The second instalment of lakes we visited was Lake Maggiore. This is the largest of all the lakes and you really get a sense of this just from looking at the distance from one side of the lake to the other. This isn’t a solely Italian Lake, as part of it dips into Switzerland, so my first and probably largest tip is make sure you have both currencies!
Because of its varsity there are so many places to stay it is hard to choose from but also completely depends on your budget and your style. I am talking from high end luxury at one end of the lake to camping at the other end. So I’m going to share with you some possibilities of where to stay, what to do and where to eat.
Where to stay in Lake Maggiore
When we first researched where to stay in Maggiore the place that kept jumping out was Stresa, it is close to the infamous Borromean Island’s and was hailed for it’s beautiful strip of hotels. So I booked up The Grand Hotel Des Borromees. I have to admit, in terms of making an entrance this hotel wins hands down. I don’t think I’ve ever been as overwhelmed by the driveway of a hotel before as I have with this one. It felt like rolling up to a real life palace. Our bags were unloaded before we even had a chance to get out the car and the car is parked for you. The biggest shock came when we went to collect our VW Golf and the car park was full of Astin Martins and Porche Carrera’s!
This hotel is a place to splash the cash and was definitely not short of luxury. So if that is the experience you want then Stresa is the place for you. Other outstanding hotels included Regina Palace, Grand Hotel Bristol, Hotel Villa & Palazzo Aminta.
We stayed in the garden room. The room was lovely but fairly small, especially compared to where we had stayed in Tremezzo. However the balconies completed the room, with lovely white wrought iron seating and the most picture perfect view. I imagined it to be like something out of a Shakespeare tale.
During our time in Lake Maggiore we drove further north of the Lake towards the Swiss border. The further north we went the more intimate it felt and more traditional. We passed Verbania, Chiasa, Ghiffa, Cannero Riviera and Cannobio. If you are looking for laid back beauty but still within a town then Cannobio is the place to stay. Cannobio offers plenty of riverside restaurants and was so pretty and charming. Cannero Riviera is also beautiful and quiet and if you like camping or are going with children who are looking to be entertained this is the place to go with lots of water sports on offer.
If I was going back again my personal recommendation would be to stay in the beautiful Hotel Ghiffa set on the Lake front and well positioned for exploring both north and south of the Lake. Plus the hotel looked like the perfect combination of luxury and intimacy. Stresa could on times come across a little intimidating if you aren’t looking to splash the cash, whereas Hotel Ghiffa looked like they’d mastered the balance!
What to see in Lake Maggiore
Maggiore is most notable for the Borromean Islands that sit in the middle of the Lake near Stresa. These include Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Madre.
You can access the Isola’s by boat, and it is fairly cheap only around 9 euros to stop at two or a bit more to stop at all three.
The largest and most well known is Isola Bella, which is literally translated to Beautiful Island. This is the island that comes up on all searches on google and looks like a fairy-tale. It is home to the splendour palace of the Borromeo family. You can pay to go inside the palace and gardens or just wander the weaving streets and browse the boutique shops.
We also visited Isola dei Pescatori. This island seemed busier than Isola Bella however it was lunch time and there are mostly just restaurants on this island. The bonus of tiny island’s is every restaurant had a lake view which makes choosing very difficult!
On our second day we decided to head up towards the Swiss border and explore all the villages along the way. We stopped at Chiasa, Cannero Riviera and Cannobio.
Chiasa felt less touristic than other villages but was still really lovely to wander the streets and be part of the hustle and bustle.
Next was Cannero Riviera. This village was very charismatic. However it was a nightmare to park, meaning our time there was cut short. It is worth stopping if you want to do some kayaking on the lake or just enjoy a quiet stroll.
Our last village of the day was Cannobio. This is the perfect lakeside town and an ideal place to stop and have lunch by the lake and also the place to hire out a boat (we didn’t do it this time round but definitely want to next time).
On the way back to Stresa we fancied doing something a bit more adventurous. We were considering the Mottarone Cable Car, but whilst researching I came across something even more unique, the Laveno Bucket Lift. I’d say this is pretty under wraps, because I have no idea how I stumbled across it and there were very few people using it despite it being quite late in the day. Had this been in the UK it definitely wouldn’t pass health and safety, but in Italy, it just works! This is the BEST way to take in stunning views of the lake, but not for the faint hearted, especially those with a fear of heights. You go up and up and when you think you’re there, you go up some more.
At the top there is a pretty low key restaurant/cafe. We just sat for a while and enjoyed the peace and views, as well as watching people take the leap of faith as they para glide… we weren’t quite brave enough for that.
This can be reached by getting the car ferry/passenger ferry from Chiasa and then following signs for the Funivia Di Laveno.
Where to eat in Lake Maggiore
Stresa was lacking slightly on the restaurant front. The town centre seemed to be full of loads of characterless restaurants. This was great if you wanted a no fuss cheap pizza, but I was on the hunt for small charming romantic Italian restaurants and these were scarce here. I was the only person in the whole town to be a dress and heeled sandals. I think everyone who fancied a more formal meal would eat in the hotels, but we didn’t fancy paying the hefty price tag.
So if you are wanting a more charming dining experience I recommend going further a field. However, on our last night there I was treated to a surprise meal and when we were driving into the heels I knew I was in for a treat. we pulled into La Rampolina just after the sun had set. La Rampolina is a beautiful rustic restaurant with incredible views over Stresa and the Borromean Islands. The restaurant has a lovely outdoors seating area with heaters and fairy lights creating a lovely cosy atmosphere. The food was traditional and tasty and I am so pleased we found this little gem as it is a must for the area.
We were able to see an amazing sunset from the hillside restaurant and as I was completely in awe I also completely forgot to take any photos of food (very unusual for me) or any pics at all… but this just adds to the element of surprise!!!!