Straddling the northern border of Italy from the Swiss canton of Ticino to the Italian regions of Lombardy and Piedmont, is the gorgeous and picturesque area of Lake Maggiore. This beautiful lake is the second largest lake in Italy and sits at the foot of the southern side of the snowcapped Alps. With the beautiful background scenery, sparkling blue lake water, and a number of charming towns and small islands that call this lake home, Lake Maggiore may very well be one of the best kept secrets of Italy. It is among the most beautiful locales in all the world and is quickly becoming a beloved destination for worldwide travelers.
With the innate beauty of this area, it is easy to understand why archeologists suspect the area has been inhabited since the Stone Age. Over the ensuing years, the area fell under the rule of the Ancient Romans and a series of families during the Middle Ages, including the Della Torre, Visconti, and Borromeo families, before the towns on the Italian side of the lake become part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861.
While the area is gaining traction as a vacation destination, Lake Maggiore is still largely off the radar for a majority of international travelers. It is a shame for anyone to miss this stunning part of Northern Italy, yet the lack of crowds and general peace of the area make it a treat for those who come stay at the lake. Because of the seclusion of some of its towns and islands, Lake Maggiore has in particular become a magnet for those looking to escape from the hustle and bustle and demands of everyday life. Whether you are visiting the unique lake islands, the charming villas that boast breathtaking gardens, or a medieval castle, there are so many ways to enjoy the lake and its surrounding areas.
If traveling to Lake Maggiore from an international location, the nearest international airport is in Milan. From there, the most direct way for travelers to reach their preferred location on the lake is by car, either renting a car or hiring a private driver. For some lake locations such as the islands, boat or ferry transport may also be required.
When it comes to traveling within the Lake Maggiore area, there are a number of ways to see this picturesque locale. The Mottarone cable car takes visitors high up in the mountains for unparalleled and jaw dropping views of Alpine botanical gardens, Lake Maggiore, the Alps, and Mount Mottarone. If you want to visit the opposing shore of the lake, ferries and boat tours will provide terrific offshore views of the towns and islands that dot the expanse of Lake Maggiore.
Lake Maggiore is a stunning natural destination offering art, architecture, museums, and UNESCO World Heritage Sites coupled with outdoor activities such as hiking, trekking, and mountain biking. Truly, Lake Maggiore can be characterized as an intersection of art and nature. In fact, many of the local museums are surrounded by breathtaking natural beauty and offer remarkable views of the lake and mountains.
Not to be missed are the area’s countless natural parks and nature reserves, each highlighting the flora and fauna native to Lake Maggiore. Among the lake’s natural parks are Val Grande National Park, which is the largest wilderness area in Italy, as well as the Wildlife Oasis of Macugnaga, which is home to many Alpine animals including ibex, chamois, marmots, and stoats. The area’s natural reserves, such as Fondotoce Nature Reserve in Verbania and the Lagoni Natural Park in Mercurago, protect the local wetlands and extensive reed beds.
Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy, the longest in Italy, and among the largest in Switzerland. The lake stretches for some forty miles and flows across the border between Italy and Switzerland. Although the lake is large and quite deep, it often does not appear so due to the way it winds through the mountains. Because of its length, which spans two countries, it is difficult to see more than one section of the lake at a time.
The mountain ranges surrounding the lake are the Pennine and Lepontine Alps and the Lugano Prealps. These mountain ranges are home to some of the most magnificent peaks in the region with a few well-known being Mottarone, Monte Nudo, Monte Tamaro, and Gridone. One of the highest peaks near Lake Maggiore is Monte Rosa, which stands some fifteen thousand feet tall.
The length of the lake lends itself to a variety of stunning natural scenery, ranging from the majestic Alps on the northern end of the lake to rolling hills in the middle area and the plains of Lombardy in the southeast. The lake actually acts as a boundary of sorts between the Lombardy and Piedmont regions, with the western bank of the lake belonging to Piedmont and the eastern bank of the lake belonging to Lombardy.
Within Lake Maggiore, the towns and villages of the Piedmont Region of Italy include Arona, Baveno, Belgirate, Cannero Riviera, Cannobio, Castelletto sopra Ticino, Dormelletto, Ghiffa, Lesa, Meina, Oggebbio, Verbania, and Stresa. Also within Lake Maggiore are towns and villages of the Lombardy region which generally include Angera, Besozzo, Brebbia, Brezzo di Bedero, Castelveccana, Germignaga, Ispra, Laveno-Mombello, Leggiuno, Luino, Maccagno, Monvalle, Pino sulla Sponda del Lago Maggiore, Porto Valtravaglia, Ranco, Sesto Calende, and Tronzano Lago Maggiore. Italian islands of Lake Maggiore include the Borromean Islands (Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori, Isolino di San Giovanni, and Isolotto della Malghera), Castelli di Cannero, Isolino Partegora, and Sasso Galletto.
The area of Lake Maggiore generally experiences fairly warm summers and cold winters with moderate snowfall.
Summers are usually comfortable and the water temperature of the lake tends to be warm enough to make boating, water sports, and other outdoor activities enjoyable. These warmer summer temperatures also allow for gorgeous vegetation and stunning gardens to thrive and flourish. For this reason, summer is one of the busiest seasons for Lake Maggiore.
Winter is typically much cooler than summer and the winter precipitation offers some spectacular views of the nearby snowcapped mountains of the Alps.
Due to its proximity to the mountains, areas on and along the lake can experience reliable winds, as is common with Alpine lakes. These winds are beloved by those who depend on them to thoroughly enjoy water sports such as sailing and windsurfing. The two prevailing winds are called Moscendrino, a morning wind that flows from the mountains towards the plain, and Inverna, an afternoon wind that flows in the opposite direction from the plain towards the mountains.
ONLY IN LAKE MAGGIORE
One of the activities most unique to Lake Maggiore is island hopping. While it is common to see inhabited islands in various bodies of water, to have multiple inhabited islands within a lake is more unusual.
The main Borromean Islands of Isola Bella, Isola Madre, and Isola dei Pescatori are truly some of Lake Maggiore’s most enchanting spots and are a perennial favorite for visitors. The series of three islands are incredibly beautiful, made even more so by the presence of opulent historical palaces and flourishing fairytale gardens. Visiting these islands is a fabulous way to spend a day in Lake Maggiore.
The Castelli di Cannero are three rocky islands that showcase ruins of ancient fortresses. The Cannero Islands are generally viewed via boat only because the delicate ancient ruins are not considered safe enough for crowds to walk through.
Isolino Partegora is quite a tiny island that is approximately 315 feet by 118 feet. Almost entirely surrounded by reeds, this island tends to be viewed from a boat due to its small size and the presence of protected species of animals such as swans and mallards. Particularly if you enjoy birdwatching, this miniature island has some excellent opportunities to observe local waterfowl in their natural environment.
Sasso Galletto is the smallest islet of Lake Maggiore and consists of a 50-foot tall boulder that rises above the rocky coast. The name of the rock formation derives from the small metal rooster (galletto in Italian) found on its peak. Sasso Galletto is a great spot for divers who love to explore the surrounding lake bed.
From the charming lakeside towns to the vast natural parks and reserves, Lake Maggiore is an ideal destination for travelers seeking a nice mixture of culture and relaxation. Whether visiting the historical treasures of the Borromean Islands, admiring the natural beauty of the lake’s surroundings, or hiking through one of many natural parks, Lake Maggiore is sure to enchant.