Italian Lake District
The Italian Lake District stretches across Northern Italy. The land around the southern ends of most of the lakes is relatively flat (part of the River Po Plain), but the northern ends are mountainous, as the lakes reach deep into the Alps. Popular with Northern Europeans and Italians alike for over 100 years, the Italian Lakes combine good weather with attractive scenery. The climate is mild in both summer and winter, producing Mediterranean vegetation, with beautiful gardens growing rare and exotic plants.
Lake Maggiore, the longest of the Italian Lakes, is 65 km long, and has a surface area of 215 km2. It is 2.5 km wide on average, but double that near Luino. The lake’s jagged shores are surrounded by the Prealps of Piedmont and Lombardy. The western shore is in Piedmont (provinces of Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola) and the eastern in Lombardy (province of Varese), while the northern section extends 13 km into Switzerland, where it constitutes the lowest point above sea-level in that entire country. Well-known gardens include those of the Isola Madre, Isola Bella and the Isole di Brissago (this one in the Swiss part of the lake), that of the Villa Taranto in Pallanza near Verbania, and the Alpinia botanical garden above Stresa. The Borromean Bay between Stresa and Verbania is blessed with the three Borromean Islands, which are not to be missed on a visit to Lake Maggiore; the island of Isola Bella is known for its baroque palace and gardens, Isola Pescatori for its fishing character with its typical lake boats, and the scenic Isola Madre is known for its gardens.
- San Nazzaro
- Large Swiss town on the northern part of Lake Maggiore, with casino and ferry to other towns on the lake.
- Ronco sopra Ascona
- Small Italian town 10 minutes from the Swiss border on the West side of the Lake Maggiore, with a large campsite, a sport complex, a lakeside walkpath, a Sunday market, a renaissance church, and a few hotels. Bike rental possible at a hotel in front of the port. Ferry to other towns on the lake.
- Valle Cannobina
- Valley of the Cannobine river, above Cannobio, with a gorge around Sant'Anna, a walking/biking path between Traffiume and Cannobio
- Cannero Riviera
- Nice town, with abandoned Island (Castle of Cannero) on West side of Lake Maggiore. Ferry to other towns on the lake.
- Large town on the West side of Lake Maggiore. Ferry to other towns on lake. Near Pallanza. Train station to Milan. Car ferry to cross the lake.
- Castelletto sopra Ticino
- Sesto Calende
- Porto Valtravaglia
- Brezzo di Bedero
- Tronzano Lago Maggiore
- Pino sulla Sponda del Lago Maggiore
- Parco nazionale Val Grande
Ferry service is available out to the islands from Stresa, Lake Maggiore's resort town, every day during the summer. After picking passengers up at the dock, the ferries first make stops at Isolas Bella and Pescatori, the two closest islands. Here visitors are free to roam for 1–2 hours depending on the boat's schedule. After visiting these two islands, passengers are then taken to the third island, Isola Madre, which is located more towards the center of the Lake. Visitors are given a couple of additional hours to see this island.
Ispra, Ranco, Angera, Verbania, Laveno are connected with a ferry all the way to Switzerland.
From the North, you'll go through Switzerland, on the A2 to Locarno, then take the A13 towards the West side of Lake Maggiore or stay on A2 to Lugano and Como. Be warned. In winter the Simplon pass is closed and you will have to make a big detour and get to Italy via the St Gotthard tunnel.
From the South:
- For Lake Maggiore and Lake Varese, from Milan, take the A8 Autostrada dei Laghi. Stay on A8 for Varese, go on A26 direction Gravellona for Lake Maggiore.
- For Lake Como and Lake Lugano, from Milan, take the A8 Autostrada dei Laghi, then the A9 towards Como, or go on the SS36 near Monza for Lecco.
Fly to Milan, it has three airports. Milan Malpensa, South of Lake Maggiore and Lake Varese. Milan Linate, next to the center of Milan. Milan Bergamo, in Bergamo.
For Lake Maggiore, from the South, get into Milan and then to Verbania. From the North, go to Bellinzona in Switzerland. Buses are available from those destinations.
The most interesting way to get around each of the lakes is by boat or hydrofoil. Varenna, Bellagio, Cadenabio, and Menaggio are the only towns car ferries travel to.  On Lake Maggiore you can pick a ferry in Carciano, Baveno or Stresa which will take you to the Borromean islands. Alternatively, you can hire a private water taxi, which costs a bit more but which will probably be quicker and more convenient, especially if you have luggage. Don't forget to get the 'phone number of the company, then you can ring them to come and pick you up. They also issue return tickets which you can use anytime. Most of the drivers (captains?) speak some English.
- Borromeo Palace, Botanic Garden, Stresa, ☎ 0323/30556. A Beautiful Uproar of Gardens.
- Rosmini Museum, Villa Ducale, ☎ 0323/30091.
Skiing - Lake Maggiore is known for its wonderful skiing facility on the Swiss Alps; people come from all over the world to ski here. In 2006, the Torino Winter Olympics were held here.
Many types of activities are offered on the waters of Lake Maggiore -
- Swimming - Swim on Lake Maggiore with the beautiful scenery surrounding you.
- Water Skiing
Activities offered out of water in The Italian Lake Districts -
- Hang gliding
- Mountain biking
- Para Sailing
- Horseback Riding
Take the cablecar from Carciano up to Mottarone. In winter this is where the skiers come, but in summer you get a great view across Lake Maggiore in one direction and towards the Alps in the other. You could hire a bike to take up with you and then cycle down.
Locarno International Film Festival - The festival showcases the newest films from Europe's best directors and attracts star-studded audiences from as far away as Hollywood and New York. In addition to full-length films, the festival also shows short films and documentaries. San Vito Feast Day in August The Spirit of Woodstock Festival is an annual open air festival at the end of July/beginning of August at Mirapuri.
For tips about what to see and do in and around Stresa this website is excellent. http://stresasights.blogspot.com/
- Hotel Ristorante Fiorentino, Bolongaro 9-11, ☎ 0323-30-254. Mar-Oct daily 11am-3pm and 6-10pm. Italian Cuisine; Primi 6€-8€ ($7.80-$10); secondi 7€-13€ ($9.10-$17).
- Taverna del Pappagallo, Principessa Margherita 46, ☎ 0323-30-411. Italian Cuisine/ Pizzeria Primi and pizza 4€-11€ ($5.20-$14); secondi 8€-12€ ($10-$16).
- Verbano, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori, Around Town, ☎ 0323-32-534. Daily noon-2:30pm and 7-10pm. italian Cuisine Primi 5€-10€ ($6.50-$13); secondi 10€-21€ ($13-$27).
- Osteria degli Amici, A. M. Bolongaro 33, ☎ 0323-30-453. Thurs-Tues noon-2:30pm and 7pm-midnight. Italian Cuisine/ Pizzeria Primi 5€-8€ ($6.50-$10); secondi 8.50€-14€ ($11-$18); pizza 4€-10€ ($5.20-$13).
- Il Castello, Laveno-Mombello (Via Zara, Laveno-Mombello 21014, Italy). Italian Cuisine $22-37.
- Cantinho Brasileiro, Ispra (Via Milite Ignoto 17/a, Ispra 21027, Italy). Brazilian Cuisine $47-79.
Just a few tips if you visit Isola dei Pescatori. The island is tiny (350m x 100m) but there are lots of cafés and restaurants. Plan to eat at lunchtime because the last boats leave before 18.00 and after that many places close for the night (you can still ring for a water taxi to come and pick you up though). If you want a really cheap meal there are two small grocers shops where you can buy bread, ham, cheese and fruit but don't expect a lot of choice. If you do want a nice meal there are several good restaurants, including those in the two hotels at either end of the island. Expect lots of fish on the menu!
Don't go to Isola dei Pescatori if you're looking for nightlife because there isn't any (apart from the cats!)
Likewise, Isola dei Pescatori is very, very safe. There's not a lot you can do on such a small island.