Lake Maggiore: a little paradise on earth on the border of Italy and Switzerland

Lake Maggiore: a little paradise on earth on the border of Italy and Switzerland

Is it possible to enjoy the Mediterranean atmosphere, the sparkling water, the subtropical vegetation and at the same time the view of the steep snowcapped peaks of the Alps? Certainly you can, on the border of northern Italy and Switzerland. It’s a magical place, Lago Maggiore. It is the gateway to the Alps, second largest lake in Italy, leading to the Swiss canton of Ticino and also an ideal place for holidays which offers a beautiful nature, a pleasant climate, a relaxing atmosphere and a wide range of activities, from sports to cultural and entertainment.

Lake Maggiore is the second largest lake of Italy after the popular Lake Garda . Like most of the surrounding lakes, it is of glacial origin and forms a kind of gateway to the Alps. The steep alpine peaks rise straight up from the surface of the water . Especially those in the northern part of the lake are covered with snow all year round, which creates a spectacular landscape.

Lago Maggiore: a small paradise on earth on the border of Italy and Switzerland - Photo 2

Lake Maggiore: a little paradise on earth on the border of Italy and Switzerland

The little islands of Borromeo

The shimmering water surface of the lake is dotted with several small islets . Considered to be the true pearl of the lake, the Borromeo islands are an oasis of tranquility, a unique atmosphere, home to fragrant botanical gardens and elegant palaces . The Borromeo family built private palaces on them. A famous member of this family, Karel Boromeyski was born in the lakeside town of Arona, where his statue, one of the largest in Europe, also rises on the slope.

He served as archbishop of Milan, where he fought against the Reformation in the 16th century. Probably the most impressive and magical of the Borromeo islands is Isola Bella, which can also be called a masterpiece of Italian garden architecture . Almost the entire island has a Baroque garden, which sometimes, thanks to its ten terraces, resembles one of the Seven Wonders of the World, the Hanging Gardens in Babylon.

Lago Maggiore: a small paradise on the border of Italy and Switzerland - Photo 3

The little islands of Borromeo

These gardens are said to be where the first Oriental plants to reach Europe were planted. To this day, the surrounding splendor is admirable. Visitors will be absorbed by the aromas of camellias, roses, citrus, jasmine, rhododendrons, azaleas, oleanders, magnolias, palm trees, as well as the pearls of architecture and the unique view of the surrounding “paradise on earth” .

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Isola Madre, the largest of the Borromeo Islands. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was restored in the style of an English garden. About half of the area is Isola di Pescatori, which, as the name implies, was historically inhabited by fishermen . Isola di San Giovanni is still privately owned and therefore virtually inaccessible to ordinary visitors. Even more miniature is the island of Scoglio della Malhera, with lush vegetation and a small romantic beach, for which it is sometimes called “Love Island”.

To the resorts as famous guests

A small paradise on earth are also the towns picturesquely located on the shores of the lake. Spa resorts, sought after by tourists, are located mainly on the western shore. Here were built the most luxurious villas and gardens. In particular, representatives of the rich European bourgeoisie came here . Such personalities as Stendhal, Hemingway, Remarque and Richard Wagner found their way here. The largest city on the shores of Lake Maggiore, Verbania. The spa resort of Baverno at the foot of Mount Monte Camocco, surrounded by pink granite, is popular .

Lago Maggiore: a little paradise on the Earth on the Italian-Swiss border - Photo 4

To the resorts as famous guests

The city of Stresa attracted famous guests like a magnet, especially in the 19th century. Today it is an ideal starting point for hiking up Mount Mottarone, which rises to 1,492 meters above sea level. If you do not want to walk for hours, you can comfortably take the cable car up . A very popular place in the Swiss part is Locarno, which is considered the warmest place in the country.

The narrow streets in its historic center exude a Mediterranean “Italian” atmosphere, the city is full of architectural monuments and stylish bars, cafes and other establishments that invite you to enjoy a pleasant idle time. From here you can take the cable car to Madonna del Sasso, one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in Switzerland, and by boat to Brissago, famous for its botanical gardens.

Local cuisine

On Lake Maggiore comes complete harmony in all aspects. Despite the proximity of the mountains, you definitely can’t get cold. The steep peaks in the northern part of the lake at about 66 km long prevent the cold air flow, so the area enjoys a pleasant subtropical climate almost all year round. When you get tired of staying in the room and want a change, you should try the local cuisine. Specialties of freshwater fish, often pike and trout. As elsewhere in northern Italy around Lake Maggiore, polenta is most often served as a side dish. A popular dessert, lemon tart from Isola di Pescatori.

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Lago Maggiore: a little paradise on Earth on the border of Italy and Switzerland - Photo 5

Local cuisine

Lake Maggiore

Lake Maggiore is a place where history and culture come together. It is the second largest of the predalpine lakes of Europe (length 65 km). To the west is Piedmont, to the east is Lombardy, the northern shore belongs to Switzerland. Before the unification of Italy, Piedmont and Lombardy were separate states, which guarded their lands. In Ornavasso there is still a medieval observation tower with wonderful views of the Ossolo valley and the peaks of the mountains, as well as the octagonal building of the baroque church of Madonna della Guardia, built between 1674 and 1772.

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General Information

It has a mild Mediterranean climate – winter and summer are equally pleasant. Exotic plants like orchids grow here, which can be admired on the islands of Borromeo, Isola Madre and Isola Bella. You can see the Borromeo Islands from almost everywhere from the shore, and you can get there by ferry or water cab, which ply in different directions on the lake. In spring, visit Locarno, Switzerland, to see the magnificent camellias, mimosa, and forsythia.

Lejuno was home to the Dominican monastery of Santa Caterina del Sasso, construction of which began in the 13th century. Nearby stands a giant bronze statue of St. Charlemagne by the sculptor Borromeo, it is hollow inside, so that the most tireless tourists can climb up and look around from the saint’s eyes.

In Ornavasso you can take the cable car up the 1370 m high mountain. The village here is a real maze of cobblestone streets and squares, because there are so many charming villages in the area!

Lake Lago Maggiore appeared, like other lakes in Northern Italy, during the Ice Age. The northern shores are mostly surrounded by forested hills, while the flat southern shores transition into the Lombardy plain. The most pleasant landscapes and climate can be found on the western shore of the lake. It is there where the famous tourist spots and resorts are concentrated, and where the most luxurious villas and gardens climb the hills. The eastern shore, sometimes sympathetically referred to as the “poor shore”, is less popular with tourists, but it also gives the impression of something more pristine.

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Interesting places on Lago Maggiore

Cannobio

The picturesque old village Cannobbio (5200 inhabitants) is 5 km behind the Swiss border on the west coast of Lago Maggiore. The pilgrimage church of S. Pieta on the waterfront was built in 1571 on a project by Pellegrino Tibaldi, the painting on the altar is by Gaudenzio Ferrari. The fortress-like Palazzo della Regione, near the parish church of S. Vittore, was built in 1291.

Verbania

Verbania (32,000 inhabitants) is the biggest town on Lago Maggiore and consists of two parts: the more businesslike Intra is dominated by industry and commerce and has a port for the car ferry to Laveno. The Pallanza area, already at the foot of Monte Rosso, is on the other hand a resort with villas and gardens. They are separated by the spit of Punta della Castagnola with the extensive park of Villa Taranto. About 1 km from the old center there is the church of Madonna di Campagna erected around 1527 on a project of Giovanni Beretta by the Italian architect Donato Bramante.

Lago di Horta

A beautiful short route leads to Lake Lago do Orta, dominated by Monte Mottarone (1491 m). The main village on the lake is Orto S. Giulio (1200 inhabitants) with the magnificent Palazzo dell Comunita. From the promenade along the coast you can see the island of San Giulio where St. Julius founded the church in the fourth century. A beautiful road among twenty chapels decorated with frescoes and terracotta figures leads up to the Sacro Monte and the Franciscan monastery (1583). The oldest chapels were erected in 1591, the most recent in 1788.

Baveno

The healing and tourist resort of Baveno (4,500 inhabitants) at the foot of Monte Camocco has also become famous for the pink granite used in construction for centuries. In the Romanesque parish church there are two paintings attributed to D. Ferrari. The Renaissance baptistery with an octagonal plan is also interesting.

Borromeo Islands

The most attractive place in the area are the four magical islands of Borromeo, called the “pearls of Lago Maggiore”. They can be reached by boat from any surrounding locality. The islands of Bella and Madre belong to the Borromeo family, whose ancestors obtained Lago Maggiore in the fifteenth century. Since 1630 the islands remain the only unique in terms of man-made landscapes in Europe. The admired Bella Island is a masterpiece of Italian garden art. A luxurious baroque park occupies almost the entire island, and a museum is open in the magnificent palace. Conversely, the ancient fishing island of Pescatori looks rather mundane: today it is a particularly developed tourist destination. The largest of the Borromeo, the Madre acquired its present appearance in the XVIII and XIX centuries, when it was transformed in the style of an English garden. The Palazzo Borromeo (Palazzo Borromeo, XVI century) displays collections of dolls and ceramics. The smallest of the islands of San Giovanni is a private property.

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Stresa

Stresa (5,000 inhabitants) lying at the entrance of the Borromeo Gulf, in the nineteenth century was one of the most reputable resorts of Italy. A select society gathered in Stresa: all European aristocracy including the Orlovs and Trubetskoys, famous painters, writers, musicians among them Stendhal, Dickens, Hemingway, R. Wagner and F. Nietzsche. On the southern outskirts of the resort in a splendid botanical garden with an adjacent zoo is Villa Pallavicino, built in the XIX century.

Monte Mottarone

Monte Mottarone (1491 m) offers one of the most beautiful views of the lake and its surroundings. You can get to the top by car (toll road), by cable car or on foot in about 4 hours. Halfway up is Gignese with the original umbrella museum (Museo dell’obrello e del parasole). In the Alpino villas at an altitude of 768 m you will find the Giardano Alpino garden with over two thousand species of Alpine flora.

Arona

Near Arona, where the road leads through Belgirate and Lesa, on a hill rises what is probably the largest statue in Europe. The statue of St. Carlo Borromeo (1538-1584) was erected in honor of the cardinal born here and one of the saints of the Catholic Church, who as archbishop of Milan actively fought against the Reformation. In Arona (16 thousand inhabitants) there are commercial and industrial enterprises, there is a city museum (Piazza di Filippi) in which archaeological finds dating back to 1200 B.C. and testifying of the ancient roots of the settlement are exposed. The first of the fortresses on the rock above the town date back to the X century. The church of Santa Maria, in the lower town, is worth a visit because of the shuttered altar of 1511 by Gaudenzio Ferrari and the “Assumption of the Virgin Mary” by Marazzone (dated about 1617). The Church of Santa Maria in Piazza del Popolo is attributed to Pellegrino Tibaldi. The industrial town of Sesto Calende and the smaller Golasecca, inhabited as early as the twelfth century B.C., whose name is given to the early Bronze Age period, the “culture of Golasecca”, also have an ancient history.

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Angera

The small town of Angera (5,500 inhabitants) on the eastern shore of Lago Maggiore on a peninsula just 2 km from Arona, which lies opposite. The first fortress was built here in the 8th century by the Lombards. Its current appearance dates back to the 14th century, to the era of the Visconti. In the fortress there is the Museum of the Dolls (Museo delle Bambole); the wall paintings in the beautiful Hall of Justice (Sala della Giustizia) celebrate the Visconti family; the Ceremonial Hall (Sala delle Cerimonie) is decorated with frescos of the XV century from the Milanese palazzo Borromeo.

Santa Caterina del Sasso

Through the town of Ispra, with the headquarters of the EURATOM nuclear research center, the route leads to Reno. Here we must see the pilgrimage church of Santa Caterina del Sasso, built on the cliffs of the coast. It can be reached only on foot from the lake. In the XIII century a hermit lived here. In his cave was built the chapel of St. Catherine, and in the XIV and XV centuries. – Church and Dominican monastery. Located in a large bay at the mouth of the river Treza Luino (Luino) is the economic center of the eastern shore (15 thousand inhabitants). Although it is considered the birthplace of the Renaissance painter Bernardino Luino (1490-1532) the only work attributed to Luino to be seen here is the “Adoration of the Magi” in the small church of S. Pietro in Campagna. From here you can make fascinating excursions, such as to Agra, a resort above the entrance of the beautiful Val Vedasca valley, next to Monte Lema.

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