Lake Maggiore - Stresa-Arona

Maggiore Lake

65 km long and 25 km wide, this is stunning lake scenery at its best.  

Majestic mountains and crystalline sapphire waters, the sun creating the effect of a thousand diamonds scattered over the waters. Arona is the place for shopping on this side of Lake Maggiore and Stresa is undoubtedly the jewel of Lake Maggiore, a starting point for many charming excursions such as the train tour of the Hundred Valleys or a boat trip to the islands or across to the Hermitage of St Catherine . "I'm up here in Stresa, a little resort on Lake Maggiore. One of the most beautiful Italian lakes." said a young  Ernest Hemingway in 1918, in a letter to his parents . And naturally it still is ....

Lake Maggiore

65 km long and 25 km wide, this is stunning lake scenery at its best.  Curiously, the lake itself is divided between two important regions, Piedmont on the West bank and Lombardy to the east.

The Piedmontese bank  is probably the most elegant and is scattered with a handful of well-known lakeside towns, villages and resorts, Arona, Stresa, Verbania and Cannobio, to mention just a few.  The winding roads that follow the lake from Dormelletto to the Swiss border towns of  Ascona and Locarno and beyond are marked by breathtaking scenery, opulent  period villas and semi-tropical gardens as well as the world-famous islands just over the water from the historically important lakeside destination of Stresa with its gorgeous Belle Epoque hotels and villas, English and Italianate gardens. The Islands, called Isola Bella, Fisherman’s Island and Isola Madre are fascinating places for exploration by day and breathtakingly romantic views by night, especially from the smart lakeside restaurants and lively pavement cafés.

The eastern Lombardy side, less than half an hour from Milan’s international Malpensa  Airport and less than an hour from the center of Milan itself, is no less beautiful but is certainly quieter,  a pleasant drive through characteristic villages and towns starting from Angera, passing through Laveno and Luino before entering Switzerland close to Lugano.

Lake Maggiore, like all the Northern lakes,  enjoys a perfect microclimate for the cultivation not only of typically Mediterranean plants and shrubs but also exotic examples of horticulture more typical of the tropics and distant lands.

It is therefore no surprise that numerous  golf courses enjoying truly magnificent settings all year round are located in the area. These are privileged “members only” areas, open only to visiting overseas club members, and are often as stunning as the  villa gardens open to the public from spring though to early autumn, unique attractions and sometimes surprisingly challenging courses, producing wonder and fascination in the beholder.

The 4 seasons

Arona, lovely lakeside town on lower Lake Maggiore with a number of important villas and gardens. 

Villa Ponti is an important scene of art exhibitions of works my the greatest artists known to the world, Picasso ande Kandinsky being just two of the. A number of ther important events are held there including conventions, receptions and classical music recitals. This elegant villa was built on the ramparts of the Rocca fortress in about 1760 by Bartolomeo Pertossi, a welthy merchant and supporter of Napoleon I. The Baroque facade has an ornate entrance with balconies and richly decorated windows with wrought iron.  The building is surrounded by an extensive park with plants, mature trees and shrubs typical of the lake areas in the middle of which is an impressive Baroque fouantain. Villa Cantoni,  late nineteenth century, is close to the ruins of the Rocca di Arona,  and is one of the most sumptuous and elegant villas looking owver the Verbano area, With its facade surmounted by a pretty little belvedere turret with coloured glass, there is a semicircular platform at its feet and impressive artificial grottoes and a fine very large garden. Villa Zuccoli, built on the remains of a 17th century convent, this villa was acquired by the well-known family of goldsmiths  which is still owner of the villa. It enjoys wonderful views and a richly etrraced park. 

Today Stresa still retains its aristocratic glamour, which is one reason that it has become a favoured venue for international conferences and events, hosted at the modern Palazzo dei Congressi (Conference Centre) and in the fine hotels along the lakefront. The real heart of the town must be this superb lakefront: an elegant promenade with luxurious gardens that are as romantic in winter as they are crowded in summer. The centre of Stresa,  is full of shops, cafés and restaurants evoking the atmosphere of the Belle Époque which illustrious travellers like Stendhal, Chateaubriand, Dumas, Dickens and Lord Byron described in their writings.

The prestigious events held in Stresa each year include the concerts of the Settimane Musicali di Stresa and Lake Maggiore, a classical music festival which brings the finest musicians and orchestra conductors in the world to the shores of Lake Maggiore which, like the islands, can be reached by the Navigazione' public boats.

Last but not least, the gentle slopes of Mottarone, the mountain overlooking Stresa, welcomes sports lovers with its accessible ski runs in winter and its wealth of panoramic hiking trails and water sports in summer.

Local Color

Arona is an important tourist resort and so should be  stop for anyone wanting to know Lake Maggiore better and is indeed well served by the two highways, A8  from Milan and A26 from nearby Switzerland and the Simplon Pass and, in the other direction from Genova. It is also the scen of a large open air fair in May each year. its long history goes back to times between the Neolithic and Bronze Ages as the very first pile dwelling on Italian territory was discovered here.

The Trentinaglia family owned a villa in Stresa and often offered hospitality to musical personalities such as Umberto Giordano and Arturo Toscanini who, together with Victor de Sabata, was one of their most frequent guests. They were all enchanted by the natural beauty and quiet quality of life they found in Stresa, as Stendhal and Wagner had been before them. It was during one of his stays at the villa in the autumn of 1961, that Mr Trentinaglia came up with the idea to create an annual event that would set Stresa on the international musical map.

Thus the Festival had its origins and since 1999, the name of the Festival has been modified to Settimane Musicali di Stresa e del Lago Maggiore; among the new venues are the magical Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso where every year Johan Sebastian Bach's Suite for solo cello is performed by a different musician, the auditorium "La Fabbrica" in Villadossola, the Visconteo Castle in Vogogna, the Borromeo Castle in Angera and Villa Ponti in Arona, Also the Chiesa Madonna di Campagna and Villa San Remigio in Verbania, the Chiesa Vecchia in Belgirate and the Basilica San Giulio in Orta. From mid July to mid September a fine program of great music, from jazz to classical, currently  under the artititic direction of  Gianandrea Noseda.


Arona is a truly charming town which offers a crossroad between the old and the new. Along the lake the larger shops more typical of a city leand into a narrow road with little lanes leading off it which head up the hill behind the lakes, with a whole mass of shops and boutiques, jewellery shops, little bars and restaurants with all kinds of things to delight the palate. You can visit churches and museums or just wander around for  a day enjoying the narrow streets and piazzas, buying a few original bits and pieces to take home, and why not, eating a good meal in one of the places alongthe lake while enjoying the breathtaking views in this town full of variety and interest for the visitor .

The picturesque town of  Stresa also abounds in shops and boutiques where you will find all sorts of tings from local specialities to take home to family and friends to perfumes from the gardens of Lake Maggiore to remind you of your visit.  The Fisherman's Island is not just a place to visit while commemorating the ancient trade of the fishermen it is also a charmingly busy little village with lots of pretty craft shops and restaurants, a rather unusual little excursion down memory lane. Seek out the raku  ceramic shop where elegant objets are to be found that will make unusual, artisitic alternatives to the usual souvenirs .

Baci (kisses) and Margheritine (litle daisies)  fromi Stresa are delicous home.made biscuits that can be acquired in the pastry shops and smart cafés in Stresa.

Culture and folklore

There is a curious story which still  raises some controversy today, which tells of a fairy fast asleep in the grotto below the Rocca fortess of Arona, which opens just once every 100 years. So there is, it would appear, a door which separates our real world from that of the fairies, elfs and gnomes in the Rocca. The fairy is called Ann and is of noble birth and she lives there with a small sack of gold and an an old bell which, if worn by an animal, ensures its long life and good health.

Just 2 km from the lakeside town of Arona is the colossus of San Carlo Borromeo, also known locally as San Carlone or Big St Charles. The statue is is large copper plates nailed together and was carried out between .

1614 and 1697, designed by Giovanni Battista Crespi or il Cerano, as he was known, and produced by Siro Zanella and Bernardo Falcone. There is a steep staircase inside it and from which it is possible to admire a truly gorgeous view.

  L’Isola Bella, 400 meters from Stresa is a true pearl of nature which Man's hand has made even more precious. The place all visitors must see for the wonderful, enchanting views it affords . The gorgeous baroque palace dominates the small island with its lush green Italianate garden with ten terraces sloping down to the water. Several parts of the palace are open to the public, richly appointed salons and rooms with priceless works of art in them. The gardens are full of flowers and rare exotic plants that grow happily due to the particularly mild climate in the Borromeo Gulf. The rather theatrical scenery is dominated by statues, Liocorno, heraldic symbol of the Borromeo family with statues of Nature and 'Art at his side. The enormous and stunningly gorgeous garden is also decorated with ponds, fountains and staues going back to the second half of the seventeenth century. The white peacocks also contribute to the charm of this place, as they freely wander the velvety green lawns. 

The Fisherman's Island is not just a place to vsisit while commemorating the ancient trade of the fishermen inhabitants, it is also a charmingly busy little village with lots of pretty craft shops and restaurants, a rather unusual little excursion to a timeless place, a walk down memory lane for many.

Isola Madre: Literally the Mother Island, this wonderfully elegant isand has superb botanical gardens that are well-known for the collection of  azaleas, rododendra, camellia and wisteria - a true delight in spring. The palazzo is open to the public and boasts a fine collection of dolls and puppet theatrers or Teatrini delle Marionette going back several hundred years, between the 17th and19th centuries.

There is a mix of  cultures in these lands where the  Walser peoples passed through and settled, the co-called People of the Alps, who came from nearby Switzerland and often  made their homes in the most inhospitable of places. They were able to survive in the the most adverse of conditions, breathing life into a culture which has remained alive and active. The communities of the lakes and valleys today relive their folklore and traditions,  the salient moments of their history, celebrating their ancient rites and festivals where music, ancient trades and classical flavors animate villages such as nearby Ornavasso in spring each year.

Some museuns to visit:

• Umbrella and Parasol Museum - Gignese
Art and History
• Calderara Collection of Contemorary Art - Vacciago di Ameno
• Visual Arts Laboratory - Granerolo di Gravellona Toce
Man and the Environment
• Giardino Alpinia - Alpino di Stresa


Piedmont abounds in fine products and ingredients of the highest quality and being a very large area, they are of infinite variety, from salamis to cheeses, from mushrooms to the noble truffles, from hazelnuts to chestnuts, from rice which comes to life in water and "dies" in wine to the very wine it "dies" in, without forgetting the wonderful rich chocolate Piedmont is famous worldwide for.  

Around Lakes Orta and Maggiore, many recipes have lake fish as their major ingredient but in Piedmont meat is also of very fine quality. Rice is cultivated in the areas of Novara and Vercelli and is prince of the dish which has become the emblem of the Lake Maggiore area around Stresa, Paniscia.  Then, there is a local dish called tapulon, which in fact is a speciality of Borgomanero, not far from Arona and  Stresa. Apparently it was created by 13 country folk returning home from a pilgrimage to the island of San Giulio on Orta. They were travelling by donkey and cart and decided to settle in the comely Borgomanero rather than return home. In order to celebrate this momentous event, they killed the donkey and prepared the very first tapulon in history: the women minced the meat adding what was left of the wine they travelled with and left it to cook with garlic,bay leaf, salt and oil. Today tapulon is usually served with steaming yellow polenta and accompanied by excellent wines produced in the Novarese hills whose rich earth makes very fine wines: Boca, Sizzano e Ghemme, which will perfectly complement tasty dishes of roast and braised meats. porcini mushrooms from the wooded hills, salami and novarese cheeses, among which the magnificent Gorgonzola, king of cheeses produced locally. 

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