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Lake Maggiore, in Northern Italy, is one of Italy’s larger but lesser-known lakes, despite being just a stone’s throw from Milan and Lake Como. Discover more about this beautiful lake that straddles Italy and Switzerland.
We talk to Jo Mackay from villa specialists Bookings For You who’s spent lots of time of the years on the shores of Lakes Maggiore and even has property there. Lake Maggiore straddles Italy and Switzerland, so is great for a trip to take in both countries and even has its own islands, the picturesque Borromean Islands. We talk about the different ways in which to enjoy the breath-taking views, including some not for the faint-hearted.
What you’ll learn in this episode
- Stresa is the town with the most services and best tourist infrastructure
- Part of the lake is in Switzerland – so don’t forget your passport if you’re out for the day and headed there – you may not be checked, but best not to take the risk
- There’s a great public boat system on the lake. You can hop on, hop off in the main towns and they are pretty regularly at around every half hour and it costs just a few euros to go from town to town
- It’s also pretty easy to hire a little motorboat for a lovely day out on the lake
- Lake Maggiore has its own islands – the Borromean Islands. One of the islands Isola Pescatori (the Fisherman’s Island) is the place to head for great fish restaurants
- The other two island, Isola Bella and Isola Madre both wonderful palaces to visit with exquisite gardens and white peacocks strutting around the grounds
- You can get to the Borromean Islands by either taxi boat or one of the public boats, from Stresa and some of the other main towns
- Despite being far north, the climate on the lakes is quite Mediterranean, so you’ll get palm trees and even a citrus festival held in Cannero
- There are lots of walks around the lake. Wherever you are staying you can just go to the local tourist office and get a map of the paths that you can follow
- You can get a cable car up to the mountain peak above Stresa, the Mottarone, to get an incredible view of all 7 of the lakes in the area
- For a more exhilarating view, there is a zip line (1.850m/2.020 yards) on the Western side of the lake south of Cannobio
- The bucket lifts at Laveno might not be as quick as the zipline, but can be equally unnerving, but worth it for the great views
- Lake Maggiore makes a fantastic base for visiting other lakes in the area such as Lake Como, Lake Orta and Lake Lugano
- The public transport connections around Lake Maggiore are fantastic. Stresa, Arona, Lesa, Meina and Verbania are all on the train line and if you’re coming from the airport they are all connected by the bus, as well as train connections from Milan Malpensa connecting to the other side of the lake to Luino and upwards onto Switzerland
- Festivals in the area include a tulip festival in the spring at Villa Taranto, and in the summer a classical music festival in Stresa and the Moon and Stars pop music festival in Lugano
- The area is great to visit all year round – there’s even skiing in the winter months. Though in winter it’s best to stay in the larger towns as the smaller ones will have shut down more
About our guest – Jo Mackay
In her ‘past life’ Jo used to work in Sales and Marketing for Procter & Gamble. However, she always knew that corporate life wouldn’t allow her the time and flexibility she wanted to spend with her children and so, after attempting to make part-time hours work, she stepped off the career ladder in between the birth of her first and second children.
She then had a few years out but always knew that she wanted to work rather than be a full-time mum, particularly when both started school. During the time she spent with her children in the pre-school years, she and her purchased a property in the Italian Lakes. They always purchased it with a view to renting it out which they did very successfully. They went on to purchase the adjacent villa and rented that out too. When her children started school, she set up Bookings For You, renting out properties in the same area for others. It started as a bit of a hobby to be honest but grew quite dramatically and soon we had villas all over Italy!! If she’d set up her dream business at the time, it would probably have been to set up something related to food but this seemed the next best thing!!! This was all back in 2010 / 2011.
Bookings For You have properties all over Italy including Lake Maggiore, Tuscany, Umbria, the Amalfi Coast, Marche, Puglia, and Sicily.
You can find Jo on these channels:
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/bookings_for_you
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/bookingsforyou
- YouTube: Jo Mackay
- Blog: www.bookingsforyou.com/blog
Places mentioned in the show
- Stresa – the main tourist town on the lake, with mangrand building
- Cannobio – a town on the river Cannobino as well as the shore of Lago Maggiore
- Cannero – a medieval village on the Rio Cannero
- Arona – a pretty town with a lakeside promenade
- Luino – a small town on the western shore, a few kilometers from Switzerland and where Jo herself owns a property
- Ascona and Locarno – towns on the Swiss side of the lake
- Borromean Islands – a group of three small islands and two islets in the Italian part of the lake, consisting of Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola Pescatori (Fisherman’s Island)
- Mottarone – the mountain peak above Stresa
- Monte Tamaro – a mountain over the Swiss part of the lake
- Rocca d’Angera – also called Borromeo Castle, is a castle on a lakeside hilltop outside Angera on the Southern shore
- Santa Caterina del Sasso – a monastery perched on a rocky ledge
- Lake Lugano – a lake just over the Swiss border
- Orta San Giulio – a charming and pretty town on the banks of Lake Orta
- Val Verzasca and Valle Maggiore – valleys that come down into Lake Maggiore
- Lesa, Meina, Verbania – towns that along with Stresa and Arona, are on the trainline
- Villa Taranto – botanical gardens located on the western shore of Lake Maggiore
- Spello – a favorite of Jo – this Umbrian town is known for being covered in flowers, especially during their beautiful flower festival – you can learn more about Spello in our podcast episode Uncovering Umbria’s Towns and Villages with author Michelle Damiani who has lived there twice!
- Marco’s Kitchen and Flore Dinner Nights are both great caterers on the lake
- The Grand Tour – the 17th and 18th-century custom of a traditional trip through Europe undertaken by upper-class young European men of sufficient means and rank. Adopted by many a tourist in later years.
- Camellia – beautiful spring flower found on Lake Maggiore
Resources from Untold Italy
- Find more about some other of Northern Italy’s wonderful lakes, Lake Como and Lake Orta.
- Listen: discover episode about other sites and towns near Lake Maggiore – Episode #041: Beautiful Bergamo – gateway to the Alps, Episode #055: Picturesque Piedmont – lesser known region of wine and truffles! and Episode #064: Stunning South Tyrol and The Dolomites and another gorgeous Italian lake not far away in Episode #075: Cruising Lake Como
- How to plan a trip to Italy – our article that takes you step by step through trip planning so you can avoid our mistakes
- Italy Travel Planning – our FREE online community where you can ask questions and get inspiration for planning your trip
- Travel shop where you’ll find items mentioned in the show
Prefer to read along as you listen? You can download a PDF version of the full transcript of this episode.