Lake Maggiore is one of those ideal places to disconnect from the chaos and relax a bit. Among the villages that arise on the Piedmont, Lombardy and even Swiss shores, there are historical and natural wonders, from the prestigious villas to the Blue Flag beaches.
So let’s see the main towns of this area of Italy. Here’s what to see on Lake Maggiore : the most beautiful places, attractions and villages!
The most beautiful locations and villages
1 – Stresa
It can be considered the queen of Lake Maggiore . The town of Stresa is located on the western side of the lake, in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, and its territory also has an insular part that includes three of the four Borromean Islands (Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori). Hop-on hop-off boat tours depart from the port of Stresa to visit the islands in one day.
Absolutely to see in Stresa is Villa Pallavicino , with its English garden which houses a zoological park where you can admire kangaroos, fallow deer, zebras and llamas. Isola Bella also houses the Palazzo Borromeoand beautiful Baroque-style gardens built in the seventeenth century. Even the ‘ Isola Madre has its Palazzo Borromeo with a botanical garden full of flowers, is the most quiet and peaceful island and the largest. Isola dei Pescatori is the only one inhabited .
Among the things to do we suggest you take the Stresa-Alpino-Mottarone cable car which arrives right in the famous ski resort of Mottarone (1491 meters), from which you can enjoy a view of the lake, over a large part of the Po Valley and the Monte Rosa.
2 – Verbania
Verbania has been defined as ” a garden on the lake “, it is located on the western shore and its name derives from Lake Maggiore, which is also known as Verbano . The municipality was born in the past from the union of the two towns of Intra and Pallanza, today it stands on a promontory in the shape of a triangle crossed by the San Bernardino stream.
Here the main attraction is Villa Taranto and its botanical gardens , considered among the most beautiful in the world: the blooms leave you speechless, from tulips in spring to lotus flowers in summer to dahlias from July to October. Also worth visiting is the Basilica of San Vittore located in the historic center and the lakeside promenade where the sumptuous palaces such as Villa Giulia and Villa San Remigio are located.
3 – Arona
Arona is one of the Italian villages awarded with the Orange Flag thanks to the variety of the historical-cultural offer, the landscape context and the attention paid to tourists. It stands on the Piedmontese shore, in the province of Novara, its development was also favored by the motorway and rail link with Milan.
In the municipality of the Lagoni di Mercurago natural park , which has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011. In addition, its historic center is full of attractions to see: The Broletto, or Palace of Justice, built in the medieval heart of the city, the Church of SS. Martyrs that guards the remains of the patrons of the village, and the statue about 35 meters high of Il Colosso di San Carlo Borromeo, dedicated to the saint who was born in Arona.
4 – Mergozzo
It is not exactly located on Lake Maggiore but is located a few kilometers away and is known for its lake. Lake Mergozzo is a perfect destination for those looking for a little relaxation out of the chaos of the city and immersed in a spectacular setting in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola. Precisely because it is located in the same territory as Lake Maggiore, it is also called ” small lake ” and on its shores there are several Blue Flag beaches , its waters in fact are some of the cleanest in the entire Alpine arc.
The historic center of this Piedmontese town has been awarded as Borgo dei Borghi. The undisputed symbol of Mergozzo is the Elm, a centuries-old plant in the center of the town’s main square and listed among the monumental trees of Piedmont. Another stop can be the portico of the chapels.
The activities to do in Mergozzo are mostly in the lake area, you can take a cool swim or go hiking or biking. In these places there are numerous animals that can be seen, from ibex to golden eagles, but also chamois and pheasants.
5 – Borromean Islands
Nature, culture and art blend perfectly on the Borromean Islands. This archipelago is located in the Borromean Gulf and is made up of three islands, an islet and a rock. The three islands and the rock belong to the municipality of Stresa, while the islet belongs to Verbania.
Among the attractions not to be missed are the Palazzo Borromeo of Isola Madre , in the English botanical park you can admire more than 2,000 floral species from all over the world and white peacocks that roam freely, but also the Palazzo Borromeo of Isola Bella deserves definitely a stop. The name of the latter derives from Isabella, wife of Charles III Borromeo, who made this island elegant and prestigious. On the Isola dei Pescatori, also known as Isola Superiore, there are excellent trattorias, a market and every year the traditional Ferragosto folklore is celebrated.
The best way to visit them all in one day is to take the hop-on hop-off boat from Stresa . Alternatively, ferries depart from Stresa, Verbania and Arona. It is necessary to know that Isola Madre and Isola Bella are open only in the summer period and you must buy an entrance ticket (combined ticket € 24.00).
6 – Angera
Angera is instead located on the Lombard shore of Lake Maggiore. Municipality in the province of Varese, it boasts over 40 historical monuments, artistic works and landscape wonders that would take weeks to discover them all.
The Rocca Borromea dominates the village and houses the Doll and Toy Museum with one of the richest collections in Europe. Arona can also be glimpsed from the top of the strategic fortification. In the historic center of Angera you will come across characteristic alleys, elegant period buildings and shops of all kinds. No less is the lakeside, characterized by pedestrian streets and large green spacesinterrupted by pretty harbors such as the Habsburg Port. Along the banks of Angera is the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Riva.
7 – Cannobio
A village awarded with Blue Flag and Orange Flag , it is the last town to meet along the coast of Lake Maggiore before Switzerland.
Unmissable is the itinerary through the streets of the historic center which, starting from the Lungolago, is characterized by alleys full of palaces, monuments, churches and suggestive corners, to see the Church of the Santissima Pietà and the Castles of Cannero. The latter are three rocky islets surrounded by mysteries and incredible legends , they belong to the municipality of Cannobio but are located in front of Cannero Riviera.
The beaches offer the opportunity to practice the main water sports, while for lovers of excursions Cannobio is the main gateway to the Cannobina Valley, rich in paths and itineraries.
8 – Locarno
The city of Locarno is located in Swiss territory, between the Luganese and Lepontine Alps. It is very populous, third in the Canton of Ticino after Lugano and Bellinzona, and an important tourist destination both thanks to its microclimate and the Film Festival . It is a destination full of attractions and where many activities can be carried out throughout the year.
Absolutely to see in Locarno: the Piazza Grande, the heart of the country and the place where the Locarno Film Festival takes place in August, the Town Hall with its Italian-style arcades, the Chiesa Nuova, the Castello Visconteo, but also all the alleys of the old town with pastel-colored houses and many local taverns.
In the Swiss city there is also the Camellia Park, where you can admire 950 varieties of camellias and enjoy the view of Lake Maggiore at the same time. By taking the funicular near the railway, it is possible to reach the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso , in the golden hill of Orselina. For those looking for a little relaxation, the entrance to the Terme di Salini with access to the Spa is not to be missed !
9 – Luino
Luino is a stone’s throw from Switzerland but in Lombardy. It is especially known for hosting the famous International Market every Wednesday , which involves a good part of the day occupying the streets of the center and attracting many tourists every week.
Among the attractions to see absolutely , there are the Church of San Pietro e Paolo and the Palazzo Verbania, where the archives of the writer Piero Chiara and the poet Vittorio Sereni are kept. The Church of San Giuseppe and the Madonna del Carmine overlook the lakefront, there are also some very popular and popular beaches.
10 – Baveno
Baveno is one of the villages overlooking the Borromean Gulf , it is characterized by a unique view of the islands of Lake Maggiore, even from here boats depart for visits to the Borromean Islands.
The lakeside promenade is elegant and the historic center is truly impressive : the Baptistery, apparently dating back to the Renaissance period, the Church of Santi Gervaso e Protaso and the beautiful Portico della Via Crucis are worth a visit. There are also many sumptuous villas, including Villa Fedora located within the municipal park and Villa Barberis.
What to see: hidden places and attractions
- Sesto Calende : it can be reached by crossing the characteristic two-storey iron bridge that allows you to cross the Ticino river. Its territory is surrounded by hills and the greenery of the Ticino Park
- Belgirate : to better enjoy this town you have to go through the ancient alleys and streets of the center, leading to the Old Church which is rich in frescoes and is the main attraction after the lakeside promenade and the villas
- Lesa : is the northernmost town in the province of Novara, which rises on the shores of the lake. In the small gulf on the lakeside there is an ancient medieval structure which was the summer residence of Alessandro Manzoni
- Meina : on the Piedmontese shore of the lake, has very ancient origins and is important for the presence of numerous stately villas including Villa Farraggiana, dating back to 1852, and Villa Galli, 1870
- Ranco : it is full of beaches and very quiet and intimate, reachable from the coast road on the lake from Angera. The Sasso Cavalaccio is characteristic, a huge erratic boulder lying on the shore of Lake Maggiore considered a natural monument
- The furnaces of Ispra : are unique attractions located in the country where Euratom is based. The lakeside path, known as “the walk of love”, reaches the area of the ancient lime kilns where you can swim
- Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso : monastery overlooking the banks of Leggiuno. It can be reached by boat from Stresa or by car to a parking lot and then walk up a staircase (an elevator is available in the rock).
- Laveno-Mombello : here, in addition to the tourist port, there is a landing stage from which ferries depart all year round for Verbania. There is also the cable car that goes up to the Sasso del Ferro, from the top you can enjoy a view of the pre-Alps up to Milan
- Porto Valtravaglia : is divided into the town overlooking the lake and some hamlets upstream. It is a quiet and interesting destination with important religious buildings, such as the Church of Santa Maria Assunta and that of Santo Stefano
- Maccagno con Pino and Veddasca : between lake and mountain, it is the ideal place for lovers of water sports, here the waters and beaches are among the cleanest of Lake Maggiore. Then there is La Forcora, the only ski resort in the province of Varese
- Ascona : Swiss town on Lake Maggiore, its lakeside promenade is one of the most elegant, closed to traffic as well as the historic center full of shops, art galleries and prestigious historic buildings
What to see in a weekend: recommended itinerary
Obviously, to visit all the places on Lake Maggiore it would take more than a weekend , especially taking into account that traveling from one region to another takes many hours. Here we recommend an itinerary to follow for three days among the main towns of the Piedmontese shore .
The first day you could start visiting the queen of the lake, or Stresa , and stop at Villa Pallavicino, its garden houses an incredible zoological park where you can admire many different animals (10: 00-18: 30, € 11.00). The park can also be reached on foot from Stresa station, it is located 800 meters away. In the afternoon set off to discover the Borromean Islands, the best way is the hop-on hop-off boat service!
For the second day reach Arona , by direct train from Stresa (30 min, € 2.80). In the morning, dedicate it to the discovery of this village, awarded with the Orange Flag thanks also to its historical and cultural heritage. While in the afternoon you can travel by train again and reach Baveno (30 min, € 3.10) to enjoy the elegant lakeside promenade, and why not try some typical dishes in a local restaurant.
On the last day, move to Cannobio, which can be reached by boat from Baveno (2 h, € 8.40). Here you can choose whether to relax walking through the streets of the town, awarded with both the Orange and Blue Flag, or whether to leave for an open boat excursion of the Riviera, the medieval village of Carmine Superiore and finally the legendary castles that emerge from the the needle.
How much does a weekend on Lake Maggiore cost
The following data are minimum or average costs for a weekend on Lake Maggiore following the itinerary recommended by us above.
We specify that the costs for the attractions are to be considered more than anything else for excursions and boat tours , which can cost as much as € 50.00, while as regards access to museums and villas, the prices are much cheaper.
If your intent is to save money, we also advise you to visit local restaurants or trattorias located within the historic centers and not on the lakeside, you will certainly save and eat very well. The same thing goes for hotels, direct your choice to hotels or b & bs in non-wealthy areas. And for travelrely on regional trains , while within the towns move around on foot.
- Costs for eating : about € 75.00 per day per person (including breakfast, lunch, dinner)
- Costs for museums and attractions : about € 90.00 per person following the itinerary we suggest
- Transport : about € 15.00 per person for the whole weekend
- Hotels, accommodation and b & b : from € 52.00 per room –
- Leisure : from € 20.00 per person per day
- Total cost of a weekend : from € 440.00 per person (flights and transfers excluded)
Where is it
Lake Maggiore, or Verbano , extends between Switzerland and Italy . Its banks are shared between the Canton of Ticino and the provinces of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola and Novara in Piedmont, and Varese in Lombardy.
Before leaving: useful tips
- How to get: by train from Milan you can reach Stresa (1 h 30 min, € 8.60), Arona (1 h, € 6.10) or Verbania (1h 40 min, € 9.20)
- Where to sleep: the choice of accommodation depends on your needs. If you want to save money, for example, avoid Stresa and choose places like Baveno or Angera
- Getting around : the best way to get from one country to another is by train, the whole lake is well served thanks to the Milan-Switzerland route, alternatively by public transport boats (starting from € 3.90 route 30 min)