I’ve visited Lake Garda before, but Lake Maggiore is further West, and gives a really different view of the Italian Lakes region.
For starters, you’re just a short hop from the Swiss border, giving this part of Italy a distinctly Alpine feel. The Northern part of Lake Maggiore is actually in Switzerland. This means amazing views, and plenty of mountain-based excursions and activities, which can be a welcome break from the summer heat.
What We Booked
We booked our trip to Lake Maggiore last-minute through the TUI website and paid around £650 for a twin room with return flights from Manchester.
A few days later, we landed in Milan airport, and from there it was a 45-minute drive to the Hotel Simplon in Baveno. TUI does offer coach transfers but we opted to hire a car, so we could explore more freely.
The hotel was lovely, steeped in old-school glamour with incredibly attentive service. Upon arrival we were upgraded to a room with gorgeous views of the swimming pool, and lake beyond.
It’s tempting when the weather is 34 degrees to stick close to the hotel. If you choose to do this, you won’t be badly taken care of. There’s a beautiful pool and gardens, with a poolside bar, terrace and restaurant, open at various points in the day.
If the weather is bad, guests at the Hotel Simplon can also use a short tunnel to visit the neighbouring Dino Hotel, where you can use the indoor pool. During our visit, it rarely dropped below 33 degrees, so we didn’t get around to checking this out.
The little town of Baveno is charming and really fun to explore.
The Hotel Simplon is a 2-minute walk from the lake-front, which is lined with a series of bars and restaurants serving pizza, pasta and seafood.
At one end there is the ferry terminal, allowing you to catch the ferry to various spots around the Lake. At the other end, just a ten minute walk away, is the children’s playground. In the middle there’s a small town square and a really pretty church.
There’s a weekly craft market held in Baveno, and to the top end of the town, you’ll find a pretty park. If you walk through the park, you can reach part of the lake edge where you can go swimming. This access is free, although it’s immediately next to the Baveno Beach Club, which charges a fee for daily access to its beach.
The Borromean Islands
In this part of Lake Maggiore the big attraction is the Borromean Islands. These are three tiny islands in the middle of the lake’s western arm.
Each island has a slightly different character but they are all pretty. You can hire a boat to take a private tour of the islands, or explore using the ferry boats that dock here.
Two of the islands – Bella and Madre – are home to palaces, each with beautiful formal gardens. There’s a lot of fun to be had just wandering around the gardens, making friends with the white peacocks and enjoying the views. The third island, Isola dei Pescatori is still inhabited, and you can wander the gorgeous little streets that are packed with shops, galleries and restaurants.
The islands do get hectic so my recommendation is to take water (those gardens are HOT) and try to visit early in the day to avoid the biggest crowds.
Mottarone Cable Car
When it gets too hot down by the lake, the tiny town of Stresa is a 10-minute drive from Baveno, and there’s a great cable car.
The cable car initially goes halfway up the mountain, where there’s an alpine garden. A second cable car takes you almost to the summit.
Here you can get some lunch at the restaurant, and there are restrooms. You can then take a chairlift right to the top of the mountain. The whole journey takes about 25 minutes and the views on a clear day are spectacular. We were there on a cloudy day, so basically it could have been November in Blackpool, for all we knew.
Still, it was nice to be in the relative cool of the mountain after a very hot day by the lake.
Much more fun, though, is Alpyland.
This is basically a toboggan run that lets you ride a little cart down a track at surprising speeds. It’s a lot of fun, and you can take kids over the age of four with you. The line can be a little long, but we definitely thought it was worth it.
We didn’t have a lot of time in Italy, so once we’d spent a day lounging by the pool, it was almost time to come home again. If we’d had a few more days, I’d have loved to have driven to Zermatt, which is two hours away, and offers spectacular views of the Matterhorn. The weather wasn’t suitable during our stay though – no point driving two hours when it’s cloudy!
The other thing we missed was the bucket lift at Laveno. Basically, two people stand in a bucket chair-lift, and you are ferried up to the top of Monte Sasso. From the top you can have gelato, and enjoy the views. It looks amazing, but is tricky to get to if you’re short on time.
We visited the adjoining town of Stresa for dinner, and would have loved more time to explore here. It’s a busier town with more shops and restaurants. There’s also a weekly market.
One of the best parts of our trip was just strolling through the little towns and islands, enjoying the scenery. There was plenty of (amazing) pizza and gelato, of course. It was so lovely to spend some quality time together and kick off our summer discovering a new destination. Our first trip to the Italian Lakes was definitely a success!