Lake Maggiore Detailed

Mar 11th, 2005, 09:17 AM
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Lake Maggiore Detailed

Italy's Lake Maggiore is one of Europe's top vacation meccas for good reason. Lying at the foot of the Alps, to miles nw of Milan, the long sliver of water ringed by verdant Alpine scenery freckled with opulent villas and posh placid resorts, the most famous part of the lake is it Borromeo Gulf part around the storied resorts of Stresa, Baveno and Pallanza, where just offshore lie the lake's crown jewels and one of Italy's most stunning visual feasts, the world-famous ultra-unique Boroomean Islands with their charming palaces and eye-popping gardens. The signature infectious Italian joie de vivre that holds sway in the resorts only enhances the seductive scnery. On main road and rail lines between Italy and Switzerland, Lake Maggiore is an easy and great stop if wishing to see something besides big tourist cities.
About 38 miles long, up to 1,200 feet deep and at most a few miles wide, Lake Amggiore (a k a Lake Verbano) was scooped out by glaciers and is fed by runoffs from the Alps. For ages, the lake's economy revolved around fishing, but tourism has long since taken over and in fact existed as early as the 1300s - luminaries such as Petrarch sung paeans of the area's remarkable beauty and putative salubrious air, and doctors were quick to prescribe a lake sojourn as a blam for whatever ailed thir rich patiens. In the 1600s the Counts of Borromeo transformed some tiny islets into showpieces on which they created two glamorous palaces and two phenomneal gardens, and ever since the Borromean Islands have been the lake's marquee attraction. Drawn by both its beauty and temperate summers compared to much of Italy, other wealthy families built villas along the lake. In the 1700s, the area became a halt of the Grand Tour, when peripatetic young aristocratic Europeans, especially Brits, made a prescriptive trek to Italy to round out their classical education, traveling via Switzerland and then over the Simplon Pass to Lake Maggiore. After the Simplon Pass road, ordered built by Napoleon for military reasons, opened in 1805, foreign tourists began to pour over it to the lake; after the Simplon rail tunnel opened in 1906, many more swarmed in. The area, though, has always catered mainly to a well-heeled Italian clientel, and a spate of smart resrots popped up to serve thier needs. The lake also attracted many artists and writers, such as Byron, Goethe, Wagner, Shelley, D H Lawrence and Hemingway, who fell in love with its romantic setting; the cordial resorts to which they gravitated, Stresa, Baveno and Pallanze, became famous.
TO BE CONTINUED (I'm a retired European travel writer and i wrote this several years ago; i'll continue in future posts by covering the Borromean Islands Bella, Pescatori and Madre as well as Stresa, a perfect base for the lake and islands. Ciao ciao! Questions? Your lake experiences?
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Mar 12th, 2005, 06:19 AM
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How can I resist? Lago Maggiore is one of my favorite places on earth. I dream about my little balcony view from the Albergo Panorama in Gerra-Gambarogno at the Swiss end. I'm a train traveller, but here's a question. Is it possible to rent a car and toodle round the entire lake in a relaxed fashion in one day? I'll probably never do it, but I do intend to spend some quiet time in Cannero Riviera one of these days. I just cannot seem to pry myself away from the Panorama. It has a hold on my heart. Thanks, PalQ, for transporting me as I drink my Saturday morning coffee. J.
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Mar 12th, 2005, 04:15 PM
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ira
 
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Thanks, PalQ
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Mar 12th, 2005, 04:18 PM
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Never say never, J! One day I might just meet you there with a car (with S' in the back seat) and we'll drive around the lake, stopping only for gelato or vino.
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Mar 13th, 2005, 04:53 AM
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Where there's life, there's hope, Grasshopper.
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Mar 14th, 2005, 11:29 AM
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BELLA - The Isola Bella once was a rocky islet with a few fishermen's huts until the 1600s when one of the Borromeo royals enlarged it and erected a plush palace and fancy gardens, renaming the island after his wife, calling it the Isola Isabella, a name that evolved to Bella. The count supposedly wanted the island, when seen from the mainland, to resemble a galleon anchored offshore; the terraced gardens being the ship's rear and the palace its bow. The effervescently Baroque Borromeo Palace, built mainly between 1650 and 1671 but not fully finished until the 1960s, is still owned by the Borromeo clan. Inside is an astonishing cornucopia of priceless furnishings, objets d'art, tapestries, paintings, ceramic tiles, porcelain, armaments, dazzling Murano-glass chandeliers and old puppets. A highlight is the awesome high-domed Grand Hall, finished only around 1960 according to original plans. there is also a sparkling reality-altering hall of mirros, a chapel with family tombs and an artifical grotto plastered with mosaic-like designs made from seashells and multicolored small stones. the profusely landscaped Italian-style symmetrical gardens feature ten high terraces that, like a wedding cake, layer up from the lake and effusively sprout exotic plants and a marble forest of statues, balustrades, obelisks, ornamental vases and fountains. The garden's tour de force though is a shell-shaped amphitheater whose tall tiered back sall is festooned with statues of cherubs, seashells, intricate stone mosaics and alcoves harboring statues. Atop the amphitheater is a huge stone unicorn (the Borromeo family emblem) and a terrace with a grand view of the gardens, which, with many partrerres, were designed especially to be admired from here. Aromatic shrubs and a shrieking brood of preening peacocks adds to the assault on the senses. There is a nice picnic area of the island's tip behind the palace. Around the boat dock is a swirl of tourist pulp and vendors hawking postcards, trinkets, etc. With so many visitors and so little turf, the popular island can be mobbed, especially on weekends when Italians flock here, so arrive early to beat the crowds (or come late; according to a palace official, the most relaxed time to visit is around 4pm, when crowds have thinned). In any case, don't be deterred by hoardes at the dock as the gardens are a peaceful oasis walled off from all the dock-side hubbub. And folks into people watching will revel at kicking back and ogling all the frenzied hustle and bustle as boats ejaculate droves of tourists!
To be continued- next PESCATORI
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Mar 24th, 2005, 07:37 AM
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PESCATORI
The extremely unique Isola dei Pescatori ("Fishermen's Island"), a k a Isola Superiore, about 500 yards northwest of Bella, is full of humble fishermen's dwellings occupied by families that for eons traditionally supported themselves by fishing. Though upon first glance it appears to be a tourist trap because of an even more frenetic beehive of commercial racket around the boat dock than on Isola Bella, eddying through the deluge of visitors here to ferret out the island's tiny back lanes tells a far different story as luandry is still strung between the houses and there is a tucked-away parish church with a small graveyard and a unique flower planter out front fashioned from an old boat. Though some fishing boats and nets are strewn on the shore and there still are a few fishermen, starting in the 1950s the villagers discovered that angling for the tourist buck was far more bountiful and easier than fishing, and many homeowners converted their lower floors into shops or eateries. A National Geographic article quotes one island: "I can make more in six months from this little shop than I used to make in a year of fishing. Today everyone is either selling souvenirs or in the restaurant business." The island is plagued by its legendary colony of cats which seem to loom in every nook and cranny (pity the poor mouse that disembarks here!) At only 100 yards wide and 400 yards long, the island rerquires little time to explore. There is a nice park and picnic venue on one of the island's tips.
To be continued: Next ISOLA MADRE.
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Apr 6th, 2005, 11:46 AM
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ISOLA MADRE
The lake's largest island, Madre, contrasts greatly with the other two as it has no tacky commercial clutter and far fewer crowds and thus is relaxed, being mainly a lush park with just a small palace, chapel and restaurant on it. Even the gardens differ greatly from those on Bella in that these, though less visually striking, are more luxuriant, favoring greenery and foliage over man-made landscaping and statuary. In fact, they are an first-class botanaical garden with many exoctic plants as well as a resident flock of screeching peacocks and pheasants and what some sources say is Italy's tallest coconut palm tree (but a garden official chuckled "that though it's huge, we make no such claims"). From the gardens, there is an enchanting view over the other islands and gulf. The palace has the usual old furnishings and art as well as an intriguing treasure-trove of marionettes and marionette theatres dating back to the 1700s when they entertained the Borromeos. The garden and palace take up all the island, which is still wholly owned by the Borromeo clan - so if not paying to enter the gardens, there is only a short path outside the palace/gaarden walls on which to pace while awaiting the next boat!
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Apr 7th, 2005, 08:35 AM
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STRESA
The lake's most renowned Italian resort, Stresa (pop 4,700) is a perfect base from which to hop to the Borromean Islands and other gulf sights. Stresa is small and has no must sights, so just lounge along the lakefront promenade and lap up the fab views. The dapper lake-side Corso Umberto I (a k a the Lungolago) is lined by spiffy hotels. The august Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, built in 1863 and described in Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms, is the town's fanciest hotel. The twin-turreted Regina Palace is another grande-dame hotel. Stresa's sedate waterfront facade caches a delightful old town with a typical Italian pizazz of kinetic lanes of shops enticingly dangling their wares out front; leather good and fruit stands belly up side by side, and mouthwatering aromas waft out of bakeries, pizzerias and cafes. At the boat dock, the Piazza Marconi and its alfresco cafes provide euphoric views of the lake and isalnds. On the edge of town, the 19-th century Villa Paalvicino sits in a 40-acre park that offers Kodak moments of the lake and islands and contains a menagerie of pheasants, deer, kangaroos and ostriches running amuck. Stresa hosts a presigious mount of classical music during the Stresa Musical Weeks starting in mid-August. On Friday mornings the town center is taken over by a thriving outdoor market. Stresa's tourist office has maps of Stresa and of the whole lake.
WALKS FROM STRESA
There are some nice walks from Stresa, including hiking up to Levo, an old village high above the lake, or over the high road to Baveno, via Someraro and Campino, two untouched villages with great views of the lake and islands. Ask the tourist office for walking details and an area map. One place not to walk is along the lake between Stresa and Baveno as you must go along a daangerously busy road with no shoulder or sidewalk most of the way.
NEXT: OTHER GULF SIGHTS - Including Pallanza, Baveno, Taranto, Intra and Verbania, etc.
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Apr 8th, 2005, 12:09 PM
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OTHER GULF SIGHTS
Though the islands get all the ink, nearby Baveno, Pallanza and the Villa Taranto, all served by boat, are also great places to explore. Baveno, 2.5 miles from Stresa, is a resplendent resort where Queen victoria watered in 1879. The town square is dominated by a dreamy parish church with a textbook Romanesque facade, a novel octagonal baptistry and splendid cloisters; there is also an inviting waterfront esplanade, suave villas and, behind the town, famous pink-granite quaries from where stones were extracted that now grace many local edifices. Pallanza, 3.5 miles by raod from Baveno and another swank resort, is known for its panoramaic views, pleasant lake promenade, old center with nice churches, profusion of flowers and, as it faces south, a blamier climate than most of the lake. Pallanza, the lake's toniest resort, is engulfed by palatial millionaire villas. From Pallanza, you can either drive, bus, or boat 1.5 miles to the Villa Taranto, home to one of the world's preeminent botanical gardens. in 1931, a Scot, Neil MacEacharn, bought the villa and propagated on its ground a 50-acre horticultural extravaganza with some 20,000 species in a superb park-like setting, bringing plants here from all over the world, including rare tropical plants. added to this are landscaped gardens, with some plots devoted to a single type of plant, such as roses, dahlias or azaleas; paths meandering by waterfalls and ponds; and bridges spanning bubbling brooks. Since 1939, the small so-so villa (closed to the public) has been owned by the Italian Government which uses it for state occasions. (the gardens are open Apr-Oct; boats dock below the entrance. just beyond the villa and also served by boats, is Intra, a more mundane workaday town with a few nice churches. Just off Pallanza is a fourth Borromean Island, the speck-like San Giovanni, where the conductor Toscanini summered. (In 1939 Pallanza merged with Intra and Suna to be collectively called Verbania.) Opposite Stresa on the lake's eastern shore is the famous 13th-century shrine of Santa caterine del Sasso, from whose golden-pink cloister high on a cliff there is a nice perspective of the islands and lake. In summer boats go from Stresa to a dock just below the shrine. Just up the lake from the dock is Cerro, a village known for its lake views, ceramics industry and ceramics museum.
TO BE CONTINUED: Next "Basing It In the Gulf" - places to visit near Lake Maggiore such as Mottarone and Lake Orta.
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Apr 9th, 2005, 11:21 AM
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This is great PalQ! Thank you!

I am planning a trip for next June and I will have with me my husband, MIL who will be 80 (She's in great shape) and three small children, 6, 4 and 1. Is there enought in this lakes region to keep us busy for a week to 12 days or should we split our 12 days between the Tincino (Locarno, Someo) and then go down into Italy? I'm thinking Milan may not be the best for travel with kids... My boys love trains, fishing, hiking, and meeting new people. They are well behaved in restaurants and are very excited about this trip! They have the Scholastic Atlas of the World and are learning the flags or Switzerland and Itlay, as well as simple Italian phrases. (Right now the only one they have down is Andiamo!) ANy insight is appreciated.
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Apr 9th, 2005, 01:29 PM
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We stayed at Hotel Verbano on Isola Pescatori two years ago. My 18 year old son was with us. Once the island cleared of most of the tourists, we spent the evening skipping rocks, playing with the cats, and just wandering the back streets. He left for college that fall, and I think of those few days at the end of our Italy trip as some of the best. All the islands are wonderful. The hotel staff was among the most gracious we have experienced anywhere. The rooms were large, the views magnificent. Thanks for your posts with reminders of a particularly memorable trip. PJK
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Apr 27th, 2005, 10:02 AM
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Moneygirl: it seems like kids that age can stay in one place and not get bored if they have a lake to swim in, etc. But if you want something varied i'd head over to St. Moritz, Switzerland and do the Bernina Express train ride from there. A great route would be to take the Swiss Postal Bus from Lugano that takes you up the awesomely scenic Majola Pass thru Alpine wonderland to St Moritz. From there the Bernina Express, Europe's top scenic train in my opinion and i've taken them all, climbs up and over the Bernina Pass and then down into Italy. It's best to take it just half way to Alp Grum or Ospizio Bernina stations right near the too of the pass - here across an Alpine lake lie awesome glaciers that you can take a short walk to - kids should love it and the tiny train that you take to get here - in summer you can ride in openair cars. Return to St. Moritz for the night. To reach Lugano from Lake Maggiore, take a boat to Laveno and then hop the train to Bellinzona via Locarno - takes just a few hours. If you have a car all the better as you can duplicate the bus route to St. Moritz - should be about a 4-5 hr drive.
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Apr 27th, 2005, 10:13 AM
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BASING IT IN THE GULF
Besides the sights around the Borromeo Gulf, there are oodles of other adventures to experience from a gulf base. It's popular to take cable cars from Stresa (alt 689 ft) to the summit of Mottarone (alt 4,892 ft) from where, on the rare day when the smog or mist isn't too bad, there is a gaga view of several lakes and you're bombarded by a fusillade of high Alps in the distance; halfway up, you transfer to cable cars at the Alpino cable station (alt 2,635 ft) where there is a formidable Alpine Garden. At Mottarone, there are numberous footpaths through forests as well as restaurants, cafes, hotels and seasonal skiing. If you go by road to Mottarone you could stop at gignese and its unique Umbrella Museum, a relic of a time when the whole village worked in a now defunct umbrella-making industry that sent its products all over the world. Just ten miles west of Stresa is Lake Orta, much smaller than but just as divine as Lake maggiore. Orta San Giulio is a cute town on a spit of land jutting into the lake; just offshore from it is the tiny San Guilio Island with medieval houses and a hallowed basilica. The island is reached by boats which also cruise the lake. The Orta-Miasino rail station, a stop on the Domodossola-Novara sideline, which has service about every two hours, is a mile from Orta San Guilio; it can be reached from Stresa by three different circuitous rail routes requring a change or two, taking about two hours. Lake Orta is also linked to Stresa by a scenic sinuous Alpine road. It's also easy to day trip from Lake Maggiore to Milan (1 hr by rail from Stresa) and its famed cathedral, fashion boutiques and museums. And if you want to go much farther afield, local travel agents hawk a blizzard of tour-bus excursions to other Italian lakes, Switzerland and all over northern Italy.
NEXT: GULF BOATS detailing the delightful passengers boats and boat passes.
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Apr 27th, 2005, 11:36 AM
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If time for just one lenthy lake excursion from Stresa, is north better than south? Planning on going to Cannabio for markets and hiking on a Sunday when there are extra ferries, but also heard the south reccomended. Looking forward to local zone ferry info too. tks
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Sep 13th, 2005, 11:34 AM
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viking: i think the south is more industrialized - the towns more workaday - more polluted air - the closer you get to Milan the more things deteriorate - not that's there's not some neat things there but north of Stresa is so fantastic.
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Nov 17th, 2005, 07:55 AM
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Thanks for the detailed report PalQ! We just booked our European vacation next year which includes about a week at Lago Maggiore,. I'm bookmarking this thread, so I can refer back to it during my planning.

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Nov 17th, 2005, 10:45 AM
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ttt to bookmark
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