The Italian Lakes are among the natural jewels of Europe. Nestled in the foothills of the Alps in northern Italy, they are home to landscapes of stunning beauty, along with exceptional visitor facilities from luxury hotels to homely restaurants.
The two most well-known lakes are Garda and Como, both of which are well worth a visit, but which also both attract the crowds in peak season. For a more relaxing, tranquil break by the water free from the tourist hordes, why not pay a visit to one of Italy’s lesser known highlights, Lake Maggiore?
Although not as internationally famous as its neighbors, that is no reflection on Maggiore’s beauty or grandeur. Spanning the border between the two northern provinces of Piedmont and Lombardy, while also sporting a stretch of shoreline in the Swiss Canton of Ticino, Maggiore is the second largest lake by area in Italy, and by far the longest at around 35 miles in length.
This impressive expanse of water provides the setting for one of Maggiore’s major annual events, the Vela Verbania, a regatta spread over several days each June. Based at the shoreline town of Intra, sailing teams from all over Italy and beyond compete in races in front of a crowd who can enjoy a wide array of local food and drink delicacies while watching the sport.
If you love the water but are less keen on competitive sailing, then the Borromean Islands are a must visit. This small group of islands and islets in the most western portion of the lake are easily reachable by boat from the towns of Verbania or Stresa. Two of the islands, Isola Bella and Isola Madre, are known for their well-maintained summer gardens dating back to the 17th century, but it’s the Isola dei Pescatore that holds the most interest for those with a taste for old Italy.
Boasting a tiny permanent population of less than 50 souls on an island measuring a little over 100 yards by 400, Isola dei Pescatore is a traditional fishing community that has now become a popular destination for day-trippers, who can see the old ways preserved in daily life. Sample the excellent freshwater fish in one of the restaurants or hotels, or for an unforgettable experience visit the August festival that involves the villagers’ boats being taken on a torch-lit circuit of the shoreline, before a feast around a huge bonfire on the northern shore.
Elsewhere around the lake, there is plenty for the shore-bound visitor to enjoy. As you’d expect from the location, the scenery is decidedly alpine, with snow-capped peaks to the north, dense pine forests, and streams flowing to meet the main expanse of the lake. There are many picturesque towns and villages dotted around the waterside, notably the small town of Stresa. As well as offering lovely views across the lake from a quiet promenade, Stresa features a cable car up the 4,500ft Monte Mottarone. The summit offers vistas both across the lake and deep into the Alps to the north.
And finally, film fans may like to visit in August when Locarno on the Swiss shoreline holds an international film festival. Set among the architectural beauty of Piazza Grande in the old town, the highlight of the festival is an open-air screen measuring over 28 yards by 15 yards, on which around 8,000 movie devotees at a time can watch classic and modern films from around the world.
Lake Maggiore may not have the fame of its neighbors Garda and Como, but it also forgoes the worst of the crowds, and will provide rich rewards for the traveler willing to go beyond the standard Italian tourist trails.