Visiting the Italian Lakes in the north of the country is sure to provide plenty of romantic, exciting and delicious activities to feast your eyes and your palette.
Garda is the largest, Como is the most famous, personally I am taken by Lago Maggiore - it's sceneries are most picturesque and strikingly beautiful.
With just about 1 hour drive from Milan's airport - it is easily accessible and a sure bet. The lakes area as a whole is suitable for a romantic holiday, an active outdoor holiday as well as a family getaway.
We stayed at Lake Mergozzo, a smaller lake attached to Maggiore.
Check out the beautiful boutique hotel of Casa Della Capra some 15km north of Stresa on Lake Maggiore. It is run by Felipe & Patricia and their gorgeous Margot and even if you don't stay the night, make sure to have dinner at their delicious restaurant.
You can spend anything from a few days to a couple of weeks in this area. The longer you stay and it will allow you to travel further and explore other lakes and mountains around.
Here are a few places not to be missed.
1. Maggiore Riveira & Locarno:
Drive all the way to the north edge of the Maggiore Lake, to the city of Locarno. Don't forget your passport as Locarno is in Switzerland. The scenic lake route is dubbed as the Maggiore Riviera. The narrow road hangs at the edge of the cliffs with nothing but mountain on your left and lake to your right. Not to be missed are the villages of Cannero Riviera and Cannobio. There are plenty of road layovers to stop for photos and I can assure you that no image will be the same.
Locarno is a nice town with an old town centre, Piazza Grande, to visit and stroll around the small street around. To fully enjoy the splendour of this place and the lake drive (or take a bus) the bottom station of the Orselina/ Funivia Cardada.
A cable car ride up the Cardada mountain is sure to give you a breath taking experience even for the hefty ticket price.
The ride up has two stretches, the cable cart and then the stairlift. Spend 10 minutes or a couple of hours, you can also go for a nice walk around and there's a lovely mountain top restaurant at the peak and you can have lunch or a drink on the terrace.
Once we came down, we retuned to Mergozzo by taking the mountain route from Locarno to Domodossola. The winding road over gorges and rocks didn't fail to impress.
2. Stresa and the Borromee Islands:
Stresa is one of the Maggiore lake most busy and chic towns. The town sits right on the shores of the lake opposite the Borromee islands. It has plenty of hotels, restaurants and shopping little streets and provide a perfect point to embark from on a boat ride to see the islands.
The boats leave every 20-30 min and the short 10 minutes cruise will take you to the two main islands, Isola Bella and Isola Superiore (or Isola dei Pescatori). You can spend a good half a day exploring these islands, their small little shops, restaurants and bars. Of course, don't miss the Isola Bella Gardens and the little churches on both. Restaurants specialise in fresh lake fish and seafood so better not bother with other things on the menus...
3. To the top of the Mottarone:
From the lido of Stresa, take the cable cart and stair lift to the top of the Mottarone Mountain. Going up to over 1,400m will gift you with amazing views reaching as far as the Lugano & Varese lakes afar as well as the Maggiore Lake and the Borromee Islands below.
The ride up stops twice, you can come off the first stretch at Alpino and visit Alpinia: The Alpine Botanical Garden. It will surely be a special experience.
At the very top, enjoy a special alpine attraction fun for all ages - Alpyland mountain roller coster.
4. Lago d'Orta & Orta San Giulio:
Just 30 minutes drive through the mountains from Maggiore, sits this special gem, Orta Lake. With it's main village Orta San Giulio and the island baring the same name, this is one of the area's hidden secrets. Just before you turn from the main road to the village centre, don't miss the spectacular Moorish masterpiece that is Villa Crespi, once a private villa of a wealthy merchant and today a luxurious hotel.
5. Other local attractions:
- The cable cart Piana di Vigezzo can be reached from the village of Santa Maria Maggiore. The ride up will take you the 1,700m where there are many hiking and biking routes.
- The Aquadventure water park in Pradera.
- Lago Maggiore Zip line.
- The Vertical Trek (in Valle Anzasca) offers canyoning and abseiling at all levels.