A picture between land and water
Lake Maggiore has an arm stretching towards the west, forming a natural gulf containg a group of small islands which have become world-famous: Isola Bella, Isola Superiore (the Fishermen’s Island) and Isola Madre. The tiny island of San Giovanni, the holiday retreat of the conductor Arturo Toscanini, completes the group.
The town of Stresa, the “Pearl of the lake”, enjoys its privileged position closest to the islands, which are easily reached by the public boat service or by small private launches.
Dickens described Isola Bella as “fanciful and fantastic”, in its setting and its buildings. Its Palazzo Borromeo is indeed sumptuous, and has magnificent Italian-style gardens laid out on ten terraces. Isola Madre is a botanic garden with hundreds of rare and exotic species of plants, whereas Isola Pescatori is mainly occupied by a highly picturesque old fishing village, now a major tourist attraction with its many bars and top quality restaurants.
The gulf is watched over by Mottarone, the mountain between the two lakes of Maggiore and Orta. A cable car takes you from Stresa to the top (1,491mt) in 30 minutes: a spectacular viewpoint for skiers in winter and walkers in summer.
Nature lovers will enjoy its luxuriant woods, and the wealth of Alpine flora in the “Alpinia” botanic garden.
The town of Verbania, with its two main centres of Intra and Pallanza, looks onto Lake Maggiore in two directions: east, towards the upper part of the lake, and west, over the Borromean Gulf. In recent decades the town has become a lively tourist centre, with a wide range of hotels and other facilities.
The historic centre of Intra is visited every year by thousands of visitors, delighted to explore its narrow, winding streets and discover its interesting little shops and tiny hidden squares. Like many other places on the lake shore, Verbania has a wealth of stately villas and gardens, mostly built in the second half of the 19th century by the great aristocratic families who chose Lake Maggiore as their favourite place of residence. A walk round the 16 hectare botanic garden of Villa Taranto is an absolute must: this garden, one of the most famous and most visited in Europe, captivates visitors with the colours and scents of a million flowers.
The hillsides above and behind the town are studded with little villages that provide marvellous views of the lake, the Borromean Gulf and the islands. This civilized region in the foothills of the Alps gives way to the wilderness area of the Val Grande National Park, 15,000 hectares of a completely unspoiled mountain environment which comprise the largest wild area in the whole of the Alps.