My final stop in Italy was Lake Maggiore. Just an hour from Milan, it’s a handy side-trip for those wanting a taste of Italy’s famed Lake District. I liked Lake Maggiore. But I didn’t like it nearly as much as Lake Como, which is just as easy to visit and, for my money, even more rewarding.
In our guidebooks, we have to make some tough decisions. Our publisher has gently informed us that our biggest books (including Italy) are “pushing the boundaries of current book-binding technology.” Soon, we may have to selectively slim down our coverage. And after updating almost every chapter in Italy, Lake Maggiore is at the top of my hit list. There’s nothing wrong with Lake Maggiore, except that it’s basically redundant with a destination that’s even better (Lake Como). Realistically, most of our readers won’t have time to visit two lakes — so why not give them only the best?
Don’t worry — we’re good for now, so this will not be the year of Lake Maggiore’s “big arrivederci.” Let’s savor the stay of execution with a few photos of this (admittedly beautiful) place.
While it enjoys the same gorgeous mountain backdrop as the other Italian lakes, Maggiore’s unique draw card is the Borromean Islands, where Milan’s most powerful aristocratic clan built their retirement villas. In the foreground, you can see the pyramid-shaped Isola Bella, the aptly named “Beautiful Island,” whose terraced gardens trumpet the status of the Borromeos.
Isola Bella is home to a flock of crowd-pleasing peacocks. Watching herds of camera-snapping tourists chase peacocks around the garden, I was glad I had a good zoom lens — letting me just sit tight and wait for the perfect photo op.
Lake Maggiore’s main town, Stresa, is a fairly soulless resort town. But its cozy square is welcoming for a lunch break.
Faded, trilingual signs bragging “We speak your language” are nostalgic remnants of an age when that was really something to brag about. These days, I’m continually impressed by how confidently so many Europeans speak English — compared to even just a few years ago. In nearly three weeks of updating our Italy guidebook, talking to probably hundreds of Italians in the tourist trade, I can barely think of one who didn’t speak at least a leetle English.
Grand hotels line Stresa’s waterfront. The English names (“Regina Palace” rather than “Palazzo Reale”) are a reminder that this destination boomed during the Grand Tour golden age of European travel, when Downton Abbey-type aristocrats made an obligatory circuit to all of Europe’s most romantic depots.
Getting around Lake Maggiore is easy. Just hop on the next ferry. On a sunny day, you’ll weave through a picturesque traffic jam of churning motor boats.
Arrivederci, Italia! My next stop is France. I’ll see you there…