What to be aware of when staying on the Borromean Islands
Updated: Oct 9, 2022
Under the gaze of the Alps, the Borromean Islands’ greenery emerges from the second-largest lake in Italy, Lake Maggiore. However, as breathtaking as they are, we at Two Passports always like to be objective and honest - we don’t work for #visititaly or #visitborromeanislands after all!
Northern Italy’s weather isn’t as consistent as the sun shining in Florida or the south of Spain for most of the year and this variation could really impact your plans.
The below picture shows a storm coming 5 minutes after it was bright sunshine...
I know we often hear (and say) “it depends what time of the year you’re going” but there are fewer places we’ve experienced this more than on the Borromean Islands, and Northern Italy more widely. If you’re not careful, you literally could get stranded on the islands.
A quick ‘by the way’ before you read this - we are not saying you should never visit the islands because you definitely should! These why nots are just to give you a heads up before booking anything and parting with your money: Read our Top 5 Whys for staying on the Borromean Islands!
What we did?
Where: Isola Superiore/Pescatori (Fisherman’s Island) - Hotel Belvedere
When: Mid-late September 2020
How long: 2 nights
Top 5 things to be aware of
1. Restricted movement with water taxis
Not to take the fun out of it, but, naturally, you are restricted on your movement on the islands. Boats might not be running at certain times of day, and if you aren’t aware of this, you might end up stranded on an island. The islands’ ports are the hubs where all ferry workers are so keep in regular contact with them - they’re happy to help.
2. You are at the mercy of the weather
If the weather is out of control, the islands shut down. That’s not an exaggeration. Everything apart from hotels shut down. Restaurants and bars close, doors are shut, boats stop running. If you go in high season (summer), this will almost never happen. In shoulder season - the months either side of summer, it's more likely.
We experienced this on our first night on Isola Superiore/Pescatori (which has around three hotels).
From overcast at 5:45, it turned black and torrential rain 15 minutes later. Hotels were still offering dinner, but walking around the island prior, all restaurants closed and knew what was coming. From our hotel, we saw the most ruthless lighting storm on the lake. The rain continued, and we remained stranded until 1pm the next day which was frustrating.
So, if you’re planning a trip in the shoulder season, beware and check out for the weather!
3. Limited choice of entertainment on the islands
If you want clubs and bars and pubs then you’ve come to the wrong place. Yes, certainly on Isola Superiore, there are a few bars on Via Lungo Lago on the west bank there are bars overlooking the harbour, but may not be enough to satisfy some. This isn’t Mallorca or Ibiza!
4. Extra consideration to travel there
The islands aren’t the easiest to get to unless you’re already in Milan. Airport transfer from Milan’s airports is possible, but they’re not close by, so it will be pricey – see Stresa Travel for more info. We chose to take the train direct from Milan to Stresa - you can catch the train from either Milan Porta Garibaldi or Milano Centrale and the journey will take just over an hour and cost €10-12 per person one way.
We debated getting the train from the airport, but the journey from Milan-Malpensa requires a change in at Busto Arsizio - sounds simple enough but it seemed that there were two train stations in the town with the same name (?!)., Not speaking a word of Italian we didn’t think it was worth the risk, but if you’re more confident than us - start or end your journey this way!
5. It will get busy
On our last day the sun came out, as did the crowds! Very simply, in the high season it will be astronomically busy – the island’s paths are very narrow and only go so far. Especially in a post-Covid world, this may be difficult to navigate.
As we mentioned at the top, we don’t want to tell you should do and we definitely don’t want to put you off from going. The Borromean Islands are absolutely a corner or Europe you should travel.
But just keep in mind what time of year you’re going. We can’t stress this point enough. The shoulder season will provide cheaper deals on hotels etc, but you’re then gambling on the weather and you may be wishing you had stayed on the mainland and visited the island for a day trip…
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