Beautiful Lago Maggiore is one of Italy’s most enchanting lake districts, the perfect destination for a relaxing weekend break away from the hustle and bustle of nearby Milan. The large lake extends into Lombardy and Piedmont as far as Switzerland to the north, so there’s plenty to see on a visit to Lago Maggiore. The highlights are no doubt the Borromean islands, with Isola Bella’s stunning confection of landscaped gardens surrounding an ornate palace an absolute must-see - check out the latest episode of TE Destinations to get an exclusive look at the splendours that await here!
But the series of towns ringing the lake are no less worthy of your time, with beautiful lakeside promenades and elegant Belle-Epoque palaces evoking the grandeur of Lake Maggiore’s heyday in the opening decades of the 20th-century. Read on for our guide to our favourite water-front towns in the region, and discover where you should stay on your visit to Lake Maggiore!
Verbania is the largest town on Lake Maggiore, and perhaps the most obvious choice for accommodation on a visit to the area. Divided into three main neighbourhoods, try to stay along the waterfront in central Verbania Pallanza. Access to Isola Bella is easy via regular ferry services from the docks, but there’s plenty to see in Verbania itself: don’t miss the botanical gardens of Villa Taranto on the edge of town, a stunning 19th-century design in the grounds of a 19th-century villa that is home to over 20,000 different plant varieties, or the elegant Villa Giulia, whose unmistakeable yellow facade and series of balconies make it a photographer’s dream.A number of restaurants serving up fine local fare on leafy terraces and lawns overlooking Lago Maggiore will ensure that gastronomes will have plenty to delight them in Verbania as well.
The quintessential Lago Maggiore destination, the charming cobbled streets and elegant architecture of Stresa are strikingly redolent of the region’s golden age in the early 20th century. Lining the water’s edge (known as the lungolago) are a series of marvellous Belle Epoque villas and mansions, a reminder of the wealthy families that flocked here each summer from their residences in nearby Milan. Book a room in one of the beautiful art nouveau hotels on the waterfront, and admire spectacular views of the Isola Bella a mere stone’s throw across the glassy waters of the lake. Make sure to take a stroll through the well-heeled gardens that stretch for over 2 km from Stresa along the lungolago, and tuck into fresh fish from the lake at the town’s well-heeled restaurants. With frequent boat services to the Borromean islands and easy access to the cable car up to Mottarone, Stresa makes for an ideal base when visiting Lake Maggiore.
With a population of just 5,000 inhabitants, Connobio is a much more tranquil affair than nearby Verbania and Stresa. A marvellous tree-lined lakefront promenade leading to Piazza Vittorio Emmanuele II is the perfect spot for an evening passeggiata, with the sound of boats gently bobbing in the lake providing a peaceful backdrop. If you fancy a dip, a stretch of sandy beach at the northern edge of town offers ample bathing opportunities in the Blue Flag waters. If you choose to stay in Cannobio, then make sure to take a hike to the stunning Orrido di Sant’Anna, a deep gorge immersed in woodland 3 km from the town.
Just a few kilometres from the Swiss border on the eastern side of the lake, sleepy Luino is another good option as a base for exploring Lago Maggiore. A tiny but lovely historic centre is a tangle of cobbled alleys and historic palaces perfect for anm aimless afternoon wander, and a vibrant street market takes place in the town every Wednesday. With origins extending as far back as the year 1535, over 370 stalls open their shutters selling everything from vintage antiques and bric-a-brac to local salumi and cheeses. The market is a must-visit when staying on Lake Maggiore, and ferry services are laid on from towns on the other side of the lake on market days to facilitate access.
Tiny, postcard-perfect Cannero Riviera is situated on a natural inlet of Lago Maggiore to the north of Verbania not far from the Swiss border. A spectacular array of azaleas and camellias burst into life each spring, wreathing the picturesque medieval village in a riot of floral scent and colour. Olive groves and lemon trees complete the rich Mediterranean picture. The Lido di Cannero is another blue flag spot for bathing and water sports, whilst the Val Grande National Park offers a variety of hiking and biking trails in the nearby mountains. If you’re looking for a relaxed, out-of-the-way base for exploring Lake Maggiore, then the hotels in Riva Cannero are a great option.
Baveno boasts origins in antiquity, when its mineral rich waters and temperate climate attracted well-heeled ancient Romans during the stifling summer months. The wealthy jet-setting titans of the gilded age followed in their footsteps in the 19th century, constructing a series of fabulous palaces along the town’s waterfront. Amongst the finest of these is the Villa Henfrey-Bianca, an imitation of an English castle built for English engineer Charles Henfrey in the 1870, and the Villa Durazzo - now a luxurious Liberty era hotel that has counted Winston Churchill amongst its illustrious guests over the last century. Baveno is also renowned for its delicate, pink-hued granite, which has graced buildings around the world from Milan’s Vittorio Emanuele Gallery to the Paris Opera.
Surrounded by rolling hills and forests, the medieval town of Angera glimmers from its position on the eastern bank of Lago Maggiore on the Lombardy side of the lake. The town is overlooked by the imposing Rocca di Angera, a castle associated since the 1400s with the powerful Borromeo clan who ruled this region. These days the glowering fortification is home to a museum displaying the family’s historic doll and toy collection (including some wacky mechanical numbers from the 19th century), which is well worth a visit; impressive medieval frescoes adorn the walls, while spectacular views over the countryside await from the tower.