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Straddling the border between Italy and Switzerland, Lake Maggiore is the second largest northern Italian lake, but it captures first place in scenery and style. Ringed by picturesque towns like Stresa and Verbania that serve as ideal locations to experience the local cuisine—as well as jumping-off spots for the lake's gem-like Borromean Islands, handsome villas and their lavish botanical gardens, and vineyard-covered hills—the lake offers leisurely paced sightseeing, languid lunches, and an overall genteel style of holidaying that harks back to the Grand Tour.
Though summer peak tourist season, savvy travelers know to visit Lake Maggiore in the fall, when the surrounding hills glow golden and orange. In early fall the weather is perfect for hiking, cycling, and touring the villas and gardens on the Borromean Islands, but the water is still warm from the summer sun. The main event of the year is the Stresa Festival, which takes place from July to September and features dozens of classical music performances held in churches and villas around the lake.
Trains from Milan and Basel run direct to the town of Stresa, the lake’s main tourist town and transportation hub. From here, you can explore virtually all the lakeside towns as well as the Borromean Islands by ferry or taxi boat. Rail enthusiasts can hop on the scenic Vigezzina–Centovalli line, which skirts the northern tip of the lake near the Swiss city of Locarno. There are also bikes and e-bikes available, but you won’t be able to cycle around this 40-mile- (65-km-) long lake in one day.
Stresa is sometimes packed with Milanese escaping the city for the weekend. If you want a break from the crowds, hop the ferry to Laveno-Mombello, which is situated on the opposite shore. Hike the 3-mile (5-km) trail up the slopes of Sasso del Ferro Mountain for spellbinding views of the lake the Alpine peaks beyond. You can refuel at the top with lunch at Ristorante Funivia, a casual eatery with a spectacular terrace, then either hike back or take the cable car down the hill.
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Often overlooked in favor of the big-name lakes of Como and Garda, Lake Maggiore is certainly worth a visit. Shimmying down through the Lombardy and Piedmont regions of Italy from Switzerland, the lake provides beaches for swimming, mountain vistas, and historic villages—without too many tourist crowds....More
The Borromean Islands with their palaces and gardens flaunt themselves majestically, enticing visitors across the water from Stresa. For beauty minus the in-your-face grandeur, continue east where many of Lake Maggiore’s pretty towns and shingle beaches beckon and the Santa Caterina del Sasso Monastery clings to the cliffs....More
The meaning of maggiore is “major,” and Lake Maggiore is major enough, having the title of Italy’s second-largest lake. While certainly on the tourist trail, the lake seems more popular with Italians who know its uncrowded beaches, traditional lake towns, and peaceful charms well....More
Like Lake Como, Lake Maggiore is known for its belle-epoque beauty, yet its lake towns—Stresa, in particular—hark back more to days of old-school decadence with their grand hotels and boulevards. If you want the Italian lakes’ elegance minus the higher prices and international crowds, you’ll probably say Lake Maggiore is nicer....More
Yes. If you want to explore, a car gives you more freedom. In the summer, ferries link up the main towns, but you would miss out on visiting the smaller villages and beaches that give the lake its charm. Also keep in mind that taxis and ride-hailing apps don’t really exist around here....More
Yes, in the summer you can swim in Lake Maggiore, but be mindful to stay safe and swim close to shore. Look for spiaggia comunale signs for public beaches where entry is free, or for fancier signs indicating a “lido” or “beach club” for private beaches with restrooms, showers, sun loungers, and food....More