The lakes and other places to see

We are located between two beautiful lakes. To the west, you will find Lake Maggiore and the Borromeo islands, that from Switzerland runs southwards, along the boundary between the regions of Lombardy and Piedmont. And then there is Lake Orta, romantic and inspiring, a repository of culture and mysterious legends, a beloved destination for great artists such as Nietsche, Goethe, Balzac and Enea Silvio Piccolomini. All around the lakes, there are many extraordinary places to discover and explore. 

Lago Maggiore

It's the biggest of the two lakes in the vicinity of the house. In the middle of the lake there are three beautiful islands (Isole Borromeo) which can be reached by boat from Stresa (or from Arona- but it takes longer). The Isola Bella has a grand palace that can be visited, owned by the Borromeo family, the Isola Madre has a house and very beautiful botanical gardens, Isola dei Pescatori is probably the least interesting one, a little village, scenic but quite touristy. 

 

From Stresa you can take both the big boats (less expensive) or the smaller private boats (more expensive but also more frequent). There are several companies operating the service but the prices are roughly similar.

 

For the big boats timetable from Stresa, Arona (and also to other locations on the lake) look at the website.

 

My additional advice would be to take a picnic with you if you plan to be on the islands at lunch time: the bars and restaurants are usually packed, expensive and of average quality. They are ok for drinks, coffee etc.

 

The lake has a number of other beautiful places to visit, including a stroll around the small town centres (Stresa and other smaller villages). Pallanza, further north from Stresa has the beautiful Villa Taranto with gorgeous botanical gardens.

 

Angera, in front of Arona and reachable by boat, also has the fortress (Rocca) which hosts a toy and dolls museum.

The lake Maggiore goes all the way to Switzerland and there are numerous beautiful places on the shores: Cannobio,  Ascona, Locarno etc…

 

Angera, in front of Arona and reachable by boat, also has the fortress (Rocca) which hosts a toy and dolls museum.

 

The lake Maggiore goes all the way to Switzerland and there are numerous beautiful places on the shores: Cannobio,  Ascona, Locarno etc… 

 

There are many beaches for swimming on the lake. Our favourite is in Meina but you can check the list at the back of this document and/or this website.

You have to be aware that some have public access (accesso pubblico) and others are private so you have to pay. The private ones usually have more facilities (shades, sun-beds etc.) and almost all of them have bars in the vicinity. 

 

Lago Maggiore is full of restaurants and places to eat… we don’t have one specific one to recommend on the lake itself. We’ve been told about a place called il Battello del Sole in Feriolo (Baveno) – on a boat. We met the lady managing it last summer and we are planning to try it out this year. It sounds fun but have not tested it! If you find any nice places, please let us know!

 


Lago d'Orta

While the Lago Maggiore is better known, our personal favourite is the Lago d’Orta.

 

It is a little bit further but, being smaller, it is very scenic. The main town of Orta is a must visit. You leave the car in the parking on top and wander down the old medieval cobbled streets, to the main square.  Week-days are in general less crowded than week-ends.

 

From the main square, you can take a motor boat to the little island of San Giulio, a delightful place. You can also rent a rowing boat if you are feeling sporty. The island has one small bar with a terrace which is usually open in the summer. If not, it is worth stopping for an aperitivo on one of the bars in the main square as the sun goes down. If you carry walking on the main street on the other side of the square from the one you will have arrived from, after the end of the main town and a section of the road along the shore lined with trees, you can see a place where to veer off on the right (closer to the lake shore) and – if you carry on going- you will find some places where you can go for a swim from the stone pavement or little patches of grass with benches. 

 

If you want to go to a beach where to spend the day, before you get to Orta town, on the left    you will find a private establishment called, bizarrely, Miami Beach. It’s best to go during week-days as it is less crowded than week-ends. If you go in the afternoon, you can ask to pay less! The place is nice, especially if you have children. The beach has sand, and apart from shades, sunbeds and chairs, you can rent all sorts of boats, including ones with slides into the water. The have a bar that does simple food and, if you want to stay for dinner, they will do a grill, but you have to tell them in advance. We really like to stay there until sundown, as the place empties out and you have the beach to yourself… even better with a cold beer or Campari in hand! Children usually love it, also because you often get ducks and swans coming up near-by.

The rest of the lake is also worth exploring: for example the west bank of the lake which requires you take a left at Gozzano, before you reach the lake. You can stop for an ice-cream in the sleepy lake-front town of Pella or reach the tiny and pretty village of Ronco at the end of a dead end road. After climbing down the little narrow streets, you will be able to go for a swim by jumping off the pier.

 

We also recommend exploring the villages in between the Lago d’Orta and the Lago Maggiore. You can reach them from both sides, but the villages of Armeno, Ameno, Coiromonte… often these places have open air music, theatre, mime and other festivals so you can check out the programme on the Orta.net website.  A nice place for children is Mottarone, the highest peak between the two lakes. They usually have a summer slide from the peak, where you can slide down on the grass inside plastic wheels… children love it! If you have time, go see the tiny village of Corconio, just above Orta! 

 

To eat on the Lago d’Orta (west bank and right on the water), we like da Venanzio.


Days trips

To the mountains

 

The Monte Rosa, if you like mountains, offers some great excursions. We suggest either driving up the Valsesia to Alagna and then taking a chair-lift up to the peaks or driving to Macugnaga, taking the road at the top of the Lago D’Orta. Both routes are very scenic and of course there are endless options for more serious mountain trekking and walks. Lower down you can also find places to stop along the rivers and go for more gentle walks.  Amongst many other things you can do, we suggest driving from Varallo or Roccapietra (on the Alagna route) back towards Cesara and the Lago d’Orta on the way back.  Or go and have lunch in Rassa, a small village with an old Roman bridge, off a side valley….

Others

 

The area offers many options. Here are some suggestions.

 

If you want to see cities and art, you can drive for the day to either Milan (40 km) or Torino and Genova (around 100km). Genova has a fun and big aquarium and is a very interesting sea port. Torino has a great Egyptian and Film museums… and much more. 

The wine making region of Asti and Barolo can also be done in a day. Likewise, the bassa Novarese, rice-paddy land (bring mosquito repellant and stop for a plate of risotto in the countryside). 

The villages and small towns on the Liguria Coast and also the Lago di Como.

Fairs and village feasts

 

July and August are the months during which almost each village in the area will have a village feast. The one in Agrate takes place in the days preceding the first Sunday after Ferragosto (15th August). It has food, music and dancing in the Oratorio (next to the church and in from=n of the house). For 3-4 days, the noise levels in the evening will be high until midnight. We suggest you join in for food and ball-room dancing for at least one of the evenings. On the Sunday morning there is a traditional mass, a band playing and a procession. Worth following…

 

 

We also suggest you look out for local feasts and fairs in neighboring villages as these can be fun. Some will be religious, other thematic (like the fair of a certain type of grape – uva fragola- in Suno village).

Others - mentioned before - will be street artists or open air theatre or jazz… Some of them will have playgrounds/fairs for children, others will have music and dancing. On a more serious note, there is a beautiful classical music festival each year in early September in Stresa on the Lago maggiore, with some concerts open air on the islands.