The beauty of Lake Maggiore and the necklace of little villages strung along its shores inspire relaxation and rejuvenation. You can meander around the medieval towns, visiting museums or cruising on the lake, stopping for a gelato or cappuccino. For the more adventurous there’s canyoning or paragliding. Just about everything is on offer from biking to golfing with a large cross section of varied walks.
For orientation you can take the Mottarone cable car from Stresa to almost 5,000 ft to get views to the Alps and the lake. Boat life on Lake Maggiore is busy. You can travel by steamer, or rent a sailing or rowing boat. There is also a regular ferry service. The Lake Maggiore Express is a day trip by ferry and railway. The narrow gauge railway crosses 83 bridges and travels from Stresa to Domodossola passing alpine meadows, mountains and waterfalls.
On the lake there are a number of boat clubs where you can water ski, wake board, sail, swim or windsurf. The Cannobio Lido has canoeing and kayaking and there are scuba diving clubs. If you are a strong swimmer you could join the 800 entrants who do the cross lake swim on the last weekend of August.
When it comes to walking there are hundreds of miles of well marked paths that cover all sorts of terrain from gentle lakeside walks to treks along hilltops and promontories. One of our most popular guided Wanderwalks is The Chestnut Tree walk through the hamlet of Passera behind Stresa passing forests of chestnut trees and small villages and churches. There are hikes for all levels of fitness. Terra dei Laghi between Lake Maggiore and Lake Orta where there are hilltop routes to spectacular views has some great walks. Wherever you go you will find scenery studded with mountain peaks, valleys of forest and lush greenery and always the azure blue of the lake.
Not to be missed are gardens of some of the great villas such as Isola Bella, and Isola Madre where the gardens are described by French novelist Gustave Flaubert, as paradise on earth. The Villa Taranto in Pallanza has a dahlia maze, beautiful formal gardens and a huge water lily display. The Botanic Garden Alpina reached from the cable car from Stresa should also be on your list.
On the island Isola Bella you will find a Baroque villa, built by a Milanese Count in the 17th century where frescoes, sculptures, painting and fine furniture adorn the staterooms. Even more impressive are the gardens and terraces filled with lemon trees, magnolias and exotic and original displays of plants frequented by resident peacocks.
By contrast the Isola dei Pescatori, which was Hemingway’s favourite island, could not be more different. Named from its origins as a 10th century fishing village, it has a small attractive harbour with narrow cobbled streets line with colourful fishermen’s houses and excellent lakeside trattorias.
Spas and Relaxation
Thermal baths and mineral springs have been a feature in the Lake Maggiore area for centuries. There are natural thermal baths in the Bognanco Valley, which have a range of treatments and facilities such as Jacuzzis, saunas and natural thermal baths.
Many hotels have outdoor heated pools and spa facilities. The best are The Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees in Stresa, has two heated outdoor pools, a wellness centre with hydromassage, a small indoor pool, sauna, steam room, treatments and massage and tennis courts and a gym. Also recommended is the spa at Hotel Regina Palace, which has an outdoor heated pool in a lovely setting, sauna, Turkish bath, small gym, heated indoor pool and massage and beauty treatments.
Food and Drink
As Lake Maggiore is in two Italian regions, Piedmonte and Lombardy and crosses the border into Switzerland, regional wines and food specialties are plentiful. There are more than 200 restaurants in the area. Some restaurants on the islands such as Verbano on the Isola dei Pescatori will send their own launches to pick you up as the ferries usually stop around 7 pm.
Fresh fish from the lake is plentiful. One speciality is missolti, sundried lake fish with polenta. Pizzoccheri is a buckwheat pasta served with potatoes, cabbage, cheese and butter. Piedmonte is renowned for its beef, and salamis. From the mountainous regions expect to find several cheeses such as gorgonzola, Toma del Mottarone and Bettelmatt. The northern planes south of the lake are one of Italy’s largest rice growing regions so rice, especially risotto is on the menu. Polenta is also a staple. Towns and villages on the lake have regular markets with fresh fruit and vegetables brought in by neighbouring farmers.
Wines include Ghemme and Gattinara in the Piedmontese area with other vineyards in the Novara Hills, the Ossola Valley and in the Canton of Ticino. Inghams offer a half day wine tour to vineyards near Stresa.
Boat races, Saint days, film, music and fireworks are all in the summer festival calendar.
This year the Stresa Festival presents a series of Midsummer Jazz concerts throughout July with many other concerts throughout the summer. Classical music concerts include the Settimane Musicali of Stresa.
Musical Meditations are a series of concerts in August held in several locations such as Santa Caterina and Isola Bella. Followed by Visions, 16 concerts at the end of August/ September, held at Isola Bella and Stresa.
The Locarno International Film Festival brings film stars and top directors coveting the Golden Leopard Award for the best film.
During July and August you can take a ferry to Isola Bella where various food stalls, bars and restaurants serve specialties.
San Vito Feast Day in August is a celebration of music and dance with food stalls, bars and a finale firework display on Lake Orta. There are local food fairs and festival throughout the season.