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Catherine Richards

Lago Maggiore, Lago d'Orta & Beyond

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All of the Italian lakes have huge charm, but Maggiore – also called Verbano – is quieter than most. Less star-studded and glitzy than Como, less crowded than Garda, Maggiore is a more natural experience. That only applies until you reach Stresa, however, where the fantastical and the grandiose rule. Unlike Como, Maggiore has a number of islands, with the most famous the three Borromean Islands in the south. There are also the Swiss Isole di Brissago, with their botanical garden and the Castles of Cannero, once a stronghold of infamous lake pirates but now romantically (or spookily) ruined. On Maggiore you get to nod off on a ferry boat and wake up in another country, great fun if you remember your passport; less amusing if you haven't. Known as the Pearl of Verbano, Stresa is one of the most beautiful of Maggiore's towns. A popular holiday resort since the 19th century – Winston Churchill honeymooned here – and host to conferences and international congresses, Stresa gets very busy on spring weekends and in the summer season. Around five miles from Stresa at Angera, the Rocca di Angera is a superb castle, with 11th-century origins. Originally owned by the Visconti family and purchased by the Borromeo family in the 15th century for the princely sum of 18,500 lire. Baveno is a smaller, quieter resort than Stresa, with a number of business hotels and conference facilities. The parish church of SS. Gervasio and Protasio is well worth a look. Built from local granite, it dates from the 11th century, and retains its original plain façade, complete with Roman tombstones uncovered when the church was being built. The tiny, octagonal baptistery alongside dates from the fifth century and contains some beautiful frescoes. This is just a taste of what you will find here. And this guide tells you everything you need to know – the history, the cultural the sights and activities, from hiking to fishing, the places to eat and the places to stay.
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