Lake Maggiore in Italy: 7 best sights + tips

Northern Italy is known in part for its beautiful lakes. The best known of these are Lake Garda and Lake Como. Two wonderful travel destinations, definitely worth visiting. Often these do involve crowds during the peak season. A lesser-known but equally worthy alternative is Lake Maggiore. This lake is located in the border area of Italy and Switzerland and does not yet have the immense crowds as at the other lakes. Lake Maggiore, also called Lago Verbano, is an ideal base to spend a vacation in northern Italy. Discover the best sights on the Italian side of Lake Maggiore in Italy.

What to do on Lake Maggiore

There is a lot to do along Lake Maggiore in Italy. You can easily spend one to two weeks here without getting bored. Below we list the 7 best sights and activities you should definitely do on your next visit to Lake Maggiore.

1) Borromean Islands

In Lake Maggiore you can find several islands. The most famous are the Borromean Islands: Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Madre. The name comes from the famous Borromeo family, which had purchased these islands as a country retreat at the beginning of the 17th century. Some parts are still private, but for the most part you can visit these three islands freely. From the town of Stresa, you can easily (and cheaply) reach these islands by ferry or private motorboat. For €15 you can buy a 3 island ticket that allows you to visit all three in one day.

2) City hopping by ferry

An excellent ferry network connects all the cozy villages along Lake Maggiore. It is a fun and easy way to explore the area. Besides villages such as Stresa, Baveno, Cannobio, Arona and Verbania, you can also make the trek to Santa Caterina del Sasso. This is a beautifully restored monastery along the lakefront.

If you wish a unique day trip along the valleys and towns around Lake Maggiore, you can book the Lake Maggiore Express. This day trip combines a 3-hour boat ride on the lake with a panoramic train ride through the Swiss valleys in Locarno. You can book this day trip from just about any village along the western side of the lake.

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3) Day trip Milan

Italy has perhaps the most beautiful cities in Europe, and Milan is one of them. By train, you can be in Italy’s fashion city in about 1 hour from Stresa with a direct connection. Ideal for a day of culture or shopping! There are more than 20 direct trains daily from Stresa to Milan. A one-way ticket costs about €9 and can be easily booked through this website.

4) Hiking in Val Grande national park

The Val Grande National Park is located on Lake Magiore in Italy and, unfairly, is not yet well known. To this day, it is among the most extensive wildernesses in Italy. Still, this is a walhalla for hiking enthusiasts where you can do both day and multi-day hikes . The national park has several visitor centers, the most important of which is in the village of Malesco.

On the park’s official site you will find all the knowledge you need about this unique and rugged nature reserve. Keep in mind that there is barely cell phone coverage in this natural area in preparation for your hike.

5) Day trip Lake Como

From the village of Stresa, it is a one-hour drive to Como, the largest city on Lake Como. If you drive another 45 minutes further towards Varenna, you have arrived at the golden triangle of Lake Como. Along with Menaggio and Bellagio, they are considered the most beautiful villages on the lake. Here you will find picturesque villages with quaint streets, stores and colorful houses framed by an impressive mountain landscape. Like a trip to the Borromean Islands, you can also buy a hop-on hop-off ticket for the ferry here. This one takes you smoothly from one village to another.

6) Lago D’Orta

West of the larger Lake Maggiore is Lake D’Orta. Thanks to an extensive cleaning twenty-five years ago, this is to this day one of the cleanest lakes in Italy. On Lago D’Orta, we definitely recommend a visit to Orta San Giulio. This is a medieval village full of atmospheric narrow streets, where you can still feel the breath of days gone by.

From this village you will also find the departure point of the boats that sail to the Isola di San Giulio. This island is a pilgrimage site where you can follow a short spiritual trail that goes around a monastery. The Isola di San Giulio is also easily accessible by kayak rental from the mainland. While kayaking, it is very nice to further explore Lago D’Orta.

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7) Hiking and biking along Lake Maggiore

The surroundings of Lake Maggiore are framed by beautiful mountain scenery, green valleys and various natural areas. Around the lake, then, it is nice to simply walk or bike. There is an extensive network of hiking and biking trails to do both easy and more challenging routes. If you want to take a break from all that exercise, there are beaches aplenty for some sunbathing.

As a nature lover, the summer season is ideal for the Italian lakes. If you are looking for a challenging (hiking) destination in the winter months, we recommend New Zealand.

Where to stay on Lake Maggiore

The Italian lakes are known for their picturesque lakeside villages. This is no different for Lake Maggiore. You have the option here of staying either in Italian or Swiss villages. Ascona, Locarno and Caviano are the well-known Swiss villages on this lake. Italy’s list is a little longer: Cannobio, Verbania, Arona, Stresa, Baveno, …

If you prefer a central location, we recommend Stresa as a base. This quaint town is characterized by its beautiful promenade full of luxury hotels along the waterfront. The budget-friendly hotels are not on the promenade, but are still within walking distance. Here are your best accommodations in Stresa . From Stresa you have easy connections to the other lakeside towns, as well as to Lake Como, Milan or nearby natural parks.

These are some of our favorite hotels in Stresa:

  • Vespucci Boutique : Charming boutique hotel with beautiful interior close to Stresa with all necessary facilities
  • Belvedere : Stay on one of the Borromean Islands itself for the ultimate travel experience!
  • Grand Hotel Bristol : Experience Italian luxury on the boulevard of Stresa. Swim in the beautiful pool overlooking the lake!
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How to get there

The fastest way to get to Lake Maggiore is by plane. You fly into Milan and then you can take public transportation or rental car to your destination. Personally, we recommend using a (rental) car during the vacation period. As an alternative to getting around Lake Maggiore, you can also use Italy’s excellent train network.

From Belgium or the Netherlands, you can also easily travel by car to Lake Maggiore, which is about an 11-hour drive away. Of course, this depends on where you will be staying and your exact itinerary. The shortest way from Belgium or the Netherlands sends you through the Gotthard Tunnel. For many, this comes with the necessary traffic jams if you travel in full during the vacation season.

TRAVEL TIP : To avoid the Gotthard Tunnel, you can also get through the Lötschberg Tunnel in northern Italy by car train. Followed by a panoramic route over the Simplon Pass, you’ll be in the right mood even before your vacation has begun!

Best travel time

From April through October , the vacation season runs on Lake Maggiore. In this, May, June and September are the ideal months. Reason is that it is usually warm and sunny, but not yet too hot. Also, the crowds are not too bad during these months. During the summer months, you can also have a great stay at Lake Maggiore and you can easily find refreshment along the various beaches should the temperature rise significantly. Keep in mind that in August many Italians have vacations and Lake Maggiore is a fine vacation destination for them as well.

Still have questions about a trip to the Italian lakes? Let us know in a comment below! Looking for more information about your next trip? Please do not hesitate to contact us or send an email to snoezelsontheroad@gmail.com

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