Lake Maggiore’s villages: travelling by boat to discover its most precious gems

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An unforgettable journey on the water visiting the villages of Lake Maggiore 

If you look up the word “maggiore” in the dictionary, its meaning is clear:  “larger”.

So Lago Maggiore is the largest lake, right?

The problem lies precisely in its name, as it is by no means the “largest” lake. On the contrary, it seems to play the role of eternal second: it is the second largest lake in Italy by surface area after Lake Garda, and it is also the second deepest lake after Lake Como.

It is larger, yes, but in comparison to the smaller lakes that gravitate around it like little brothers. Hence the name. But is that enough to make it the “largest”? 

Or is its elongated shape, extending from north to south, which simultaneously touches on three vast and important territories such as Piedmont, Lombardy and Switzerland, enough?

Not even, because what makes the area one of Italy’s most popular lake destinations are the enchanting villages of Lake Maggiore, gems that serve as a backdrop for the entire body of water.

Rocca di Angera

ARONA AND ANGERA - The Borromean strongholds of lower Lake Maggiore

Let’s embark on this adventure on the water, starting from the lower part of the lake: the choice is between Arona and Angera, the ancient strongholds of the noble Borromeo family

Arona, on the Piedmont side, enchants with its historic centre, awarded the Orange Flag and spangled with sights of interest: the Broletto, the Church of the Santi Martiri, the Archaeological Museum, the Mineralogical Museum and what is known as “San Carlone”, an imposing statue around 35 metres high representing Saint Charles Borromeo.

On the shore, however, the town has to do with entire families, thanks to the lakeside promenade, the playground, a scenic walkway suspended over the water and the view of the spectacular Borromea Fortress overlooking the lake.

Arona combines its centuries-old history with a unique natural beauty, such as the Lagoni di Mercurago Nature Park, inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list in 2011.

On the Lombard shore, just opposite Arona, Angera also has its own Borromea Fortress, twin of the previous one. This one looks over a town centre full of cobbled lanes, historical buildings, shops and unique places, such as the Museum of Dolls and Toys or the Shrine of the Madonna della Riva.

Its lakeside promenade is distinctive: it alternates broad green spaces with tiny marinas and viewpoints, where you can spend time between walks and moments of total relaxation.

STRESA AND LEGGIUNO – In the centre of the lake between villas and monasteries

Sailing northwards, we reach the shores of two more characteristic villages. Here too, the choice is between the Piedmont or the Lombard shore. 

To the west, we come upon Stresa, the Queen of Lake Maggiore.  Situated on the slopes of the Mottarone mountain, it also includes the Borromean Islands, which dot the Borromean Gulf and can be reached from the town with Navigazione Lago Maggiore boats (timetables available at

Stresa’s small beaches and the narrow lanes of the town centre provide the backdrop for elegant historic buildings or the magnificent Villa Pallavicino, where a well-kept English-style garden, a large playground and several exotic animals in semi-liberty attract the interest of young and old every day.

From Stresa, you can take the ferry to the opposite shore in the direction of Leggiuno, a cultural and artistic town famous for the Hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso, an ancient monastery perched high above the lake, a place of worship and pilgrimage, providing the best panoramic view of Lake Maggiore.

VERBANIA AND PALLANZA - Amidst botanical gardens and must-see events

Crossing the Borromean Gulf, you will certainly have noticed the marina of Pallanza, an elegant and popular tourist destination, where the division of the old district into quarters enlivens the town during the most important local summer events, such as the Corso Fiorito and the Palio Remiero.

Common features in the town are the streets and squares, dominated by historic buildings, adorned with portals, colonnades and capitals. 

The lakeside promenade, one of the most beautiful on the lake, with its colourful façades embellished by arcades, flowering balconies, terraces and cafés, offers a pleasant place to stroll with views of the Borromean Islands.

We mustn’t forget, however, that Pallanza is part of the larger Verbania, a town also known as the Garden of Lake Maggiore.  Indeed there are numerous parks and gardens here, nestled in the context of villas and historic buildings.

One in particular is Villa Taranto, which has made its botanical gardens, considered some of the world’s most beautiful, an authentic masterpiece of rare species, seasonal blooms, centuries-old trees and fountains amongst which to stroll.

CANNERO RIVIERA AND LOCARNO - Upper Lake Maggiore amidst flowers, cinema and citrus groves

Moving further north, we reach the upper part of the lake, an area less frequented by tourists but just as rich in sights. 

Here you can go ashore at Cannero Riviera, awarded the Blue Flag of the Italian Touring Club. 

The eye is immediately drawn to the terraced lands cultivated with citrus fruits of all kinds, the stars of one of the area’s best-loved events, “Cannero Riviera’s Citrus Fruits”, a winter festival lavish with fragrances and colours.

Colours that act as a link with spring, when the town is ablaze with flowers.  With the Camellia Exhibition, in fact, the town opens up its historic gardens, such as the Citrus Park, and prepares fascinating floral displays.

Natural landscapes, then, that integrate into the remains of the ancient defence system, formed by the “Cadorna Line” and the castles.  Shrouded in mystery and legend, these rise on three rocky islets not far from the shore.

Leaving Cannero Riviera, we proceed to Locarno, on the northernmost tip of the lake, in Swiss territory.

Here too, between the Visconti Castle, the New Church and the old town, flowers find their ideal setting in the Camellia Park, which preservies no less than 950 species of camellias and offers an unparalleled view of Lake Maggiore.

The Locarno Film Festival, Locarno’s most representative event, is held in August in Piazza Grande, the heart of the town.

Navigazione Laghi: discover the villages of Lake Maggiore on board a ferryboat

In a word, you will by now have understood what is “larger” about this lake which is second to none in comparison with bigger or deeper lakes.

Its greatness lies in the unique views of nature, in the vitality of the villages that dot its shores and in the calm that spreads when, lulled by the waters, we are able to admire such a varied and fascinating spectacle.

That is why, at each of the destinations indicated, there is a Navigazione Laghi boarding area waiting for you, so you may enjoy travelling between the villages of Lake Maggiore safely with unforgettable emotions.

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