Lago Maggiore is the second largest lake in Italy (212,5 sq.km of surface area), its waters boarder with Northern Piedmont, Lombardy and Switzerland. You can get there easily from Milan Malpensa Airport or from the nearest cities, thanks to extended highway network.
Despite charming little towns, hanging above its waterside, it’s characteristic by beautiful landscape: surrounding hills with numerous old villas look themselves in a blue mirror, and white Alps peaks seems to be within your grasp. But the biggest Maggiore Lake treasures are tiny Borromean Island. Isole Borromee it’s archipelago that consist of Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori, located in Piedmont. I went there one Sunday, enjoying a pleasant, not too hot day.
The faster way to get to the islands is to reach Stresa, a small, beautiful town on the lake shore. You will find there regular boat services providing transport to Borromean Islands – traffic on the lake reminds Venice! What’s more, Stresa itself is worth to be seen. Beautiful old houses, historical hotels situated along the promenade, well-maintained vegetation and breathtaking views make this town a popular tourist destination and place where Milan citizens spend their weekends.
Once we reached Stresa, we decided to buy tickets for a mini-cruise between Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori. Since 15th century these first two have been owned by aristocratic Borromean family (famiglia Borromeo), which has roots dated on the end of 13th century. In 2004, Donna Lavinia Borromeo – heiress of the family, married John Elkan (the president of FIAT Group, the member of Agnelli family). The wedding ceremony took place on Isola Madre and the wedding reception on Isola Bella. Besides, it wasn’t first time that these little islands were the witness of great personality visits – even Napoleon Bonaparte was fascinated by their beauty.
The cruise around the archipelago took only 20 minutes and we could choose between two options: visit all islands or the only one. We decided to focus only on Isola Bella, famous for a beautiful Mediterranean garden. Quickly it turned out that it was right decision because we spent 3 hours there…
The island was named after Isabella d’Adda (Bella is short for Isabella). Her husband, Carlo III, in 1632 started the construction of the palace and garden, then his work was continued by next Borromean generations.
Bought the ticket, we started our visit from Palazzo Borromeo. Each and every window face spectacular view: the nearest islands, majestic garden and Stresa. Despite elegant and refined rooms (some decorated with colorful marble), the art lovers can admire also a fifteenth century tapestries. But what I liked the most, it was a room with a big collection of marionettes. I felt there like in a mini theater (see the picture below). Grottos – the rooms decorated by different stones and shells are amazing too.
Finally I went to the heaven. It’s the best way to describe the beauty of the Baroque garden. Despite exotic plants (different varieties of citruses, hibiscus, enormous oleander bushes) that thanks to particular microclimate can grow for the whole year, we admired white peacocks that behaved as real stars, generously showing their grace. There were plenty of them, even sweet peacock babies protected by mothers.
We came back to Stresa hungry and unfortunately after the lunch time. Italians are quite precise regarding meals time and often, even in tourist places, restaurants take a break in guest servicing (generally after 3 pm). Fortunately we managed to fill our bellies with roasted drumsticks, ribs, drinking with lovely cool Corona and after eating we went for a walk through the town.