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Blick auf Locarno, Bild: Eva Bocek / shutterstock

Lake Maggiore

Montesquieu, famous French poet, once described Lake Maggiore as the most beautiful place in the world.

The 212.5 km² Lake Maggiore is located with three quarters of its area in northern Italy and with one quarter in Switzerland. The lake, which is particularly popular with hikers, campers and holiday home holidaymakers, stretches from the southern Alps to the Po Valley. The region offers everything for a varied holiday with Mediterranean flair. The mild climate, the lush nature with forest-covered mountains and green valleys around the lake, fine sandy beaches, small islands, fascinating nature parks and botanical gardens, as well as idyllic hiking trails and the romantic villages along the lake, attract many thousands of people from all over the world year after year. But in addition to its charming landscapes, the region also has a lot to offer culturally. Among the most famous towns on the lake are Verbania, Stresa, Arona, Angera, Cannero, Luino, Laveno, Ispra, Locarno and Brissago. In the lake itself there are 11 islands of different sizes.

Excursion destinations and sights on Lake Maggiore

Maccagno, Lake Maggiore
Maccagno, Lake Maggiore, Image: AleMasche72 / shutterstock

Opposite the coastline between the Italian cities of Laveno and Stresa are the Borromean Islands. The three main islands of the archipelago are Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori. The island archipelago was named after the Milanese noble family of the Borromeos, who became owners of the islands in the 16th century and had numerous magnificent palaces built and ornate gardens laid out on them. The only permanently inhabited of the 3 Borromean Islands is the Isola dei Pescatore. There is a small fishing village here.

All 3 islands can be reached by boat from Stresa. The gardens of Isola Bella and Isola Madre, with over 2,000 species of plants, and palaces are open to visitors from the end of March to the end of October. Particularly impressive on Isola Bella is the Palazzo Borromeo, built in the 18th century, with its 10 terraces, living rooms, music and weapons halls, picturesque gardens, grottoes and water features. Isola Madre scores with its large botanical garden in which many rare plants as well as various bird species, such as the white peacocks, golden pheasants and parrots can be found. On the island of Pescator there is also a small fishing village. A typical local market takes place here, with a range of local handicrafts. Particularly popular with holidaymakers is the so-called island hopping, a boat tour around the islands, combined with the possibility of disembarking anywhere and exploring the islands.

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Castelli di Cannero

Castelli di Cannero, Lake Maggiore
Castelli di Cannero, Image: pst.rtw / shutterstock

The Castelli di Cannero is a former castle located on 2 small islands in front of Cannero. The ruins of the castle complex are currently still being renovated and can only be viewed from the ship as you pass by. On the Swiss side of Lake Maggiore are the 2 Brissago Islands. On the larger island of San Pancrazio (Isola Grande) there is also a botanical garden. The smaller island of Isola Piccola is mostly natural.

Above Locarno, the Madonna del Sasso rises on a rocky outcrop at an altitude of 370 metres. In addition to the monastery and the actual Sanctuary of Santa Maria Assunta, called Madonna del Sasso, the complex includes the Church of the Annunciation and the Chapel of the Pietà, as well as 3 other chapels, the Chapels of the Lamentation of the Dead Christ, the Last Supper and the Holy Spirit.

Monte Verità (Mountain of Truth)

The 321-metre-high Monte Verità (Truth Mountain) is located 500 metres northwest of the old town of Ascona. On the former meeting place of utopians and alternative artists, there is now a larger museum complex. Starting from the central museum Casa Anatta, the museum tour includes several buildings worth seeing, such as Casa Selma, a small light-air hut, the Russian House (Casa dei Russi) and the Elisarion Pavilion. The latter houses a very special art treasure, the famous circular painting “The Clear World of the Blessed” by the artist and religion teacher Elisar von Kupffer.

Rocca d’Angera

The Rocca d’Angera, also known as the Borromeo Castle, stands on a rocky outcrop above the town of Angera. The imposing medieval fortress, which has remained completely intact, is now owned by the noble Borromeo family. From the highest point of the castle complex, the Torre Castellana, a unique view over Lake Maggiore opens up. The castle is home to some attractions worth seeing, such as the old wine press from the 17th century, the courtroom “Sala di giustizia” and the Doll Museum. In front of the castle there is a large garden in medieval style.

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Verzasca Valley

The Verzasca Valley, just a few minutes’ drive from Locarno, is wild, steep and crisscrossed by countless waterfalls. Everywhere in the valley, small villages such as Corippo, Lavertezzo, Sonogno and many others, with the Verzasca houses (rustici) built of grey stone, the white-framed windows and the heavy stone slabs on the roofs, still bear witness to the classic Ticino architectural style. A real paradise for adventurers and romantics. The valley is best explored on the Verzasca hiking trail.

On Mount San Clemente, near the town of Sangiano, stands the Santuario di San Clemente at an altitude of 521 meters. The small church is worth seeing on its own, but from here the visitor also has a fantastic 160 degree panoramic view over Lake Maggiore, the city of Stresa, and the islands of Isola Bella, Isola Pescatori and Isola Madre.


Another worthwhile destination is the Vallemaggia valley behind Ascona. This largest alpine valley in Switzerland with numerous side valleys, a fascinating river landscape and its botanical diversity is a paradise for hikers and nature lovers.

And finally, the Valgrande National Park, Italy’s largest wilderness reserve, a superlative among the natural sights on Lake Maggiore.