour of northern Italy.