Less famous than neighboring Lake Como, Lake Maggiore is just as beautiful and can be easily reached from Milan
Lake Maggiore is located in the north of Italy between the Alps and Milan and stretches for about 65 kilometers reaching into Switzerland. Although less famous than neighboring Lake Como, Lake Maggiore is just as beautiful and not as crowded. It is a popular holiday destination and is home to more than 42 towns and five islands.
Lake Maggiore is packed full of exciting things to see and do and the lively town of Stresa is an excellent base from where to discover the area. Other than the name "Greater Lake" suggests, Lago Maggiore is only the second largest of Italy's lakes with Lake Garda being the greatest.
We’ve selected the top 5 places around Lake Maggiore that you shouldn’t miss, but a top 50 would barely be enough to cover all the attractions and beautiful sights to see. If you are in Milan, we strongly suggest to spend at least one day visiting this great place.
1. Isola Bella
Isola Bella is the second largest island of the Borromean Islands located off the coast near Stresa. Its picturesque setting and stunning gardens made it into a major tourist attraction. The little island is merely 320 meters long and 400 meters wide and was nothing but bare rock when Count Vitaliano Borromeo started the construction of a summer palace dedicated to his wife Isabella in 1650. The splendid baroque palace is surrounded by a luxuriant garden laid out on ten terraces reaching a height of 37 meters. The palazzo is beautifully furnished and richly decorated with paintings, marbles and Flemish tapestries.
The garden holds a significant number of exotic plants and flowers which thrive here thanks to the mild climate of the Borromean Gulf. The Italianate baroque garden is further decorated with ponds, fountains, obelisk and statues and offers amazing photo opportunities!
2. Isola Madre
The largest island of the Borromean archipelago houses a splendid botanical garden covering an area of eight hectares. The English-styled park is famous for the vast variety of flowers and plants it houses. Stroll among the shady boulevards and enjoy the panorama.
The palazzo exposes furniture and objects gathered from several other Borromeo residences. The lavishly decorated rooms take you on a historical trip to the lifestyle of the rich during the 16th and 17th century. The Borromean Islands can be reached by ferry boat from Stresa, Arona, Pallanza, and Locarno.
3. Mount Mottarone
Take the cable car to the top of Mount Mottarone (1491 m) and enjoy the stunning panorama over Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands. The cable car departs from Stresa and makes a stop halfway up the mountain near the Alpine Gardens. From the last stop of the cable car, it's a 15-minute walk to the summit from where you have a 360° view as far as the Po valley over the seven surrounding lakes and the Alps.
4. Rocca d'Angera
The medieval fortress Rocca d'Angera is strategically positioned on a hilltop that dominates the southern shores of Lake Maggiore. The Visconti family of Milan initially built the castle, and the Borromeo family acquired it in the 15th century. Inside the Rocca, you can visit the great historical halls decked with frescoes, paintings, and fine furniture. It also houses The Museum of Dolls and Toys, the largest in Europe, with a collection of over one thousand dolls and children's toys from past eras.
5. Santa Caterina del Sasso
The Hermitage Santa Caterina del Sasso stands on a rocky ridge near Leggiuno on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore. This monastic complex of buildings dating from the 13th to the 18th century is the home of a community of Oblate Benedictines. Frescoes decorate the porticoes and chapels, and the views from the courtyard are superb. The Hermitage can be reached by foot from the square above by descending a 268-step staircase or from the boat dock below climbing up 80 steps. There is also an elevator present.