Lake Maggiore (Lago Maggiore), Italy

Lake Maggiore / Lago Maggiore,  is a large lake located on the south side of the Alps. It is the second largest lake in Italy and largest lake of the canton of Ticino, Switzerland. Lake Maggiore is the most westerly of the three great pre-alpine lakes of Italy, it extends for about 70 km between Locarno and Arona. The climate is mild in both summer and winter, producing Mediterranean vegetation, with beautiful gardens growing rare and exotic plants. Well-known gardens include those of the Isola Madre, Isola Bella and the Isole di Brissago, that of the Villa Taranto in Verbania, and the Alpinia botanical garden above Stresa.


Lake Maggiore is 68 km long, with a breadth which varies from 3 to 5 km, except at the bay opening westward between Pallanza and Stresa, where this reaches 10 km. It exceeds all the other Italian lakes in length, but in the extent of surface it falls considerably below the Lake Garda. Its mean height above the sea level is 193 metres; but as its depth greatly exceeds that measurement, the bed is almost everywhere considerably below the sea-level, and reaches no less than 179 metres below the sea. Its form is very sinuous, so that there are few points from which any considerable part of its surface can be seen at a single glance. If this lessens the effect of the apparent size, it increases the variety of its scenery. While the upper end is completely alpine in character, the middle region lies between hills of gentler form, and the lower end advances to the verge of the plain of Lombardy.

The lake basin has tectonic-glacial origins and its volume is 37 km³. The lake has a surface area of about 213 km², a maximum length of 54 km and, at its widest, is 12 km. Its main tributaries are the Ticino, the Maggia, the Toce (by which it receives the outflow of Lake Orta) and theTresa (which is the sole emissary of Lake Lugano). The rivers Verzasca, Giona, and Cannobino also flow into the lake. Its outlet is the Ticino which, in turn, joins the river Po just south-east of Pavia. The lake’s jagged banks are surrounded by the Lepontine Alps. The western bank is in Piedmont (provinces of Novara and Province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola) and the eastern in Lombardy (province of Varese), whereas the most northerly section extends thirteen kilometres into the canton of Ticino, where it constitutes its lowest point above sea-level as well as that of Switzerland.


  • Borromean Islands (three islands and two islets located between Verbania to the north and Stresa to the south)
    Isola Bella
    Isola Madre
    Isola dei Pescatori (or Isola Superiore)
    Isolino di San Giovanni (in front of Verbania)
    Scoglio della Malghera (between Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori)
    Brissago Islands (close to Brissago)
    San Pancrazio (or Grande Isola)
    Isolino (or Isola Piccola or Isola di Sant’Apollinare)
    Castelli di Cannero (three small islands just off the shore from Cannero Riviera)
    Isolino Partegora (in the gulf of Angera)

Sacro Monte de Ghiffa

The Sacred Mountain of Ghiffa is a Roman Catholic devotional complex in the comune of Ghiffa, (Piedmont, northern Italy), overlooking the Lake Maggiore. It is one of the nine Sacri Monti of Piedmont and Lombardy, included in UNESCO World Heritage list.

Isola Bella

Isola Bella is one of the Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore in north Italy. The island is situated in the Borromean Gulf 400 meters from the lakeside town of Stresa. Isola Bella is 320 meters long by 400 meters wide and is entirely occupied by the Palazzo Borromeo and its Italianate garden.

Until 1632 the island—known only as l’isola inferiore or isola di sotto—was a rocky crag occupied by a tiny fishing village: but that year Carlo III of the influentialHouse of Borromeo began the construction of a palazzo dedicated to his wife, Isabella D’Adda, from whom the island takes its name. He entrusted the works to theMilanese Angelo Crivelli, who was also to be responsible for the planning the gardens. The works were interrupted around middle of the century when the Duchy of Milan was struck by a devastating outbreak of the plague.

Construction resumed when the island passed to Carlo’s sons, Cardinal Giberto III (1615–1672) and Vitaliano VI (1620–1690); the latter in particular, with the financial backing of his elder brother, entrusted the completion of the works to the Milanese architect Carlo Fontana and turned the villa into a place of sumptuous parties and theatrical events for the nobility of Europe.

The completion of the gardens, however, was left to his nephew Carlo IV (1657–1734). They were inaugurated in 1671.

The island achieved its highest level of social success during the period of Giberto V Borromeo (1751–1837) when guests included Edward Gibbon, Napoleon and his wife Joséphine de Beauharnais, and Caroline of Brunswick, the Princess of Wales. It is said that Caroline, having fallen in love with the place, did her best to convince the Borromeo family to sell her Isola Madre or the Castelli di Cannero islands; her request being turned down, she established herself on the banks of Lake Como at Cernobbio in the Villa d’Este.

Isola Bella is a popular tourist attraction, with a regular ferry service from Stresa, Laveno, Pallanza and Intra. It plays host to the annual Stresa music festival.

Isola dei Pescatori

Isola dei Pescatori (lit. Fishermen’s Island) is an island of Lago Maggiore in northern Italy. As the most northerly of the three principal Borromean Islands it is also known as Isola Superiore and, with a population of about 50, it is the only one to be inhabited all year round. Unlike Isola Bella and Isola Madre, the island no longer belongs to the Borromeo.

The island is about 350 meters long by 100 meters wide. A narrow street running along its spine is joined by cobbled alleys to the promenade which encircles the island. The promenade is frequently flooded and the houses built against it are constructed to allow for this.

While the traditional occupation of fishing still exists—local restaurants providing a ready market for the fish—tourism has become central to the economic life of the island as its picturesque charms have made Isola dei Pescatori a popular destination: particularly for day-trippers but also for more extended visits. In addition to the hotel(s), restaurants and gift-shops there are boutiques selling craft products.

The church of San Vittore (Victor the Moor) retains traces of an ancient chapel which was probably constructed for the monks of Scozzòla (an abbey of San Donato di Sesto Calende founded by Liutardo, bishop of Pavia, in the mid ninth century. The church was previously dedicated to S. Gangolfo (Gangulphus), whose veneration is linked with the Abbey of San Donato.

Isola Madre

Isola Madre, at 220 m wide and 330 m long, is the largest island of the Isole Borromee archipelago which falls within the Italian part of the Alpine Lake Maggiore, in the Province of Verbano Cusio Ossola,Piedmont. The island is occupied by a number of buildings and architectural structures and is especially well-known for its gardens. In the past it was known as Isola di San Vittore and later as Isola Maggiore.

The available historical sources indicate that in the middle of the ninth century the island had a church, a cemetery (whose existence is recalled by the current garden’s so-called scala dei morti, or “Staircase of the Dead”). It is known for certain that olives were cultivated here; the produce may have been employed for sacred purposes.

In 1501 Lancillotto Borromeo, one of the five children of Giovanni III Borromeo and Cleofe Pio di Carpi, introduced the cultivation of citrus fruit to the island, the plants being brought from Liguria, along with a gardener (or hortolano) to tend them. Lancillotto began the construction of the family residence on the island, which in the 1580s was extended in the renaissance style by Renato I Borromeo.

The Palazzo Borromeo was built in the sixteenth century on the remains of the early church, cemetery and perhaps castle of San Vittore (named after the martyr Victor Maurus).

The palace is surrounded by impressive gardens, the Giardini Botanici dell’Isola Madre, covering an area of eight hectares whose construction all’Inglese (in the English style) began in the late eighteenth century on the site of a citrus orchard. Particularly prized is the scala dei morti, or staircase of the dead, which in recent decades has been embellished with an important collection of Wisterias.

The family chapel of 1858 is also noteworthy; by contrast to that of Isola Bella, it contains no tombs or funerary monuments.

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