Lake Maggiore Short Break
Our next suggestion for memorable trips is exploring in one go both the beauty of the Italian northern lakes and the majestic landscape of the Swiss Alps.
And what better way to do that then discovering Lake Maggiore and Centovalli, also known as the Hundred Valleys region.
We’re talking about calm blue waters reflecting the sky; elegant holiday resorts; charming villages; fascinating islands transformed by dedication, wealth, creativity and art; imposing snowy peaks of the Alps; waterfalls; deep gorges and the list can go on.
We promise you this would be an amazing trip!
If you’re already curious about it, here are our tips on how to plan it and what to expect.
How to get there:
Lake Maggiore can be reached by only 2 hours distance from Milan, starting from Sesto Calende and continuing far north into Switzerland. There are many small towns or elegant resorts on both sides of the lake that are well served by train lines or roads.
Travelling by car is great, but also trains are a really viable alternative. Just make sure that if you stay over night, the train station is not too far from the chosen hotel.
When we made this trip we took the train and it was very easy to plan everything. Have a look on the website of the Italian Railway for more information.
Booking Lake Maggiore Express:
The easiest way to explore Lake Maggiore is to take the Lake Maggiore Express, which offers travelers the opportunity to take an organized journey both by ferry and by train.
The Express offers two options:
- One day ticket: the day starts with exploring the lake by ferry, admiring from the boat the landscape, the Borromeo islands, the lovely towns on the shores, finishing the boat tour in Locarno (Switzerland). After a short break in Locarno, the second part of the trip is returning to Italy by train, through Centovalli, admiring the Alps. The scenary of Centovalli is it said to offer some of the most beautiful views of its kind in Europe.
- Two days ticket: still same route as above, but in more detail, with more time to spend in each location.
We chose the one day trip, leaving from Angera and it was amazing.
More information about the route, timetable and prices can be found at http://www.lagomaggioreexpress.eu/
Angera is a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore, dominated by the Borromeo Castle, also known as Rocca Borromeo di Angera, a medieval castle built on a limestone rock overlooking the lake.
It was once an important port and a road station.
For us it was the starting point of the Lake Maggiore Express journey. It also offered us a perfect opportunity to get an Italian breakfast, before going on board of the ferry. You will find nearby many nice coffee shops that serve delicious coffee and pastry.
Arona is just opposite of Angera, on the other side of the lake, like two sister towns that both guard the beauty of the waters.
This can also be a starting point for the Express. If you are in the area don’t forget to visit the giant statue of Saint Charles Borromeo. It is the second largest bronze statue in the world, after the Statue of Liberty (35.10 metres /115.2 ft). If time allows, have a walk in the park that used to surround Arona Castle. The castle was unfortunately destroyed by the armies of Napoleon.
Stresa is an elegant town on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore, in the Piedmont district, that used to be (and still is) a very popular tourist destination. The resort houses many distinctive villas that are a reminder of the elegance of the past aristocracy. Also, the town is known to have inspired Ernest Hemingway when he was writing his book “Farewell to Arms”, placing some of the action in the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees.
On the western side of the lake, just a bit northern from Stresa, there is a group of three islands and two islets that can be considered the gems of the Lake Maggiore: the Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee in Italian).
The islands as they are now are the result of the dedication, wealth and power of the Borromeo family, who started to acquire the islands in the 16th century and is still the owner for the majority of them. Bella Island (Isola Bella) is the larger of the islands and houses a magnificent summer palace and terraced gardens, although at the beginning it was just a large rock. Isola Madre is famous for its splendid garden and a smaller uninhabited palace. The last one, Isola dei Pescatori, also called Isola Superiore, houses a charming fishing village that takes its visitors back in time.
Located in the Ticino canton, at the foot of the Alps, the Swiss town of Locarno is the final stop of the boat tour on Lake Maggiore.
If you select the one day ticket option the schedule will be quite tight to have both time for lunch and time for exploring Locarno. You can choose to have lunch in Locarno, as there are many places that offer diverse type of food.
We however chose to get more snacks and food to go, so that we have more time to visit Locarno.
Before deciding what to visit don’t forget to check the return timetable for the train journey through Centovalli.
In Locarno you can take the cable car up for a better view of the Alps and of the scenic lake panorama. If time allows, you can also visit the famous sanctuary of Madonna del Sasso (pictured below) or the medieval Castello Visconteo.
The train station for the return train journey via Domodossola is not far from the ferry stop. The train tickets are included in the price of the Express, for the route covered by the Express.
Centovalli (the Hundred Valleys region)
On the return journey, from Locarno to Domodossola you will take an exciting train ride through the Hundred Valleys region (Centovalli). Don’t worry, although this particular route finishes in Domodossola, you are able to continue your journey by train until your desired station near the lake. This can be the starting point of your Maggiore Express journey or another stop more convenient.
But the landscape until Domodossola is showing the true beauty of the Alps: deep gorges, tunnels, viaducts, fast rivers, impressive bridges and waterfalls…What else can you wish from a train journey?
We ended our journey by train in Dormeletto, as that was where our hotel was. The day had been unforgettable and we were still dazzled by the charm of the overall experience.
Other tips for exploring the Lake Maggiore area:
- Don’t forget to take your sun screen lotion and sun glasses. On a nice sunny day the lake waters can really reflect the sun light, making it more powerful
- If you are passing by Dormeletto and you feel hungry try the food at Red Beef Stakehouse, it was really delicious
- Don’t forget to indulge yourself with local Italian ice cream, coffee and wine. Even the house wines are a pleasure for the senses
- If you have some extra time in the region, plan a trip to Lake Como. This is also a great place to visit and more cosmopolitan.