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Life on the Lake

Rosalind Ormiston travels to one of the largest Italian lakes and shares ten good reasons why you should pay this northern beauty a visit

Ten reasons to love Lake Maggiore

Stresa, a vibrant town at the heart of Lake Maggiore, makes an ideal base for exploring the region

Stunning Lake Maggiore, the second largest lake in Italy, gently straddles the regions of Piedmont and Lombardy – the west bank is in Piedmont, the east bank is in Lombardy – with the northern shores, about one fifth of its area, crossing the border into Switzerland.

The location of Lake Maggiore has given it a colourful past, with northern Italy being close to the borders of Switzerland, Austria and France. Many people have travelled around it or sailed across it, on their way to Milan, Venice, and southern Italy. It is surrounded by mountains, which are snowcapped in winter, and lush landscapes encircle the lake. Its temperate climate attracts visitors all year round, though the main season is from March to November, with winter sports attracting visitors to the mountains in the colder months.

At the heart of Lake Maggiore are the Borromean Islands, opposite the town of Stresa. These three jewels in its waters, Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori, and Isola Madre, are must-see destinations, rewarding visitors with a memorable experience. And when the Isole Borromee have satisfied the appetite of lovers of art, architecture, food and botany, a faster pace is found around the lake edges, in the boats for hire, water skiing, or a never-tobe- forgotten alpine bobsleigh ride on the summit of Mount Mottarone, above Stresa, reached by cable car from the lake shore.

Lake Maggiore is the perfect location for a variety of holidays that can involve using the water for boating, fishing and swimming, or relaxing by a pool in one of the shoreline hotels and villas. The verdant coastline creates an oasis of beauty to explore by car or bicycle. The easiest way to visit the towns on the lake is by ferry, on a hop-on-hop-off service; tickets can be bought at the ferry stops, including those for entry to attractions.

1 Visit Stresa, and perhaps make it your base

STRESA IS A TOWN THAT HAS TO BE HIGH on the list of any visit to Lake Maggiore, and is a popular choice to stay as a central location. It is just a short water-taxi ride from the spectacular Borromean Islands. The lively town has a variety of hotels to suit everyone, from cyclists on a stopover to long-stay visitors. The grand hotels along the shore front of Stresa recall the town’s first heyday as the Italian riviera of the north. Today, a tranquil ambience flows through Stresa. The hotels have been renovated, refurbished, and offer not only superb accommodation but also spectacular views of the lake, some with private access pools by its shore. The centre of the town is bustling with places to shop and eat, and is as popular today as it was when it was visited by Stendhal, Dumas, Dickens, Hemingway, Charlie Chaplin and Lord Byron.

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About Italia!

We have a splendid line-up of features to inspire your travels this month: our cover star Lake Maggiore has a wealth of stunning locations to explore, both around its shores and on the lake itself. If you like a good hike, our itinerary around the byways of a small corner of Maremma will defi nitely stretch your legs. For cricket fans we have the extraordinary tale of a most unlikely team – and they are really rather good! We have e-biking in the majestic Dolomites and we meet a 3-star chef there who’s really making a difference. And for culture vultures, we have the story of the rise, fall and rise again of Venice’s aptly-named La Fenice opera house.