Visiting Lake Maggiore – Part Two of Three
Visiting the three small islands in the middle of Lake Maggiore
The Borromean Islands in the upper half of Lake Maggiore are very popular tourist destinations, and for good reason. There are regular ferry boats triangulated between the islands and the town of Stresa. If you like grand hotels and resort style travel, get a hotel room in the town of Stresa, which is situated right in front of these islands and is the easiest access point.
For the ferry schedules on Lake Maggiore, the best website to use is the official navigational website where you can look up schedules for Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, and Lake Garda – click here for the website that is available in English.
*Insider Tip: Ticket booths on the islands (for palace and garden entrance) often do not accept credit cards, but rather cash only and there are no ATM machines on the islands. So make sure to get cash in Stresa or elsewhere before going to the islands!
Isola Bella in Lake Maggiore
Isola Bella is home to a grand Palace and terraced gardens. Carlo III of the Borromeo family constructed the Palace in the early 17th century and dedicated it to his wife Isabella, thus the name Isola Bella. The gardens are laid out in ten terraces, full of beautiful landscaping, statues, and wandering peacocks.
The admissions price for the palace and gardens on Isola Bella, is 13 Euros (price as of summer 2012) and is only open from March to October. The island can be reached by ferry or taxi boat.
Isola Madre in Lake Maggiore
Isola Madre is the largest of the three Borromean Islands in Lake Maggiore and is mainly known for its extensive gardens. The Palace on Isola Madre (built in 1590) is interesting to see, with 16th and 19th century paintings and furnishing from the Borromeo family residences. My favorite part of Isola Madre is the Puppet Theatre rooms with large stage sets, puppets, and costumes, which remind me of the puppet show put on by the children in the “Sound of Music.”
You can visit the palace and gardens on Isola Madre for 11 Euros (price as of summer 2012) from late March to late October from 9am to 5:30pm.
Isola dei Pescatori in Lake Maggiore
The Isola dei Pescatori, or Fishermen’s Island, is also known as Isola Superiore (keep this in mind when looking at ferry schedules). The Fishermen’s island in Lake Maggiore is in fact a very small village with actual residence year round (between 30 to 50 people in residence). The Isola dei Pescatori is 100 meters wide and 375 meters long and there are a few restaurants, cafes, and shops on the one main street/path. The Church of San Vittore, on the main street, has a 16th century fresco, 17th century paintings, and an original apse from the 11th century.
It’s best to plan to have lunch on Fisherman’s island in-between visiting the other islands.
*Insider Tip: There are a few hotels on the island, and it is a great location. However, if you stay at a hotel on Isola Superiore, keep in mind that ferry boats do not run all night; the last ferry from Stresa to the Fishermen’s island is usually at 7pm (check updated schedules to be sure).
*Insider Tip for weather and what to pack for Lake Maggiore: When visiting Lake Maggiore, no matter what time of year, bring an umbrella, raincoat, and a pair of shoes that you don’t care about and that can withstand torrential rain. Lake Maggiore can be battered by severe storms, rain storms that have the feel of a hurricane! One summer, I was waiting for a ferry boat from Stresa to Isola di Pescatori in the evening when all of a sudden there was driving rain, hail, and strong winds. The storm lasted for a few hours and you couldn’t even see the lake. The ferry boat that did show up, took three tries before it was able to dock! So be warned, Lake Maggiore has severe weather at times!