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Villa Balbianello
Lenno Lago Como

Italians have always been passionate about gardens. Whether their hands work the soil for their kitchen or if the ground is meant to produce places of retreat and beauty, the Lake Region offers within a relatively small geographic area more gorgeous gardens than any other comparable region in bella Italia.

Many years ago, I was privileged to make the acquaintance of Alessandro Tombelli who is both a garden historian and a landscape designer. From the city of his birth, Florence, he has traveled the world to work in gardens as far flung as Chicago and Sicily. His passion for the lush verdant land is unquenchable.

In the years we have worked together, he has proudly shared his incredible knowledge of gardens, particularly those in the lake region. His 2008 book, The Garden Connection, tells the story of his life, lived amongst the beauty of Italian gardens.

Over many seasons, I have had the opportunity to return to many of the gardens Alessandro first shared with me. While what follows is hardly a complete list of the gardens in the lake region, these are the ones I know and love the best.

Cernobbio-Villa de’Este

As visitors take in the ravishing beauty of the coast road north of Como toward Tremezzo, they can hardly believe the stunning beauty of the Villa d’Este. To use the words ‘awe inspiring’ seem futile. Originally named the Villa Garrovo, its name was changed by the wife of George IV’s wife. This now famous five-star luxury hotel maintains a gorgeous garden. You can visit the gardens by parking at the hotel and asking at the desk. Inquiries are always welcomed.

In the event you are intimidated by the luxurious surroundings of the lobby, keep a mind this story a friend once told me.

In the early 1950’s a young newlywed couple from England were making their way, late at night, in a small sports car along the lake. As they left Como, they decided to stop at the first hotel they saw. They approached the front desk at Villa de’Este and, with few coins in hand, explained to the manager that they were just married and hoped to pay for a room at the hotel. The manager took a long look at them, called the porter to the front and the couple was courteously escorted to the Bridal Suite of the hotel. The couple returned every year that health allowed, and were always treated with the utmost courtesy. Such service remains a hallmark of a hotel known for an incredible garden.

Tremezzo-Villa Carlotta

Further north along the western shore of Lago Como, near Tremezzo, is the Villa Carlotta. This stunning villa ascends the steep flanks of alpine foothills from lake to garden. Constructed between 1690 and 1745.  Owned by one Marquis Clerici, the gardens have become a well visited botanical garden. There are, during high season, hoards of tourists, yet this is a space of green and flowers well worth the visit.

Chapel Villa Melzi
Bellaggio, Lago Como

Bellagio – Villa Melzi 

Ah, Bellagio. The approach by ferry from the docks at Cadenabbia is breathtaking. Deep glacial depths of the lake, the reflection of a rainbow of colored stucco palazzi on the surface of the water, the haze shrouded alps in the distance all conspire to move visitors into a dream. As you disembark at the ferry dock, and walk to the right, you are quickly guided to the entrance of the gardens at Villa Melzi, yet another treasure of a garden, this time on the eastern shore of Lago Como.

The villa was constructed as the residence for Francesco Meli d’Eril, who was the Duke of Lodi and, later, the Vice President of the Italian Republic under Napoleon.  He retired to the villa and devoted his energies to the English garden. Subsequent owners have added to the complexity and beauty of the estate. Stendhal wrote of the garden’s beauty, and of the villa’s extraordinary location along the lake, in his book  “Rome, Naples, Florence.”

Lenno -Villa Balbianello

Garden view -Villa Balbianello
Lenno – Lago Como

(The photo at the beginning of this post is a view of Balbianello ).

I have saved the most beautiful villa and gardens for last. Villa Balbianello was built in the lake side village of Lenno. Located not far from Tremezzo, the villa occupies a promontory that thrusts itself out into the cerulean waters of the lake, the golden stucco towers and emerald green Italian cypress sentinels along the shore. This villa was built in 1787 on the grounds of a Franciscan Monastery. The church towers of that monastery still stand. It was after decades of neglect that an American Army office by the name of Butler Ames purchased and restored the property. The first man to lead an Italian team to the summit of Mount Everest, Guido Monzino, purchased the property in 1974 and lived there until his will donated the property, in perpetuity, to the National Trust of Italy.

I now head west to the shores and islands of Lago Maggiore.

Lago Maggiore

Isola Bella – Gardens of the Borromeo Villa

View of Isola Bella and Gardens
Lago Maggiore, Lake Region

It was in 1632 that Carlos III of the House of Borromeo began to build a villa dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda. The island, originally named l’isola inferiore or isola di sotto,  is named in Isabella’s honor.

The completion of the villa and gardens was delayed by  epidemics  of Plague and political power plays.It was not until the latter part of the 18th Century, under Gilberto V Borromeo, that the villa and its gorgeous gardens were finally completed.

The gardens and villa were designed by the Milanese architect Angelo Crivelli. In 2008 the gardens reopened after detailed three year restoration and the results show. From the upper level garden terrace with its multilevel grotto to the views of the lake and villages along the lower steps of the south garden, this is one of the finest and most beautiful gardens in Italy.

Please see, also, the July 2012 blog post Borromeo Islands-Isola Bella.

Verbania – Villa Taranto

As visitors continue east from Isola Bella across Lago Maggiore, they will have the opportunity to disembark at Villa Taranto. From the dock, little can be seen of the spectacular gardens above. It was in 1931 that a Scottish Captain, Neil McEacharn, came across the property and decided, within hours, to purchase it. The previous owner, the Marquise of Sant’Elia, was thrilled to be rid of something he considered a monumental responsibility.

McEacharn went to work, first naming the villa after a distant relative who was awarded the Dukedom of Taranto by Napoleon.The results of the Scottish Captain’s, and of the estate’s administrator Antonio Cappelletto’s, efforts show an extraordinary level of dedication. The gardens now contain one of the finest botanical collections found anywhere. The entrance gate to the estate is easily reached from the ferry landing in about three minutes.

Lago Orta-Orto San Giulio and the island of San Giulio

Tiny Lake Orta lies west of Lago Maggiore, an easy forty minute drive from the lakeside village of Stresa on the western shore of Maggiore. Not known for a large number of gardens, many consider the lake ‘the jewel of the Lake Region’ in and of itself. Here are two places you will enjoy visiting as time allows.

Villa Bossi
Orto San Giulio
Lago Orta

Villa Bossi

The village of Orto San Giulio uses Villa Bossi as the municipalities town hall. The gardens, known for their extraordinary compact beauty, run from the stunning rear facade of the villa to the lake.

The gardens are open every day and, on frequent occasions, are closed for private weddings and receptions. The views over to the island of San Giulio from these gardens is unforgettable.
Isola San Giulio

I have included the island of San Giulio, located about 100 meters from the shores of the village of San Giulio, as it is a lovely island. Cobblestone walkways ring the ancient convent and church, yet the views between villas, the glimpses of the lake and alps create the sense that visitors are surrounded by the gardens of Italy’s Lake Region. An earlier post on our blog, Lake Orta-Jewel of Italy’s Lake Region, has more details for those who are interested.

IF YOU GO:

LAGO COMO:

Villa d’Este

Via Regina, 40

22012 Cernobbio

Tel: +39 031 3481

No ticket required for garden visit.

Tremezzo-Villa Carlotta

Villa Carlotta

Vila Regina, 2

Tremezzo, Provinica di Como

Tel: +39 (0)344 40405

Entrance tickets: Euro 9.00 per person (check at desk if over 65 years of age for possible discount)

Season: Mid March to end of October (Check web site for details about season schedules)

Bellagio-Villa Melzi

Villa Melzi

Via Lunolario Manzoni

Bellagio

Tel: +39 339 4573838

Entrance Tickets: Euro 6.00 per person

Season: Late March to end of October (Check web site to confirm when gardens are open)

Lenno-Villa Balbianello

Vila Balbianello

Lenno, Como

Tel: +39 (0)344 56110

LAGO MAGGIORE:

Isola Bella

Isola Bella-Gardens of the Villa Borromeo

Tel: +39 (0)323.30556

Entrance tickets: Euro 13.00 per person (check on ticket prices for multiple islands when you purchase your tickets at Isola Bella)

Season: End March to end September. Daily. Open 9am to 12 noon and 1.30pm to 5pm. (Check web site for details about season opening times)

Verbania-Villa Taranto

Villa Taranto

Via Vittorio Veneto, 111

28922 Verbania

Tel: +39 (0)323 404555

Entrance Tickets: Euro 9.50 per person

Season: Mid March to end of October (Check web site for details about season dates)

LAGO ORTA

Orta San Giulio-Villa Bossi

Villa Bossi

Open year round, no admission cost

Isola San Giulio
Lago Orta

Isola San Giulio

For ferry schedules to the island from the village of Orto San Giulio, check with the Navigazione del Lago Orta

You can also talk directly to the many boat owners who play their trade on the lake. They can make arrangements to take you to and from the island.

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Isola S. Giulio
Lago Orta

It is a dream, this island illuminated by ocher lights amidst a golden hazed sunset. Alpine born breezes carry the scent of jasmine and lemon blossoms. As if the lakes of northern Italy could hold no more surprises, you discover Lago Orta.

Lago Maggiore, east of Orta, is by far the larger lake. With over 150 miles of shoreline, Maggiore dwarfs the twenty-one miles of this lake’s lovely shores.

In the midst of Orta’s crystal clear waters is the island of San Giulio. It was in the 5th Century that the local patron saint, Julius of Novara, was buried on the island. Subsequent improvements to the island were made between the 6th and 19th centuries, most notably the seminary built at the end of the 12th Century. A castle was also constructed on the island at the beginning of the 13th Century.

In 1844, a convent was built on the ruins of the medieval fortress. It is in that same building where the Sisters of the Monastero Mater Ecclesiae, Convent of the Mother Church, now reside and work. In cooperation with the association of the arts in Florence, these sisters repair priceless tapestries. Well after sunset, a number of them carry their completed work down to the water’s edge where the  tapestry is lovingly transferred to a small boat and, from thence, to a truck on the mainland. The Sisters usually pick up yet another aged tapestry for repair.

To watch their small boat surreptitiously float across the midnight blue lake, a small lantern hung from the bow of their boat, is nothing short of breathtaking. It is, as well, an unusual gift to catch a glimpse of a white robed Sister during the day as she makes her way among the corridors and small bridges that cross the encircling paths of the island. They are phantoms from our imagination in a place of indescribable peace.

The Sisters also tend to the task of maintaining the reverence of the island. In the latter part of the 19th Century, they created two pathways –  the Way of Silence and the Way of Meditation. Depending on the direction you circle the convent buildings, you are greeted with signs which encourage you to stop and meditate on place and silence.

An examples “If you can be yourself, you are everything.”

Another reads as a poem.

Ascolta il silenzio
Ascolta l`acqua, il vento, i tuoi passi
Il silenzio è il linguaggio dell`amore
Il silenzio è musica e armonia

Listen to the silence
Listen to the water, the wind, your steps
Silence is the language of the love
Silence is music and harmony

Some of the frescoes on the main pillars of the Basilica’s nave are etched with notes made by members of ancient religious communities. Inscriptions as mundane as the weather, jealousies between Brothers and thoughts about their faith cover many of these treasures of Renaissance art. As visitors take time to study the labor of generations, all are reminded of those whose humanness reflects our own.

When your visit to the island is completed, you can retreat to the small village of Orta San Giulio. The medieval lanes of the town are little changed over the centuries. The Renaissance Town Hall dominates the main square, small though it may be, and the quiet of the tiny piazza is only interrupted by the occasional arrival of the parking area’s shuttle. (See “If You Go” below for information about parking and access to the village square).

I admit a strong preference for staying along the shores of Lago Orta. This is a treasure still not well known by visitors, a retreat for those seeking anonymity and escape from the tourist crowds. Far from cities, away from the madness of trains and buses, cars and ferries, this is a place to treasure for its uniqueness, a place special and apart even in the midst of Italy’s northern lake region.

IF YOU GO:

Lago Orta is easily reached by car from Lago Maggiore in about forty-five minutes. Best train connections from Milano Centrale Station are to the city of Gozzano, locate at the southern end of the lake. You can take a bus or taxi from the Gozzano train station to the ferry landing where you can purchase a ticket for travel on the lake.

Ferries on Lago Orta operate on a regular schedule throughout the day.  A wonderful way to pass time here is to take the ferry around the entire lake-only an hour’s trip. Gorgeous lake side villas and small towns dot the shores and hillsides.

For schedules of the ferries on the lake, go to www.navigazionelagodorta.it

Visits to the Basilica and pathways of the island of San Giulio (visitors are not allowed in the convent at any time) are possible from 9:30AM – 12:15PM and from 4:00PM – 5:45PM. These hours are strictly enforced as the Basilica is used by the Sisters who live on the island for their services. Photographs without flash are frowned upon, but permitted.

NOTE: If you are driving, you must park above the village. There are shuttle trains that will carry you into the village center of Orta San Giulio. Once you ride through the perilously narrow lanes to get to the main square in the city, you will understand why you have to park way from the village center!

Places to Stay:

Hotel San Rocco

Residence La Casa Sul Lago

Also, check out the many apartments for rent around the lake. If you are staying for longer than a few days, these are exceptional options especially if you rent in a town where there is direct ferry service on the lake.

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Across Lago Maggiore from the western shore of the lake, you can discern the stucco and terracotta tile roofed  buildings of Santa Caterina del Sasso. In the photo to the left, taken from a walkway just north of Stresa, you can see the monastery in the distance.

It was during an 11th Century storm on Lago Maggiore that a merchant by the name of Alberto Besozzo was cast from his boat into the violent waters of the lake. Not a man known for his kindness or generosity, he prayed that he would be saved. Once safely on shore, he vowed to create a place of remembrance for the miracle of his survival.

Alberto ensured that a chapel, dedicated to Saint Catherine of Egypt, was built on the rocks. The chapel was built directly above where he swam ashore during the storm.  That chapel is now contained within the larger church of San Nicola. Between the 14th and 17th Centuries, brothers of Sant’Ambrogio from Milan cared for the hermitage. In latter centuries came the Carmelites, Dominicans and Benedictines.

Within the chapel are the remains of the venerated Alberto Besozzo. The intimate interior of the space gives you a sense of the centuries; frescoed walls, floor tiles polished by the shoes of thousands and a revered silence in keeping with the history of the place. An event described as a miracle occurred in the latter part of the 18th Century.

Several huge boulders fell through the roof of the church, but stopped suspended, above one of the side chapels. After this event, the hermitage became known as “Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro (Saint Catherine of the Dancing Rock).

This is a site known more, by visitors, for its incredible position along one of the steepest rock faces on Lago Maggiore. The buildings literally cling to the rocks. Approaching the structures for the first time is breathtaking. Due to its rather remote position on the lake, there are far fewer ferries that provide transport to this magical place.

For a virtual tour of the site, visit: Santa Caterina Virtual Tour

IF YOU GO:

Best time to visit is in the afternoons. There is a ferry at 2:15PM from Stresa directly over to the monastery. Visits take only about an hour. If you wish to have some refreshment, you can walk to the new elevator, recently opened, that connects the lake level to a hotel and cafe. Check times before ascending the elevator. Hours are unpredictable.

Hours: From March through October open every day, 8.30 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 17.00.

For further information about the monastery and its history:

Santa Caterina del Sasso

For ferry schedule information for Lago Maggiore:

Lake Maggiore Ferry Schedule and Info

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If you are looking for a relaxing and easy day in the lake region, then I heartily recommend the Lago Maggiore Express on Lake Maggiore. The trip takes the better part of a day and offers views of both the beauty of Lago Maggiore as well as the foothills of the Swiss and Italian Alps.

I always originate my travel on the Express in Stresa, located on the western shore of the lake. The trip can be taken in one of two directions. You may start by train from Stresa, take the Centovalli, Lago Maggiore Express train across the foothills to the Swiss city of Locarno, and return by ferry to Stresa. The other option is to start your trip on the ferry from Stresa to Locarno, enjoy lunch on the boat as you travel north and return to Stresa by way of the Lago Maggiore express.

I always take the lunch option on the ferry to start the day. You get to enjoy an easy morning in town and get to Stresa’s ferry building by 11:25AM. The ferry departs Stresa at 12:00PM Noon.

Lunch served on the ferry is generally good food. Don’t expect fancy. The fmeal is served by very attentive wait staff who bring seconds by on a regular basis. There is a supplement for wine or beer consumed. Always request a reservation at a table along the starboard (right) windows of the dining area. This side of the ferry stays mostly in the shade as you travel north toward Switzerland.

Upon arrival in Locarno, which is around 3:15PM, you can enjoy about a one hour break between the lake and the train. The trains depart from the underground station below the Locarno Main station.  The cars always immaculately clean – this is Switzerland, after all – and you can just sit back and enjoy the one hour and twenty minute ride through the foothills of the Alps. Waterfalls, bridges across spectacular ravines, lakes and alpine villages replete with slate roofs abound.

When you arrive in Domodossola, the end point of the narrow gauge train from Locarno, you easily transfer to one of the direct Italian trains that run between Domodossola and Stresa on a regular basis.

This is a memorable and easy day in the lake region. Every year, our clients have enjoyed the experience of both good food, an alpine lake and the Alps.

IF YOU GO: (BRING YOUR PASSPORT!)

Passports are required as you travel between Italy and Switzerland during the trip. It is rare for you to be asked to present your passport, but you must carry it with you for this trip.

Information about the Lago Maggiore Express, including timetables and information about the trip can be found at this link:

Lago Maggiore Express

Here is a sample time schedule (effective 2012)

Depart Stresa at 12:00PM Noon

(Lunch on the ferry)

Arrive in Locarno at 3:15PM

Train depart 3:47PM or 4:47PM, Arriving in Domodossola at 5:36PM or 6:36PM

Depart Domodossola at 5:58PM or 6:58PM, Arriving Stresa at 6:24PM or 7:24M

Truly, a remarkable and easy day in the lake region. Enjoy!

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When I travel in the Lake Region, my preferred ‘base’ is the small Lago Maggiore village of Stresa. Strung along the western shore of the lake, it offers gorgeous views, reasonable prices and  easy access to the entire lake region of  Italy.

For accommodation (and I have stayed at all of these hotels over the course of years traveling in Italy), I recommend the following short list:

PLACES TO STAY: STRESA/BORROMOEAN ISLANDS

Hotel Regina Palace: Luxury along the lake. Lovely hotel, completed modernized and renovated with easy access to the lake and ferry building. Not as pricey as the Grand Hotel des Isles Borromees down the street and rooms and service are nearly equal. The Charleston Restaurant, located on property serves good food, though I recommend eating in one of the places listed below!

Hotel Italie et Suisse: This is a very clean and comfortable hotel directly on the lake side Piazza Marconi in central Stresa. The three star service is exceptional, the rooms simple and very clean. The views from the lake side rooms, with small balcony, are breathtaking. The breakfast buffet is excellent and the price for the lake region can hardly be beat. This place is a winner.

Hotel Verbano, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: If your preference is to enjoy the quiet on one of the Borromeo islands, this is one of two choices I recommend. Located at the southern end of the island, some of the rooms have views of the villa on Isola Bella, others offer views over the lake toward Switzerland or the western shore of the lake. This is a hotel with atmosphere; don’t read that as old and musty. It has a feeling of comfort that is reinforced by the service of the owners and staff. There is also a restaurant on property, with a terrace on the lake. Lovely in the evening. Remember that the only way to get to the mainland after the regular ferry schedule is by private launch.

Hotel Belvedere and Restaurant, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori: This is my other favorite option on the island. Located on the north end, this property, which includes a marvelous restaurant, has views north toward Switzerland and the lakeside city of Intra. Rooms are very clean and comfortable. Don’t expect a lot of frills, but the experience of a peaceful island evening makes this is another great choice.

PLACES TO EAT, LAGO MAGGIORE/STRESA

The restaurants and osterias listed here are those I have eaten in many times. I recommend these based on personal experience. They all offer a balance of fair prices, great food, excellent service and memorable meals.

Stresa:

Osteria degli Amici: Located above the main square in the village of Stresa, the menu offers a wide variety of meat and seafood dishes. This is not a fancy place in any way, yet the atmosphere, the energy of the staff and the wonderful food make you forget all about the small ‘stuff’. I’ve had many different meals here over the years – all excellent.

Via Bolongaro Anna Maria 31  28838 Stresa Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 30453 (Reservations recommended but not required)

Carmela, Owner
Pizzeria Mama Mia

Pizzeria Mama Mia: Who can pass up a pizzeria named “Mama Mia”. The family brought their creative cooking skills from Sicily and the Naples area, birthplaces of great seafood and pizza in that order! Carmela, the owner, is a joy to meet and the attentive and well timed service is always exceptional. Can’t tell you have many wonderful meals I have enjoyed on the terrace in the warm weather, and in the welcoming warmth of their lovely dining room in the winter. Go!

Via Principe Tomaso 11, 28838 Stresa, Italy

Tel: 0323 30124 (Reservations strongly advised!)

Verbania:

Osteria Castello, Verbania

Osteria del Castello, Verbania: This one is a ways from Stresa. You can reach the town of Vebania on many of the ferries that run to the Borromeo Islands and continue north along the lake. The ferry trip from Stresa to Verbania takes about an hour. This small, lovely, romantic Osteria offers an exceptional wine list. Located in a very small piazza, but not far at all from the boat landing/ferry building, the staff always provide very good service and excellent light fare. Best at lunch or, if you are staying near Verbania this is a wonderful place for a drink before or after any meal.

(To reach this Osteria: After you exit the ferry, turn RIGHT and walk along the tree lined lake side walkway. At the FIRST crosswalk on your LEFT, carefully cross the road. Turn LEFT and you will very quickly see a bookstore ahead of you. To the LEFT of this very good bookstore is a small covered alleyway. Walk through that alleyway and you will see the Osteria del Castello directly ahead. Enjoy!)

Piazza Castello, 9  Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Italy

Tel: 0323 516579

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Isola Superiore dei Pescatori
Lago Maggiore

In my previous post, I discussed the most famous of the Borromean Islands, Isola Bella.

Now to the other two islands, one of the fishermen (Pescatori) and one of the earth (Madre).

Isola Pescatori

Isola Superiore dei Pescatori, called ‘superiore’ due to its position as the northern most of the three islands, is no longer owned by the Borromeo family. (For purposes of this post, I will refer to this island as Isola Pescatori). Only Isola Bella and Isola Madre remain in the hands of that family.

A little over 1200 feet in length and 335 feet wide, the small island offers narrow lanes, geranium laced balconies, and plenty of places to enjoy a lunch or dinner. The Church of San Vittore was probably built on the foundations of a 9th Century church. Evidence of island occupation to that century exist on both this island and Isola Madre.

Vendors in stalls and small shops cover this island, as do many restaurants and small hotels. If you visit Isola Bella in the morning, Isola Pescatori is the perfect place for lunch and a break during your day visit to this area of Italy.

Isola Madre:

Isola Madre – Villa
Lago Maggiore

The island of Madre is located about ten minutes, by ferry, from Isola Pescatori. There is, as on Pescatori, evidence of a 9th Century church and cemetery. During the 16th Century, two important activities started on the island; the first was the start of construction on the family villa and the second was the introduction of citrus trees brought from the province of Liguria along the Mediterranean coast.

In the latter part of that century, the family completed the villa in Renaissance style. The garden, which now covers over ninety percent of the island, was substantially diversified. It now includes a wide variety of botanical specimens from around the globe. The scala dei morti (stairs of the dead), dedicated to the memory of the 9th Century cemetery, are now covered in different varieties of Wisteria.

This is the least developed of the Borromean Islands, so do not expect vendors and lots of commercial activity. Today, visitors find peaceful and beautifully maintained gardens and villa. Of all the Borromean Islands, this is the most tranquil.

IF YOU GO:

Both Isole Pescatori and Madre are reached by ferry from many of the lakeside towns around the lake. Tickets are  available at all ticket offices. Double check last trip departures from these islands to ensure that you are not left behind. If you do, indeed, miss the last ferry from either of these islands, you will have to pay for a private launch to return you to your home base.

For ferry system information and schedules:

Lake Region Water Transportation

For further information about the specifics-opening times/closing times by season , entrance ticket costs and further history:

Borromeo Island Visitor Information

Where to eat and stay?

See my next post “Lago Maggiore-Where to Stay and Where to Eat”.

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Lago Maggiore View

Imagine a crystal clear alpine lake surrounded by a crowning circle of Italian and Swiss alps, its shore ringed by romantic villages. Lago Maggiore, easily reached from Milan, is in the heart of Italy’s Lake Region.

Very close to the lake’s western shore are three small islands: Isola Bella, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori and Isola Madre. It was in 1632 that Carlos III of the House of Borromeo began to build a villa dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda. The island, originally named l’isola inferiore or isola di sotto,  is named in Isabella’s honor.

The completion of the villa and gardens suffered through the onsets of Plague, political power plays and other vagaries of the day. It was not until the latter part of the 18th Century, under Giberto V. Borromeo, that the villa and its gorgeous gardens were finally completed.

The gardens and villa were designed w by the Milanese architect Angelo Crivelli. In 2008 the gardens reopened after detailed three year restoration and the results show. From the upper level garden terrace with its multi-storied grotto to the views of the lake and villages from the lower steps of the south garden, this is one of the finest and most beautiful gardens in Italy.

Isola Bella
Garden View

The Lake Region itself attracts visitors from all over Europe. The area is surprisingly free of the tourists hoards who descend upon Venice, Florence, Rome and other large Italian cities.

Access to the islands is very easy (see below) and you can visit the Borromeo Islands in one day.

Map Lago Maggiore

IF YOU GO:

If you are in Milan, trains run on a regular basis, about every hour, from Milano Centrale Station to Stresa (Recommended starting point for your visit to the islands). I recommend using the faster/cleaner Eurocity fast trains that leave Milano several times a day. These stop at very few town north of Milan and make the journey far more comfortable and faster than are the regional trains. Travel time between Milan and Stresa on the Eurocity trains from Milan is about an hour. Note that the regional trains are, indeed, less expensive-but slower!

To check train schedules:

Trenitalia English web site

On arrival in Stresa, you can either take a taxi or walk to the ferry building. By taxi, six minutes, by foot fifteen minutes-and it is all downhill from the station to the ferry building.

Transport on the lake ferry’s is very easy. Ticket offices are located in all of the ferry buildings that dot the villages along the lake. From Stresa, the trip to Isola Bella takes all of ten minutes. Fares vary by departure point. For further information on fares and schedules, check:

Lake Region Water Transportation

Isola Bella Villa and Gardens: The villa and gardens are open from March 24, 2012 – October 21, 9:30AM – 5:00PM. Tickets for both the Villa and gardens are Euro 13.00 for adults, Euro 5.50 for children between the ages of 6 and 15. Children under 6 years of age enter at no charge.

Where to stay?

Watch for future posts with details. My recommendation is to use the town of Stresa for all your explorations of the Lake Region, with the exception of Lake Garda. More to come!

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