Lake Maggiore – What to do and where to stay.

I’m a big fan of the Italian lakes and I’m just back from a visit to Lake Maggiore and have previously visited Lake Garda and Lake Como. Lake Maggiore is in the northern Italian region of Piedmont and I arrived into Stresa, on the west coast of Lake Maggiore, by train from Milan, which took less than an hour. The lake is long and thin with beautiful scenery and views of The Alps. Lake Maggiore straddles both Italy and Switzerland. Other popular places to stay include Pallanza, as well as Locarno on the northern tip of the lake in Switzerland.

How to get to Lake Maggiore

There are frequent flights from the UK to Milan Malpensa or to Bergamo airport. It’s possible to drive using the A8 or travel by train from Milan Central station.

Trains are frequent and easily bookable through the Italian trains website Trenitalia. A one way train journey between Milan and Stresa only costs about 9 Euros per person.

What to do on Lake Maggiore

If you want to visit the main attraction on Lake Maggiore, the Borromean Islands, they are easily accessible by boat from Stresa. The Borromean Islands consist of Isola Bella, Isola Dei Pescatori and Isola Madre.

Isola Bella is the star attraction. On the island you can see an amazing 17th century Baroque palace and elaborate gardens. Construction took 40 years and the palace and gardens are built like a huge ship with stunning views of The Alps in the distance. I really enjoyed ambling around the back streets where you will find little restaurants, cafes and souvenir shops. Isola dei Pescatori still maintains its traditional way of life. Most people go for day trips but there are two hotels on the island if you want to stay longer. Take a look at the Hotel Belvedere if you are interested in a hotel stay on Isola dei Pescatori.

For amazing views of Lake Maggiore take the cable car to the top of Mount Mottarone. It takes 20 minutes to reach the top and the summit at 1,491 metres above sea level is another 15 minutes walk. The walk is worth it though because you can see 7 lakes – Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, Lake Mergozzo, Lake Varese, Lake Comabbio, Lake Monate and Lake Biandronno. A return ticket costs 19 Euros for adults and 12 Euros for children.

Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore.
Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore.

Where to stay on Lake Maggiore

There are many towns and villages around the shores of Lake Maggiore where there are plenty of places to stay. I stayed in the busiest of the Lake Maggiore towns, Stresa. Stresa offers easy access by boat to the popular tourist attraction of the Borromean Islands and there are plenty of places to stay to suit most budgets.

For those visitors looking for lakeside 5 star luxury then you might want to consider the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees. Lake luxury like this though does not come cheap at £1,700 for two people for a one week stay.

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées, Stresa, Lake Maggiore.

As a vistor with a more sensible budget I stayed at the 3 star Hotel du Park. It’s not lakeside, being about a 2 minute walk from the town centre, but it was comfortable and convenient. The hotel is furnished in a 1920’s style although the bedrooms are somewhat more modern! One week at the Hotel du Park for two people costs about £700 based on an October stay.

Hotel du Park
Hotel du Park, Stresa

Where to eat in Stresa

Stresa has a multitude of places to eat. In peak season it can be difficult to find a table in one of the restaurants. We ventured out at around 7.30pm one evening to try and find a restaurant to eat in and it was difficult to find somewhere. We eventually stumbled across a delightful restaurant called Trattoria due Piccioni. The menu was limited but the food was of very good quality. I can highly recommend the risotto!

Trattoria due Piccioni
Trattoria due Piccioni, Stresa, Lake Maggiore

Tirano Italy. Start of the Bernina Express Rail Journey.

We arrived in the busy Italian town of Tirano in northern Italy by train from Menaggio on Lake Como. Tirano is actually on the Swiss/Italian border and it is the start of one of the most amazing train journeys in the world.

The Bernina Express starts from Tirano and travels through the streets of the town before heading over the border and climbing high into the Swiss Alps. Our journey was going to take us to the Swiss town of Chur, a journey of over 4 hours through and over some of the most beautiful Swiss mountain scenery.

Apart from the train service running from Tirano there is little else to see and do in Tirano. It’s a pretty place though standing at the foot of some fairly high mountains and you can see snow on the mountain tops even in summer.

There are not many places to stay in Tirano Italy so my advice is to book early. We chose a hotel called the Hotel Corona, which is located only about 100 metres from the train station. Sadly, the hotel is in need of refurbishment and our room was very basic and not the cleanest we have stayed in. There was a notice in the Hotel Corona reception saying that the hotel is to be re-furbished in November 2013 so I hope that makes a big improvement.

There are several places to eat in Tirano but we were there on a Monday and most places were closed in the evening. We found only one place open , a  Chinese restaurant , again this is one restaurant best avoided. We should have known better, Chinese restaurants in Italy are never good!

Before going to the station for the Berina Express which left at 14.10 we had lunch in the lovely Caffe Merizza in Tirano. The food and service was excellent and I can recommend this as a good place to eat.

Tirano is a unique town because the trains that depart from Tirano station actually travel through the streets of the town. It’s quite a sight watching the train go through the streets and I took a video of the train which you can see below.

When we arrived in Tirano there was a huge thunderstorm. The river that runs through Tirano from the mountains was in full flow and the sky was looking angry !


Tirano Italy

Watch my video of a train in the streets of Tirano Italy