Our top towns to visit around Lake Maggiore
Updated: Apr 1, 2022
On Italy’s northern borders of the country, Lake Maggiore is one of the country’s decadent, hidden gems. We spent the night before our little trip in Milan and everyone we spoke to asked, “Why Maggiore? Why are you not going to Como?”.
Despite its size (it’s the second-largest of the Italian Lakes) it seems to be the most unassuming, the almost forgotten lake. But its residents seem to be quite fine with that - it’s all part of the charm.
Set on Lake Maggiore, the Borromean Islands are a major draw for tourists. Four islands make up the archipelago, just one is inhabited year round, and when the weather is unforgiving they shut for business.
But wandering around in the Italian sunshine, each house blends into the shops selling local crafts and restaurants with tables adorned with locally grown olive oil and Piedmontese wine.
From our hotel balcony on Isola dei Pescatori, we had the most incredible views over these communities and, when the weather was right, we left for the port taking an on-foot ferry to the West Bank. Here’s the lowdown on what we saw!
The closest town to the Borromean Islands, Stresa was a favourite of Ernest Hemingway’s, who visited in 1918 and drank martinis in Hotel des Iles Borromees.
It's easy to see why he kept returning – it has a cool air of elegance and sophistication without straying near to arrogance. It’s beautiful and quietly grand.
Eat: Exploring the alleyways away from the port, you are transported back in time; II Vicoletto on Vicolo del Pocivo is clearly where the locals go; a delectable Piedmontese menu with timeless interior and exterior decor.
Drink: Simple – grab a martini in the Hotel des Iles Borromees and indulge like a world-famous writer living through the Jazz Age!
Do: Stroll along the promenade (the lungolago) at sunset. Stresa is situated perfectly for mesmerising sunsets over the snow-capped mountains.
The largest town on the lake, Verbania is split into three districts - it’s Pallanza and Intra that we’re most interested in!
Statues, gardens, promenades and outlets into the lake, Pallanza’s beautiful waterfront is a haven of brightly coloured buildings and cobbled streets.
Eat: The creamiest gelato from the myriad of gelaterias in town. We went to K2 on Via Ruga, but Fior di Gelato is also highly recommended by locals.
Drink: Our hidden gem of Pallanza, a stone’s throw from the port, is Piazza San Leonardo. Left of the quaint white church, you’ll find a bright yellow terraced building - this is the delightful Osteria San’Angolo. A lovely restaurant, with flowers and greenery draping the eight-tabled terrace, it has a delicious menu and extensive wine list to complement the truly beautiful surroundings.
Do: Visit the Mausoleo Cadorna by the waterfront. Erected in 1932, the artwork itself is controversial amongst Italians (depicting a former fascist leader) - in a stark contrast to the dark and troubled history represented by the work, the platform gives you a near panoramic view of the lake, stretching from Isolino San Giovanni to the far left and the Alps to the right with the cobalt waters and boats in between.
The northern district feels like a locals’ town - this is where people live and work day to day. When you’re looking for a dose of reality, Intra is the place.
Eat: Osteria Castello, tucked away in Piazza Castello, is reasonably priced for such an enchanting, historic restaurant. Order your plate of pasta and glass of vino on the terrace for the true Intra experience.
Drink: Next door to Osteria Castello, in the heart of Intra, La Bottiglieria del Castello has been serving tumblers of wine to former mill workers and fishermen since 1905. When you’ve finished your meal, head immediately next door for more wine!
Do: It’s simple - head away from the port and get lost in the winding streets and window shop to your heart’s content.