Travel Europe

Lake Maggiore- Why Everyone Should Visit Italy’s Most Perfect Lake

May 22, 2017
Grotto in the palace on Isola Bella

People amble at a gentle pace through quaint little streets, pausing occasionally to take photos. No need to rush here. After all, the tourist throngs are in Bellagio over on Lake Como. Sitting on the terrace of a coffee bar, a question springs to mind. Is this the perfect place? The Italian lake without the crowds, but with an authentic beauty all of its own…Welcome to Lake Maggiore!  Stresa is the gateway to a place that you will never forget. Whether it’s a day trip from Milan or a base for further travel, this is a ‘Must See’ destination!

Getting Onto Lake Maggiore 

A small ticket booth beside the Navigazione dei Laghi building sells tickets for the ‘ferries’, although the word ‘ferry’ seems grandiose in this case. Even the so-called ‘ferries’ seem more like boats in contrast to their larger counterparts on Lake Como and Lake Garda. Tickets to the main islands (Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Bella) cost €15.

Isola Madre 

Albino peacocks on lawn on Isola Madre

Albino peacocks on Isola Madre

Rounding a corner, excited cries and fast footsteps fill the air. Two children dash towards the object of their attention, two albino peacocks. E bello, they cry. In fact, who can disagree? These birds, which you can expect to see wandering around both Isola Madre and Isola Bella, are one of nature’s little surprises.

View of Lake Maggiore from the palace on Isola Madre

View of the lake from the palace on Isola Madre

Isola Madre is often the first stop on a trip to the Borromean islands and it is a place of understated elegance. Ancient stone paths lead visitors around an English garden with a quaint palace at its centre. Just outside the palace, ropes now support Europe’s largest cypress tree, which was felled by a freak storm some years ago. The building itself, although smaller and less opulent than its counterpart on Isola Bella, provides stunning views of the lake.

Europe's largest cypress tree supported by ropes

Europe’s largest cypress tree on Isola Madre

Isola Bella 

Beautiful Island. It wears its name like a glove. Indeed, it is perhaps more than just beautiful. Simply stunning may sum it up better.

Terraces and tourists on Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore

Terraces in gardens on Isola Bella

The palace here is on a much grander scale. The gardens…Where words fail, hopefully the photos will do justice…It is these gardens that are the star attraction of the island. Having acquired a ticket, pass through the palace to access them. In contrast to the smaller Borromean palace on Isola Madre, the rooms are larger and more lavish. The cavernous ballroom, with its views back towards the village on Isola dei Pescatori, is a real standout. Make sure to also visit the shell-encrusted vaults downstairs. They are unusual, almost unique.

View of the ceiling in the main room in the Borromean palace

Grandiose room in the palace on Isola Bella

Vault in the palace on Isola Bella

Vault in the palace on Isola Bella

On a minor negative note, expect crowds here. The beauty of the island is not a secret!

The Gardens of Isola Bella 

As on Isola Madre, albino peacocks roam freely. Brightly coloured flowers and plants meet the eye at every turn. Statues and terraced steps add a touch of fantasy to the setting. All around, there are the azure colours of the lake that seem to sparkle on a sunny day. Literally, you hardly know where to look.

If time is an issue, this is the place to spend the day.

Statue in the gardens of Isola Bella on Lake Maggiore

Statue in the gardens of Isola Bella

Ideally, visitors would have hours to linger and just soak up the beauty and the atmosphere of the location. However, unless you completely ignore Isola Madre or manage to take the earliest possible train to Stresa, you may have to speed through the crowds in the palace.

View of the lake from the garden on Isola Bella

View of the lake from the gardens

Practicalities 

Getting There and Away 

Trains to Domodossola from Milano Porta Garibaldi serve Stresa. Also, many trains from Centrale to the Swiss destinations of Geneva and Basle include a stop at Stresa. Arriving from Malpensa Airport, change at Busto Arsizio and take a Domodossola bound train. If doing a day trip, try to take an early train from Milan to be able to make the most of your day on the lake.

Check the times directly on the Trenitalia website 

Accommodation

Hotel accommodation can be booked for as little as €50 per night on booking.com. Also, AirBnB have a number of properties both in Stresa and around the lake. Booking in advance will make it easier to find bargains.

Visiting the Islands

Tickets to Isola Madre cost €13, Isola Bella €16 and combined tickets cost €16. Buy your ticket when you arrive on either Isola Madre or Isola Bella.

Itinerary Ideas  

One Day- See As Much As You Can 

Start the morning on Isola Madre. Explore the gardens before heading over to Isola dei Pescatori for lunch. After lunch spend the rest of the afternoon wandering the gardens of Isola Bella.

Short Day Trip- See Isola Bella 

Arriving in the late morning, have a light lunch on Isola dei Pescatori before then enjoying the rest of the afternoon on Isola Bella.

Longer Trip

With a few days, you can visit the three main islands. The funicular tram on Monte Mottarone in Stresa will provide you with incredible views of the lake.  Finally, you can take a ferry to Locarno and then do the Centovalli railway trip from there back to Domodossola.

Interested in visiting more Italian lakes? Click on the link here for more information.

Statue in the sun on Isola Bella

Statue in the late afternoon sun

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  • 2traveldads June 2, 2017 at 17:40

    What an absolutely gorgeous place. It’s funny, when I read “If time is an issue, this is the place to spend the day.” and I thought, “Wow, yes. I would forget about stress and time. I need to be here.” …and then I realized that you meant that if you’re short on time, this was the spot to hit. 🙂

    • Unlatinoverde June 2, 2017 at 18:32

      Both statements may be true. Lake Maggiore is a fantasy concoction. You would hardly believe it existed until you saw it with your own eyes! Thanks for your feedback!

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