Translated, Lago Maggiore means “biggest lake”. In fact, it is only the second largest of the lakes in northern Italy after Lake Garda. With its 212.5 square kilometers it is still quite impressive. And a real insider tip.
In terms of scenic variety and Mediterranean charm, Lago Maggiore can definitely keep up with Lake Garda – but is far less crowded than this in the main season. And therefore also significantly cheaper in terms of hotel prices. Provided you vacation on the Italian and not the Swiss part of the lake. But that shouldn’t prove too difficult, since more than 80 percent of Lake Maggiore is in Italy. But the Swiss side is also beautiful and has a lot to offer.
The best tips for a holiday on Lake Maggiore
Tips for the Italian part of the lake
One of the most beautiful places on the Italian side of Lake Maggiore is the town of Arona on the southern shore. Arona is ideal for vacationers who like to swim and hike, but also like sightseeing and culture. There is, among other things, a medieval old town, lidos, museums, a beautiful promenade and a small harbour. The mountainous area offers wonderful hiking opportunities and excursion destinations worth seeing.
From the lakeside promenade, tourists have great views of the next major attraction, the 10th-century hilltop fortress of Rocca di Angera. It served as the residence of the Visconti and the Archbishop of Milan and was destroyed by Napoleonic troops towards the end of the 18th century.
Other particularly beautiful places in the Italian part of Lake Maggiore are Verbania with the botanical garden worth seeing, Stresa with the offshore Borromean Islands, which you should definitely cross over to, Angera with the medieval castle and Luino with the well-known weekly market. The hermit and pilgrimage monastery of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro, which is spectacularly built into a steep slope, is impressive.
Lago Maggiore – personal tips from our editor Geli
Where are the best restaurants?
As everywhere in Italy, you eat very well almost everywhere on Lake Maggiore, for example freshly caught fish from the lake. As always, it is better to avoid the overly touristy places.
What you should definitely do
You should definitely visit the Borromean Islands between Stresa and Verbiana by boat. The islands are so named because they once belonged to a family called Borromeo. There you can visit beautiful gardens and a palace where there is also a museum. You can even admire white peacocks on Isola Bella.
My personal insider tip
In any case, I would not only visit the largest and most famous places on Lake Maggiore, but also smaller towns. For example Cannobio or Angera with the medieval castle. Also worth seeing is the small village of Agra, which is built into a mountainside and offers a great view of the lake.
The best spot to watch the sunset
If you want to watch the sunset from the lake, you should take the car ferry from Intra, which is a district of Verbiana, to Laveno-Mombello or vice versa, because the normal liners only run until around 7 p.m. The car ferry also runs until late in the evening and both cities are well worth seeing. Of course, the crossing is still beautiful in the dark, because you can see the illuminated cities on the shore.
Which area is ideal for accommodation?
I would recommend a place with good boat or train excursions, such as Verbiana, Arona, or Loveno-Lombello.
Tips for the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore
Almost 20 percent of Lake Maggiore belongs to the Swiss canton of Ticino. In addition to Ascona, the small towns of Ronco Sopra Ascona and Brissago on the west side and San Nazarro on the east side are particularly recommended. But the other, mostly tiny towns on the shore of the lake on the Swiss side are also worthwhile destinations.
You definitely have to go to the Brissago Islands in Lake Maggiore. The islands in front of the municipality of the same name are something like the island of Mainau for Lake Constance. Full of Mediterranean flowers is the larger island of San Pancrazio, which has a large botanical garden. The department store millionaire Max Emden built a villa and an orangery as well as the harbor in the 1940s. The little sister island, called Isola Piccola, is natural.
In addition to its beautiful location, Brissago itself is known above all for the cigar factory that rolls up “Brissago originale” there. Also in the municipality is the Swiss part of the Sacri Monti, which has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2003. For some reason, the Swiss part was forgotten by Unesco, which makes it just as valuable above Lake Maggiore as the neighboring, larger Italian parts. From the Unesco statement: “In addition to their symbolic and spiritual value, they possess remarkable beauty, since they are masterfully integrated into a natural and landscape environment as hills, forests and lakes. They also contain very important works of art in the form of murals and statues.”
A must: by boat across Lake Maggiore
An example: From the port in Arona, you can take the excursion boat across Lake Maggiore. The Navigazione Laghi ferries run hourly every day between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. All passenger ports on the lake as well as Isola Bella and Isola Madre are called at. A trip to Locarno on the north bank in Switzerland takes just under two hours from Arona and costs around 30 euros. For visitors to Isola Bella and Isola Madre, there is an additional entrance fee of around 20 euros. If you want, you can also charter a motor boat or a sailing boat in Arona or rent a pedal boat.
The ships can of course be taken from any location, the prices vary depending on the route.