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Inspiring, international pre-Alpine lake
The Lake District of Italy is a region of superlatives: Italy’s most famous lake (Como); Italy’s biggest lake (Garda); its most international (Lugano); and its best-kept secret (Iseo). Amongst all of the amazing lays Lake Maggiore, the longest. An elongated expanse of cobalt blue water extending from Italy into Switzerland, the magnificent mountains are at its shores, splendid and lush with subtropical vegetation. The pre-Alpine area is a wonder of natural contrasts, a lake carved by glaciers in a temperate atmosphere. The Mediterranean flair of the northern lake impresses visitors who are equally swept away by the dream-like ambience of its Belle Époque villas, vestiges to an opulent past. Nestled between Piedmont, Lombardy and Ticino (on the Swiss side) the lake offers cities with a cultural hybrid feel. Stresa is a chic town with great hotels and eateries, just under the Mottarone Mountain. A cable car connects to the town to the peak. The Chestnut Trail leads from the city south. Cannobio has a splendid old town at the head of the valley Cannero Riviera has orchards, olive groves, lemons and oranges. The lakefront promenade takes visitors near the ruins of the two castles that once protected the area. The highlight of the area is undoubtedly the Borromean Islands. The lake has eleven islands, with Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori the most visited. Isola Bella is home to a Baroque palace surrounded by lush gardens. The neighboring sliver of an island, Isola dei Pescatori, is the only inhabited island and it proudly displays its humble fishing village beginnings. Isola Madre is the largest of the islands and has the private residence of Earl Lancillotto Borromeo. The island’s delightful botanical gardens are now open to the public. Lake Maggiore is a gem, giving visitors the opportunity to enjoy the marvels of the inland paradise.
This castle, built on the ruins of an earlier castle, was first inhabited and extended by the Visconti before coming into the possession of the Borromeo family, who still own it today. The castle houses valuable works of art in its interior, including the frescoes in the Sala di Giustizia. In addition, the doll museum is definitely worth a visit. With over 200 items, it numbers among the most significant of its kind in all of Europe.
The botanical gardens at Villa Taranto on the western shores of Lake Maggiore are a masterpiece. Scottish Captain Neil McEacharn created the gardens in 1931. Mixing a predominately English style with Italian accents, the result is enchanting. Sixteen hectares are crossed by seven kilometers of paths leading through landscaped perfection to waterfalls, statues, fountains and pools. The gardens are open from March to October, with occasional special events held there throughout the year.
Mining in Guia began in
1710 and continued for 250 years. When
the mine closed It was transformed into the Alps’ first mine museum. Now visitors can walk the roughly one
kilometer route into the mountain to learn about how the industry worked from
the Middle Ages up to the 1960s. The
tour generally lasts 40 minutes. As the
temperature in the mine is around 9°C with a humidity of 97%, proper clothing
is strongly recommended.
The Saint Charles statue is the second largest statue in the world, after the Statue of Liberty, for which the construction techniques were borrowed to build. Constructed in the 1600s to commemorate the archbishop of Milan, it is now a symbol of the town of Arona. Visitors can enter the statue and view the town below from its head. Due to wars, famine and the plague work on it took over eighty years.
The Alpina Botanical Garden showcases alpine flora and medicinal plants with a scenic view of the Borromean Islands.To reach the unique garden visitors can take the funicular from Stresa, getting off at the midway station and walking 300 meters to the entrance, or take the road up the Mottarone mountain.
The Dominican monastery, Santa Caterina del Sasso, is located in an absolutely heavenly location in an escarpment on Lake Maggiore near Leggiuno. In the 13th century, a hermit is said to have lived here, by whose grotto the chapel of Saint Catherine was first erected. The church and Dominican monastery were added in the 14th century.
The hermitage can be reached either from the large car park located above, by descending a panoramic staircase with 268 steps, or from the path from the lake with an 80-step ascent at the end. In addition, a comfortable lift leads from the car park to the entrance of the monastery.
Once a year on the first Sunday in September starting at 15:00 on the shore promenade of Verbania Pallanza, an impressive, fragrant and colourful flower float parade takes place. Beautiful flowers and decorations can be admired. The festival ends with a grandiose firework display over the lake.
At the end of May, the city of Ascona opens its doors for the international street artist festival. Comedians, dancers, jugglers, equilibrists, fire-eaters, musicians and clowns from every country entertain the audience with their shows. The events are free.
Whoever wishes, however, is welcome to put a coin in the hats which are scat tered about.
From spring to autumn a good 3,000 sheep graze in the Ossola valleys. At the beginning of October they are led to flatter fields for the winter. This shepherding off the mountain has been celebrated for several years as an event with the title ‘Tempo di M
di Migrar’. During it one can participate in an introduction into the wool and felt production, watch the sheep shearing or buy handmade felt products or goat cheese or sausage at the many stands. In the evening visitors can indulge themselves in the local restaurants with a meal featuring sheep
and goat products. Whoever still has enough energy, can accompany the sheep herding from Premia to Crodo during the night.
The most important varieties from Lago Maggiore are displayed during this camellia exhibition at the end of March. The event is one of the oldest presentations of this flower in the region, which have been cultivated on Lago Maggiore for over 150 years.
More than 800 chimney sweeps gather at the beginning of September in the Vigezzo Valley. From here the men in black journey through all of Europe, often accompanied by small boys. These, with their small stature, are considered especially suited for the for the work in the narrow shafts. Since 1983, there is even a Chimney Sweep Museum. It is located in the park of the Villa Antonia in Santa Maria Maggiore. The festivities that revolve around the meeting of the chimney sweeps begin here. There are music and dance, sweeping demonstrations, booths, drinking and feasting, and on Sunday morning a chimney sweep parade in traditional costume.
Every Wednesday one of the biggest markets in Europe takes place in Luino with approximately 356 stands - the selection is enormous. Allow about two hours to see everything. Here you will find the normal knick-knacks that one expects to find at markets, but also really neat items, from African antiques to household items and food to clothing of all kinds.
Lake Orta is considered an insider tip, the smallest pre-Alpine lake. The picturesque hilly landscape, in which small villages are embedded, radiates peace and quiet and enchants with its Mediterranean flair. In the village of Orta, located on the shores of the lake, you will wind across the old market square and through the narrow, medieval alleyways and along the way see romantic, secluded gardens. You will reach the island of San Giulio by boat, there you can visit the oldest church of this region. In the interior you will find precious frescoes dating back to the Renaissance.
One of the highest dams in Europe is located at the entrance to the Verzasca Valley, short stop. Then continue on through an imposing mountain world to Sonogno, a small Walser village. Take a walk through this village with its antique shops to a beautiful waterfall. The next stop is Locarno, where you will have the opportunity to walk along the palm-lined promenade on the lake.
You will travel along the lovely west coast of Lago Maggiore over Locarno to Lugano. During a stop there you will see the beautiful shore promenade, the city park of Villa Ciani as well as the centre with its splendid foliage and the church of Santa Maria degli Angioli, which is richly a dorned with frescoes. Afterwards the tour will continue to the ‘silk city’ of Como with its imposing cathedral and pretty little streets and squares.
The fascinating lakes with their well-known holiday destinations beckon one to linger and the ride alone is an experience with its diverse landscapes. You will travel back to your hotel past the southern portion of Lago Maggiore.
During this excursion you can admire blossoming gardens, magnificent buildings, elegant villas and subtropical vegetation. You will reach the famous Borromean Islands by private boat: Isola Bella impresses with its sumptuous Baroque palace and a beautiful garden with plants and flowers of various origins. A picturesque fishing village with original dwellings is located on Isola dei Pescatori.
Afterwards you will have time to stroll through the famous health resort of Stresa with its elegant promenades and picturesque historic district.
You will travel through the wildly romantic ‘Val Grande’ national park to Domodossola, a mountain village with an idyllic location. Here you will climb aboard the Centovalli train for a ride through the fascinating ‘valley of one hundred valleys’. During the ride you will pass by tranquil, stony mountain villages and chestnut forests and over dizzying bridges, which spandeep ravines, on the way to Locarno. From Locarno you will depart on a 3-hour boat
trip to Stresa, which will cross the entire lake.
Travel by boat to the Brissago Islands. Over 1,500 different types of flowers, palms and plants from around the world were planted here - a splendour of vegetation for as far as the eye can see, with some blooms as high as houses. After a stroll in chic Locarno, you will continue on to the primitive Maggia Valley with its wild and romantic waterfalls.
In the 19th century Stresa was the most sophisticated health resort in Italy, and today it still radiates some of the flair of the ‘Belle Époque’. Take a walk along the lakeside promenade with palaces in the art nouveau style and luxury hotels. In the afternoon the tour continues to Santa Caterina del Sasso. The hermitage is reached by a 20-minute boat ride from Stresa. It literally ‘hangs’ between two rocks and the sea. As you approach, you will recognise its magic and make out its different buildings: the southern monastery, the small monastery, the wine press from the year 1759 and the church.
Beyond Ascona you will follow the course of the Verzasca River, vineyards and chestnut trees line the way. Pictur-esque villages like Vogorno or Lavertezzo with their medieval stone houses beckon one to wander and linger. In the afternoon continue on to Locarno. The centre of the city is formed by the Piazza Grande, one of the most beautiful squares in Switzerland with many cafés and restaurants.