A weekend at Lake Maggiore - Travel Guide (Piemonte - Italy)

This article first appeared in My Travelogue by Bhushavali
 
BEST WEEKEND TRIP FROM MILAN
 
ALL ABOUT LAKE MAGGIORE

LAKE MAGGIORE vs LAKE COMO
Should you visit Lake Como or Lake Maggiore? Is there an alternative to Lake Como? Well, everyone who knows about Italy, knows of Lake Como. Hollywood celebrities have their villas here! But here's an equally gorgeous place that's not as expensive, as touristy, as crowded as Lake Como - presenting Lake Maggiore. Literally, Lake Maggiore is just 50km away from Lake Como as the crow flies, is in a similar shape, and is actually larger in size! The icing on the cake is that there are islands in Lake Maggiore, not only buzzing with activity but also home to monuments that can be visited (there's just 1 almost uninhabited island in Lake Como). Furthermore, the lake falls across the border between Italy & Switzerland! So, if you're planning to visit Lake Como, here's a better idea, visit Lake Maggiore! 

Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Read on for all that you need to know before visiting Lake Maggiore. Where is Lake Maggiore? How to reach Lake Maggiore? Is Lake Maggiore worth visiting? Things to do around Lake Maggiore, Lake Maggiore Itinerary, and more! 

Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Things to do in Lake Maggiore

TOP 5 PLACES TO VISIT & THINGS TO DO IN LAKE MAGGIORE

DO NOTHING AT LAKE MAGGIORE
The best thing to do in Lake Maggiore is to do nothing! Lake Maggiore is beautiful and there are many towns around Lake Maggiore where you can find a hotel or B&B. Just relax, watch the sunrise, stroll along the waters, take a boat trip to the islands, stroll around the islands, watch the city lights of Stresa from the islands, and enjoy lunch/dinner in the outdoor dining area with the view of the lake. Unwind in Lake Maggiore, leave all the stress of life behind, and enjoy your much-needed break! Just be!

EXPLORE ARONA 
Arona was our first stop in Lake Maggiore. After staying overnight at Vercelli, our stop was at Arona to see the majestic sculpture called Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo. 

Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo: 
Following the Statue of Liberty, the Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo is the 2nd tallest copper statue in the world. It is also the 3rd tallest sculpture that could be climbed from within following the Statue of Unity and the Statue of Liberty. 
Charles Borromeo was born in the 16th C in Arona Castle. He was the Archbishop of Milan. He was canonized in 1610 and soon after that, Sacra Monte di San Carlo was built. The original idea was to build a series of 15 chapels with frescoes and sculptures similar to Sacri Monti di Ghiffa and associated sites. However, only 3 chapels were made and those too, are incomplete. The sculpture was completed in 1698, at which point of time, this was the largest statue in the world. Much later, in the mid-19th C, Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi stayed here to study this sculpture extensively before designing the Statue of Liberty!
It is possible to climb the Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo. There are 2 spiral staircases to reach the top of the pedestal and then a ladder to reach the viewpoint located at the back of the statue. Then there's another ladder to reach the head part of the sculpture where you can see outside through the holes of ears, eyes, and nose! It is also possible to go down to the left hand and have a view through the book! 

Where is Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo (on Google Maps)Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo
How to reach Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo? 2.5km (30 mins walk) from Arona Railway Station
Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo Tickets: €10
Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo Timings: Varies according to the days of the week & season

Lake Maggiore Viewpoint: 
Very close to the Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo is a stunning viewpoint from where you get an impeccable view of not only Lake Maggiore but also Angera Castle (Rocca di Angera) on the other side of the lake which is Lombardy region! There is a doll museum inside Rocca di Angera founded in 1988 by Princess Bona Borromeo Arese. The concept reminded me much of the Toy Museum in Mechelen, Belgium. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to go visit this castle or its museum. 

Where is Lake Maggiore Viewpoint at Arona (on Google Maps)? Piazzo San Carlo 6

Luigi Guffanti 1876: 
While you're in Italy, you have to go on a cheese tasting for its incredible varieties of cheese. What better way to do it than visit a cave where cheese is matured?! That's what I did.
Mr.Luigi Guffanti, the great-grandfather of the current owners, decided to season some Gorgonzola cheese. He purchased an abandoned silver mine where the microclimate was perfect for aging the cheese..... the rest is history! Today Luigi Guffanti cheese is exported worldwide and the varieties of cheese have grown immensely! 
The ancient mines were a part of the 15th C fortification bastion walls around the city. In 1990, they moved to the new complex which was originally a sausage curing cellar. Today it is possible to visit the seasoning caves and do a guided tasting session as well.

Where is Luigi Guffanti 1876 in Arona (on Google Maps)? Luigi Guffanti 1876
How to reach Luigi Guffanti 1876? 800m (9 mins walk) from Arona Railway Station
Luigi Guffanti 1876 Guided Tour Tickets: Guided tours are done only upon reservation via davide@guffantiformaggi.com. The prices depend on the size of the group and the type of tour.
Luigi Guffanti 1876 Store Timings: Mon-Fri: 09:00AM to 1:00PM and 3:00PM to 6:00PM (7:00PM on Fri & Sat). Sat: 08:00AM to 1:00PM. Closed on Sundays

Where is Arona Railway Station (on Google Maps)? Arona Railway Station
How to reach Arona? Arona has a railway station which is well-connected by trains from Milan Central. The direct train takes about 1 hour. 

Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo Arona | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo Arona | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Luigi Guffanti Arona
Pic Credit: ©Luigi Guffanti. Used with permission on this blog.

Rocca di Angera | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Rocca di Angera | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

VISIT ISOLA BELLA - HOME TO PALAZZO BORROMEO
From Stresa, my next stop was Stresa from where I took a boat to visit Isola Bella. Isola Bella literally means 'Beautiful Island'. There are 8 islands on Lake Maggiore and Isola Bella is one of the 3 very close to Stresa. There's just 1 building on the island and that building covers the entire island - Palazzo Borromeo - The palace of the Borromeo Family! 
It was quite fascinating to watch the island palace from the boat even before we reach there with the view of the terrace garden with sculptures as you approach it. Till 1632, it was an all-natural island when the House of Borromeo decided to build their palace here which took a whopping 400 years to materialize. Today the Borromeo family still visits the island and when they're here, there's a flag flying atop the palace! Normally, they live in Milan.

Palazzo Borromeo Isola Bella Virtual Tour: The tour of the palace covers about 20 rooms that doesn't include the state apartments on the top floor which are still the private residence of the Borromeo family. Being on an island, a lot of symbolism here is based on shells!
The tour begins with the 5 initial rooms called the Pilgrim Room and 4 closets. Quite interestingly there are quite a few paintings here of early 17th C CE, by Flemish Masters including Peter Snijers! There are many more paintings in the following 2 rooms. The 3rd room is where it gets interesting with several flower arrangments painted on hardstones, marbles, slates & alabasters! After the 4th room is the stunning Berthier Gallery.
Berthier Gallery is the Gallery of Paintings which has a whopping 130 paintings. There's elegant, monochromatic stucco work on the ceiling. It was originally called the Alcove Gallery but after the visit of French General Louis-Alexandre Berthier under Napoleon Bonaparte. Quite amusingly, at the end of room is a bed chamber that's open to the gallery! This was a later addition in 1828 when the royals of Piedmont - Carlo Felice and Maria Cristina. I couldn't help but think how would it feel to wake up in the middle of the night in this room staring at these many paintings or if at all it would be easy to fall asleep in this room!!!
The next is the Throne Room which has the coat-of-arms made of tilework on the floor! The throne itself is majestic and made of gilded wood. Quite interestingly, the roof is held in place by 6 telemones (looks like gargoyles but over/instead of the pillars & weight-bearing). 
The next is the 'Medal Room' which was the state banquet room. It is called a Medal-room because of the 10 gilded tondos that look like medals just below the cornices under the ceiling. These medals depict the life of San Carlo Borromeo whose Colossus is there is Arona! 
The next is the most important and the largest room in the palace - New Salon (Salone Nuovo). It fills the height of 2 floors and rises further up! The place is duo-chromatic, so subtle and elegant. Since the 1st floor is the private residence of the royals, if they wanted, they could look down at you as you stroll through this room! 
The next is the Music Room which still has quite a few musical instruments on display still. This room is very important because here's where the Stresa Conference was held in 1935, prior to WWII, to discuss the violations of the Versailles Treaty by Adolf Hitler which was attended by Mussolini, Ramsay MacDonald, and more. This was, kind of, the last straw to discuss peace before WWII began! The next is the Napoleon room, where Napoleon Bonaparte and his wife Josephine slept on the night of 17 Aug 1797. It was quite a story when Napoleon just landed here with 60 people without forewarning, where even the royal family wasn't here! The staff of the palace had to urgently do everything needed for a pleasant stay of Napoleon!!!
The tour then continues to the underground floor where the first stop is some of the dolls of the Borromeo family in showcases. The walls of all the underground Grotto rooms are filled with shells, rocks, cool lava, pieces of mica, and more. The water symbolism is further enhanced here with turtles, dolphins, fishes, nymphs, and more. One of these rooms caught my attention with its sculpture of an Apsara from India! The last room is the Tapestry room.
Then the tour continues outside to the majestic terrace garden & theatre that we saw while coming on the boat to the island. The most fascinating thing here - is the presence of many white peafowls!!! The sculptures and obelisks were all created by Carlo Simonetta in 17th C CE. Right atop this is the sculpture of a unicorn as well as a viewpoint to see the Italian-styled garden below.
One thing to keep in mind is that this place is an island and to imagine how they built everything here is fascinating - bringing all raw materials, bringing in the artists, sculptors, and more. Absolutely majestic and beautiful. 

Where is Stresa Railway Station (on Google Maps)? Stresa Railway Station
Where is Isola Bella - Palazzo Borromeo (on Google Maps)? Palazzo Borromeo
Where is Stresa Ferry point (on Google Maps)? Stresa Ferry point
How to reach Isola Bella - Palazzo Borromeo? Boat from Stresa Ferry point
Isola Bella Palazzo Borromeo Tickets: €20 (combined tickets with Isola Madre & Rocca di Angera also available)
Isola Bella Palazzo Borromeo Timings: Open only from March to November. 10:00AM to 16:30 (or 17:30) 

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Things to do in Lake Maggiore

VISIT ISOLA MADRE OR ISOLA SUPERIORE O DEI PESCATORI
Like Isola Bella, Isola Madre is also an island owned by the House of Borromeo. Originally called Isola Saint Vittore, they got this island 2 centuries before Isola Bella, in 1501 CE. The palace was built there in the late 16th C CE. While the specialty of Isola Bella is the palace, the specialty of Isola Madre is its gardens! The gardens of Isola Madre kept evolving from 16th C to 19th C! The garden covers an area of 8 hectares and has both English & French styles areas. There are both white peacocks & Indian peafowl roaming around freely here and I heard, there's an adorable young mix of the two!!! Too bad I didn't get to see it! 
Unlike Isola Bella & Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori is a relatively larger island but still just 375m x 100m. Isola dei Pescatori literally means Fishermen's island and it has always been a fishing village. The tiny island actually has a residing population of 25 people and has their homes! Apart from that, there are many shops, restaurants as well as a few hotels & B&Bs that cater to the tourists. 
Unfortunately, I didn't get to visit Isola Madre and I only spent a little bit of time on Isola dei Pescatori except for having my dinner at one of the restaurants there (more on it, below).

Where is Isola Madre (on Google Maps)? Isola Madre
Where is Isola dei Pescatori (on Google Maps)? Isola dei Pescatori
How to reach Isola Madre & Isola dei PescatoriBoat from Stresa Ferry point
Isola Madre Tickets: €17 (combined tickets with Isola Madre & Rocca di Angera also available)
Isola Madre Timings: Open only from March to November. 10:00AM to 16:30 (or 17:30) 

HEAD TO GHIFFA - ONE OF THE UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN PIEMONTE
When I looked into the map after setting up the itinerary of Piemonte, my first thought was, "Well, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sacri Monti di Ghiffa is on the banks of Lake Maggiore!". I had to amend the itinerary to fit in Ghiffa. I'd say visiting Sacri Monti di Ghiffa is one of the top things to do in Lake Maggiore. It gives a feel of Lake Maggiore that the bigger towns like Stresa or Arona do not give! Sacri Monti di Ghiffa is called the Balcony on the Landscape and you can understand why. 


Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

Isola Bella | Palazzo Borromeo | Lake Maggiore Travel Guide

BEST LAKE MAGGIORE HOTELS

Where to stay in Lake Maggiore? One of the best places to stay in Lake Maggiore would be Borromeo's Dream House in Isola Bella or one of the hotels or B&Bs in Isola dei Pescatori. I can imagine how it might feel like, comparing it to staying on Pampus Island, off the coast of Amsterdam. After the last day-trip-tourist-boat leaves and the island would be totally silent with just the sounds of the water and wind! Unlike Pampus Island, there's a living population here who you will share the island with, overnight.
Other than that, there are many hotels & B&Bs at all price points in the major towns around Lake Maggiore like Arona, Stresa, etc.

BORROMEO'S DREAM HOUSE - SPEND THE NIGHT ON AN ISLAND
Borromeo's Dream House is a section of Palazzo Borromeo in Isola Bella. The 9 rooms which were originally the fishermen's houses have been renovated and restored with all modern amenities to host guests! The rooms are actually apartments, which are equipped with a kitchen as well! 7 of the rooms are junior suits that have dual occupancy while 2 have 4-people occupancy. I did not stay here and didn't even see it, so I cannot review this for you!

Where is Borromeo's Dream House (on Google Maps): Palazzo Borromeo
Borromeo's Dream House room rates: Room rates begin at €190 for double occupancy in Suite Via del Voltone, the cheapest of the 9 suites.

HOTEL LA PALMA - A REVIEW - ROOM WITH A VIEW OF LAKE MAGGIORE
I stayed at Lake Maggiore at Hotel La Palma at Stresa. The view of Lake Maggiore from Hotel la Palma reminded me much of Lac de l'Eau d'Heure in Belgium. When you're booking a room here make sure to get one on one of the upper floors with a view of the lake which is just the best way to enjoy Lake Maggiore. Unfortunately, I hardly had a few hours here in the hotel between my check-in & check-out!

Where is Hotel La Palma Stresa (on Google Maps): Hotel La Palma
How to reach Hotel La Palma StresaStresa is about 20km from Arona. There's a direct train that connects Milan to Stresa that goes via Arona. It takes about 20 mins by train and about 1:10 hours from Milan.
Hotel La Palma Stresa phone no: +39 0323 32401
Hotel La Palma Stresa room rates: Room rates begin at €200 for double occupancy in a standard room

Hotel la Palma | Best Stresa Hotels | Lake Maggiore Where to Stay

Hotel la Palma | Best Stresa Hotels | Lake Maggiore Where to Stay

Hotel la Palma | Best Stresa Hotels | Lake Maggiore Where to Stay

Ristorante Verbano Isola dei Pescatori | Best Stresa Restaurants | Lake Maggiore Where to Eat

Ristorante Verbano Isola dei Pescatori | Best Stresa Restaurants | Lake Maggiore Where to Eat

BEST LAKE MAGGIORE RESTAURANTS

RESTAURANT VERBANO
I stayed in Lake Maggiore one night and had my dinner at Restaurant Verbano in Isola dei Pescatori. Here's the thing, being islands & lakefront, the restaurants in this region specialize in seafood! As a vegetarian, I was very, very skeptical if I'll have something to eat at all and if I do, if would be tasty at all! But the restaurant Verbano exceeded my expectations and on this trip to Piemonte, this was perhaps the best restaurant I ate at! The 4-course meal began with a starter of roasted root vegetables and continued with a soup with roasted potatoes & spinach. The main course was a very very yummilicious celeriac steak! The dessert was vanilla ice cream with a butterfly-shaped chocolate topping! I couldn't believe I was having the Best vegan dinner in Piemonte, in a restaurant on a tiny island in Lake Maggiore! Absolute awesomeness.

LAKE MAGGIORE PRACTICAL DETAILS

LAKE MAGGIORE ITINERARY
If you're visiting in the winter, set aside a day or two for skiing in the Alps to the north of Lake Maggiore. Otherwise,
Day 1 - Arona - Colossus of San Carlo & musuems
Day 2 - Stresa, Isola Madre & Isola Bella
Day 3 - Sacri Monti di Ghiffa and Sacri Monti di Domodossala or Orta

HOW TO VISIT MAGGIORE FROM ROME?
Take a train to Milan and then take another train to Arona or Stresa.

LOCAL TRANSPORT IN LAKE MAGGIORE 
The train that connects Milan to Geneva goes via Lake Maggiore and stops at Arona, Stresa, and Domodossala. So it is very easy to reach Lake Maggiore from Milan on a day trip or weekend trip. Local transport in Lake Maggiore is best done using a Maggiore Centro one-day travel pass which covers local buses, cable car, as well as ferries.  

BOOK YOUR LAKE MAGGIORE TOURS & TICKETS HERE

Bhushavali

An ardent traveler by passion. Being an ex - Art History Teacher, my area of interest especially lies in Nature and Heritage. Visited 85 UNESCO World Heritage sites as of June 2022. I've been listed among the Top 7 Women Travel Bloggers of India, Top 50 in UK. I have been interviewed in a couple of TV Shows, Radio Channels and Events as well. Read more about me and read the testimonials of different brands

2 comments:

  1. Hello you have amazing blog, thanks for sharing it

    ReplyDelete
  2. I visited a friend at Lago Maggiore last summer but unfortunately did not manage to do any sightseeing in the area. We had good food, went swimming and did some walks. Now I know what I have missed. I have to make sure to visit Luigi Guffanti for some cheese tasting, when I go there next time. Wonderful pictures.

    ReplyDelete

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