An itinerary from Arona-Angera to Santa Caterina

  • Lake Maggiore

Navigating Lake Maggiore: between Piedmont and Lombardy on a boat

From Arona to Angera, to the hermitage of Santa Caterina: discovering Saints, Viscontis and the wealthy merchants of bygone eras

As the natural border between the two regions of Piedmont and Lombardy, Lake Maggiore is a perfect blend of the succession of history, culture and religions throughout the centuries.

Amongst saints, bishops, Viscontis (with a capital V) and merchant explorers, anecdotes and points of interest are certainly not lacking, attracting visitors and tourists who can take advantage of the convenient Navigazione Laghi riverboats to discover and admire both sides of the lake.

A statue, a castle and a sanctuary: evocative visions between Arona, Angera and Santa Caterina

One of the most evocative itineraries on board a boat is that departing from Arona to pass Angera, respectively on the Piedmont and Lombardy shores in the southern part of the lake, to reach further north, towards the centre of the basin, where lies the Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso.

So, head to the Navigazione Laghi docks on the Arona lakefront and enjoy the ride.

Arona: the gateway to Lake Maggiore

For one of the most fascinating itineraries in the area, the departure point could only be from the largest port on Lake Maggiore.

Arona is one of the best-known and most appreciated tourist resorts on the lake – so much so that in 2018, it was awarded the Orange Flag by the Italian Touring Club, not only for its valuable historical, cultural and natural heritage but also for the quality welcome it can offer tourists and visitors.

Not to mention that the nearby Lagoni di Mercurago Nature Park became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. What more could you ask for?

Also referred to as “the gateway to Lake Maggiore”, Arona has existed since prehistoric times, when it was still a village of pile dwellings on the lake. Yet, Arona experienced its greatest splendour as a fief of the powerful Borromei family, whose main and best-known exponent was Carlo Borromeo, who became first Bishop of Milan and later a Saint.

And since there is no gate without a guardian, it was specifically San Carlo who was positioned to guard over the city, in the form of an imposing 35-metre-high statue standing on the hill behind the village. The Sancarlone, as this copper and bronze colossus has been called, inspired none other than the Statue of Liberty and is the most iconic monument in the city, being also clearly visible from the lake.

Once you reach the Navigazione Laghi embarkation points and board the boat, you cannot help but give a nod to Sancarlone as you say goodbye to Arona and leave the Piedmont shore of the lake behind. It is now your journey will begin, via water, towards the Lombard shore where another enchanting village named Angera awaits you.

Angera: between grasslands and Rocca Borromea

Approaching Lombardy soil means crossing the lake at its narrowest point to reach the shores of Angera. But above all, it means raising your gaze from the lake to the imposing fortress towering above the city.

The Castello Borromeo, built by the family in the 11th century and passed on to the Visconti in the 14th century, stands on a rocky spur overlooking the lake. Characterising the complex are the Torre Castellana, the Ala Scaligera, the Ala Viscontea, the Torre di Giovanni Visconti and the Ala dei Borromeo.

Impressive rooms are preserved in these areas, such as the splendidly frescoed Sala di Giustizia, the Sala della Mitologia with its collection of internationally-manufactured majolica, and the picturesque Museum of Dolls and Toys, founded in 1988 by Princess Bona Borromeo d’Arese, which has a vast collection of children’s toys and, in particular, more than a thousand dolls from every era and part of the world. On the outside, rather, the castle conceals one last surprise, with the charming Medieval Garden rich in flowers and medicinal plants.

Yet it is only from the highest tower, that with the best view of Lake Maggiore, that an inquisitive visitor can spot you continue on your journey, heading resolutely north towards the last stop on the Navigazione Laghi tour.

Thus, leave behind the expansive meadows that characterise the beaches of Angera and say hello to the Allea, the long avenue of horse chestnuts and lime trees where many tourists stroll. Leave behind the Santuario della Madonna della Riva and its ‘miraculous’ picture dripping with blood. Take a final glimpse of the beautiful Bruschera Nature Reserve, a paradise for birdwatchers.

In short, move your gaze away from all that Angera offers and look ahead to the boat’s next destination: the Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso.

Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso: spirituality and spectacular scenery

Still aboard the boat, you will come to admire one of the most striking sceneries of Lake Maggiore – the Eremo di Santa Caterina del Sasso. This hermitage is perched in all its grandeur on a rocky cliff overlooking the lake.

What characterises the Eremo are its three most interesting architectural components: the church, the bell tower and the sacellum.

The church is a sanctuary dating back to 1195 and consisting of three chapels erected at different times and initially separate whilst the interior is adorned with frescoes and pictorial cycles depicting the life of the Saint. Topped with a spire and cross, the 15-metre bell tower, dating back to the 14th century, pierces the panorama of Lake Maggiore. The sacellum, rather, is the centre and initial nucleus of the Sanctuary. It is here that since 1535, the relics of Blessed Alberto Besozzo, a wealthy merchant who founded the Sanctuary in the second half of the 12th century, have been preserved.

Your boat tour will thus end in the best possible way, with this experience combining art and history framed by the evocative natural setting of Lake Maggiore. Your return journey will then end where it started, at the Navigazione Laghi docks in Arona.

But don’t despair because “the door to Lake Maggiore” will always remain open for you to relive the emotions of the lake and an unforgettable boat tour, whenever you wish to return.


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