Visitors are spoilt for choice when it comes to finding things to do on Lake Maggiore. With a whole host of things to see and do in, on and around Lake Maggiore, you may find one holiday here won’t be enough!
Well worth a visit on Lake Maggiore are the towns of Luino, Cannobio, Cannero, Stresa, Ascona. Locarno and Arona. But this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are so many smaller towns and villages on Lake Maggiore which are just as worthy of a trip. The easiest way to get out and about is by using the public boat network. Boats criss cross the lake all day long and each journey cost just a few euros.
Sightseeing on Lake Maggiore is also not complete without visiting the Borromeo Islands during your stay. Isola Madre is the largest of the Borromeo Islands and its gardens are beautiful. Isola Madre is famous for its azalea, rhododendron, and camellia blossoms as well as its wisteria and pergolas. Whilst on Isola Bella, you can pay a visit to the Borromeo family home and gardens. Here you can catch a glimpse of the white peacocks that roam within them. There are also a handful of small shops and streets to wander around.
One of the easiest ways to get to the Borromeo Islands is from Stresa. If you do head to Stresa, we recommend heading up to the mountains behind – Mottarone. Here you will get see one of the most beautiful sights in Lake Maggiore – an incredible 360 degree view from the Po Valley to the summit of the Alps. You will see all 7 lakes from the summit. These include Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, Lake Mergozzo, Lake Varese, Lake Comabbio, Lake Monate and Lake Biandronno. On you way up the hillside, you can stop and visit the Botanical Garden Alpinia. Stresa itself is a busy and popular tourist spot!
If you are nature lovers, another one of the things to do in Lake Maggiore is to pay a visit to Villa Taranto. Situated in Verbania, the villa is definitely worth a visit. While the villa is not open to the public, the beautiful gardens are open from April until October. They were the creation of Captain Neil McEacharn. Back in 1931 the Scottish Captain decided to buy the estate called ‘La Crocetta’. He purchased it from the Marquise of Sant’Elia and transformed it into a specimen of an English Garden. The location areminded him of his native Scotland. Each year, at the end of April, there is an initiative called ‘The Feast of the Tulip’. At this time, all visitors have the potential to receive a free plant cultivated in the garden. One in five adult tickets has a stamp on the back, which allows people to collect their gift.
If you do head to Villa Taranto, it’s worth stopping at Mergozzo, an extremely pretty village on the banks of Lake Mergozzo. This is one of the cleanest lakes in Italy. It’s an idyllic spot with brightly coloured houses overlooking the main square and waterfront. Motor boats are not allowed on the lake itself. This makes it a haven for canoes, kayaks, sculls and swimmers.
Also worth a visit is Santa Caterina del Sasso. This can be reached either by road or also by boat during the summer months. According to tradition the hermitage was founded by Alberto Besozzi. He was a rich local merchant. Having survived a heavy storm while crossing the lake, he decided to retreat to the rocky ledge to live the life of a hermit. These days the monastery is entrusted to the care of the Benedictine monks. The site contains some important well-kept frescoes dating from the XIVth to the XVlllth century.
You could combine a trip to Santa Caterina with a stop en route at Arcumeggia. Arcumeggia is a small village about 25 minutes from the monastery. In 1956 the Provincial Tourism Authority decided to turn it into a painting village. After that decision, so many artists arrived in the village that they began painting frescoes on the walls of the village houses. It’s a fascinating village to stroll around. Each year, new paintings are added so it has become almost an open air contemporary art museum.
Also definitely worth a visit is Valle Verzasca, particularly on a hot sunny day. You can visit the Verzasca Dam which features in the opening sequence of Goldeneye. Driving on up the mountain from the dam, there are parking spots which give you access to the river. The river is fantastic to swim in and the setting is absolutely idyllic but please do be extremely careful. The currents are extremely strong and the water can be icily cold at certain times of year. You certainly need to be on your guard, especially with young children. You’ll notice the warning signs all around the car parking areas. But, don’t let this put you off. It is a wonderful place.
Vallemaggia is also wonderful. It’s in a similar direction but just the other side of Locarno from Valle Verzasca. It also offers you the chance to swim in the river (but again do always be careful). If you have little ones, it’s more child friendly. Right at the base of the valley are some great sandy beaches alongside the river with shallow waters perfect for paddling. It’s worth taking a bucket and spade with you – it’s the best sand we’ve discovered around the lake. Parking is also much easier with designated pay and display parking on the side of the road. There are also some fantastic paths for walking here and pony trekking and climbing is also an option. Details for all these can be found at.
Alternatively, you can use Lake Maggiore as a base to visit Milan. Your holiday on Lake Maggiore is arguably not complete without a trip to this wonderful city. Milan is famous for shopping and fashion. It’s cathedral is also well worth a visit. It’s also a short metro train ride from the centre out to Santa Maria delle Grazie. Here you can admire Leonardo da Vinci’s painting of The Last Supper. You will need to book well in advance to avoid disappointment.
Or if you’re more of a sports fan than an art lover, it’s possible to get tours of San Siro stadium and museum in Milan. The museum is the first and only one in Italy to be located within a stadium. It shows you AC Milan and FC Inter history through a collection of unique memorabilia. Milan itself is worth an overnight stay if you wanted to extend your trip. There are hundreds of inexpensive restaurants & hotels. Opera is available to the man-in-the-street in Italy so buy seats at La Scala Milan.
Other cities accessible from Lake Maggiore include Verona. Verona is an absolutely fantastic city, well worth seeing. Across June, July and August it is host to the Arena di Verona Opera Festival. Other sights to see in Verona include Piazza Bra (where the arena is) and the Piazza delle Erbe (well known for it’s daily markets). Let’s not forget the Casa di Guilietta (where Juliet’s balcony is), the Basilica di San Zeno and the Torre dei Lamberti.
If you do make your way to Verona, you may be tempted to head a bit further afield and see the sights of Venice. Or if you’re interested in seeing some other cities, Parma is also accessible – it’s a lovely city easily seen in a day. The old town of Bergamo is also beautiful with some fantastic little shops and restaurants.
A great day out to enjoy the best sights in Lake Maggiore is the Lago Maggiore Express. This is a trip by boat from Luino up the lake to the Swiss towns of Ascona and Locarno. From here you take the ‘Hundred Valley’ train into the Swiss Alps then connect to Stresa and back by boat to Luino. It’s a lovely day trip. Should you be in Locarno in April, you can visit the Camellia Festival. Lake Maggiore has been the European capital of the camellia for more than 150 years. Locarno celebrates the flower every year with an exhibition with over 300 varieties of the flower, a market and musical events. In fact, Locarno has a host of events on throughout the year.
It’s also worth visiting the Swiss city of Lugano during your stay. Lugano has some fantastic shops as well as a beautiful lido. Once in Lugano, you may also want to experience the Monte San Salvatore funicular. A 10 minute ride takes you to the mountain top where there are some fantastic views. On the other side of the city is the Monte Bre cable car. This similarly takes you to the top of the mountain where again there are fabulous views to be enjoyed. There are also 2 restaurants at the top. There are also plenty of picnic tables up here where you can enjoy a relaxing picnic in the cool shade of the trees. The Tassino park in Lugano is also worth a visit with it’s lovely views of the lake, deer, llama and playground.
And for those who enjoy getting on to the lake than just standing on the shoreline, there is another excellent boat service on Lake Lugano. Boats leave regularly from Lugano to the other towns and villages on the lake. Morcote is lovely and worth a visit . And for those who like to travel in style, why not try out one of the lunch or evening dinner cruises and dine on Lake Lugano too.
If you do head into Switzerland, it’s worth knowing that you can use euros there, but change is given back in Swiss Francs. However, don’t be caught out. You will need to use Swiss Francs for the parking meters and car parks. Please also remember that you are only entitled to bring 20 Swiss francs worth of goods per person back into Italy. Any more than that and you are liable to pay customs duty on the goods – so be warned! Don’t forget your passport when crossing the border too as Switzerland is not in the EU.
Lake Lugano is not the only lake worth exploring though. You might also want to spend a day on neighbouring Lake Orta. Whilst much of the lake is quite industrial, Orta San Giulio is definitely one of the prettiest villages on any of the Italian Lakes. It is well worth seeing. Orta San Giulio is a medieval village, well kept but largely unrenovated. It is characterised by narrow cobbled streets leading from the main Piazza Motta. A small boat takes you from the village across to Isola San Giulio, a small islet just offshore. The town is closed to traffic but a tourist train – trenino – makes a more or less continuous circuit between Piazza Motto and the various car parks for a small fee. (Please be aware that many businesses here do close in January if you are visiting off season.) There is a limited boat service on Lake Orta linking Omegna, Pettenasco, Orta San Guilio and Pella. A full trip takes about 1 ½ hours.