INSIDER TIPS: LAKE MAGGIORE GUIDE

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Leonardo Bongiorno, son of Mike, tells us all about Lake Maggiore, where his family owns a beautiful villa: a guide of the area full of restaurants, hotels and shops he likes and he usually goes to, for a trip faraway from touristic routes 

WHAT TO VISIT AND WHAT TO DO

Villa Pallavicino Botanic Park (Via Sempione Sud, 8, 38838 Stresa (VB), tel. 0323 31533)

Stresa is a graceful town lying on the lake’s bank that you absolutely need to visit, and what you really cannot miss is the botanic park of Villa Pallavicino, extended on more than 20 hectares, that hosts a zoological garden with more than 40 species of exotic animals. The villa is not visitable inside but from its terrace you can admire a great panorama on the lake.

Borromeo Islands

There are 3 Borromeo islands, the ‘Isola Madre’, the ‘Isola dei Pescatori’ and the ‘Isola Bella’. The best way to admire them in all their splendor is to hire a boat at the Stresa pier and have a ride around them. The ‘Isola Madre’ has only a palace and a church and it’s not open every day, so you might admire it just from the lake. Contrariwise you shall have a walk on the ‘isola dei Pescatori’ and have lunch in one of the many restaurants (we suggest Hotel Verbano). But what you cannot miss is the ‘Isola Bella’ where the stunning palace and the fairy gardens are definitely a must. Such a beautiful thing, even in Italy, is not easy to find.

Lake d’Orta

The small Lake d’Orta, with the St. Julius island in its center, could be a valid excursion from Lake Maggiore. Orta San Giulio, Omegna and many other characteristic villages constellate its banks. This lake is considered Europe’s cleanest one and there are many beach facilities all around it.

San Carlo Borromeo Statue (Piazzale San Carlo, 28041 Arona (NO))

Built in the ‘600 in honor of St. Carlo Borromeo, archbishop of Milan, it has been for centuries the highest statue in the world. Nowadays, it’s the second highest after the Liberty Statue of New York. The colosso is linked to the center of Arona (that you must see) by an electric and very panoramic little train.

Santa Caterina Hermitage (Via Santa Caterina, 13, 21038 Leggiuno (VA), Italia)

Ecclesiastical hermitage perched on the rock of the Lombardy shore of the lake. You can visit the hermitage together with the Borromeo islands because it’s also reachable by boat. The place gives a sensational peace and the time seems to have stopped to when it was inhabited by monks and it was off to the public. It’s better to go during weekdays because it’s less crowded and the less people there are, the more you can get the true essence of the monastery.

Cannobio 

Cannobio is a pleasant village located few kilometers away from the Switzerland border. Walking through its narrow streets you can find beautiful medieval palaces, and a couple of beautiful churches. While getting here you have to stop to admire the Cannero castle, a half submerged castle that is one of the most panoramic spots in the entire area. Have lunch at the Grottino Scurone, where you can taste good typical food and you can buy genuine local products. 

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Castello dal Pozzo (Via Visconti 8, 28040 Oleggio Castello (NO) – Tel +39032253713)

A period residence opened to visitors that can stay here overnight. The gothic revival-style castle has a very charming allure, while the palace, close to the castle, has a more contemporary interior design. The view on the lake is magnificent and they say that even the restaurant is pretty good. For those who want to stay in one of the most charming properties on the lake, feeling more like a guest of the dal Pozzo family.

Grand hotel des Iles Borromees (Corso Umberto I, 67, Stresa, (VB) Tel. 0323 938938)

During the 150 years of its history, many highly important personalities, from Russian tsarinas to Hollywood stars, have passed by this hotel, and the guest books can easily prove the fact. Inside the hotel you breath the gloomy but sweet atmosphere of many Grand Hotels, that nowadays are disappearing. Staying here you will feel as an 19th century grand tour traveller.

Villa Camilla (Stresa, www.villacamillacollection.com)

A luxury modern villa with 5 star hotel services on the hills behind Stresa. From the infinity pool you admire wonderful sunsets on the Lake Maggiore. In order to stay here you need to rent the entire villa, with 4 suites, a grand living space and a curated garden. On demand there is the possibility to arrange a private chef, transfers from/to airport and excursions in the area. Usually the minimum renting period is one week, but in certain seasons of the year you can rent the villa even for a few days. For those who really care of privacy!

Hotel Villa Crespi (Via G.Fava, 18 – 28016, Orta San Giulio, (NO), Tel +39 0322 911902)

This hotel is not located on the Lake Maggiore, but on the close and smaller Lake d’Orta, a place that anyway is worth a visit. The villa, inspired to buildings in Baghdad, was built in the end of the 19th century. Nowadays the structure is part of the Relais and Chateau hotels chain. The spa of the hotel is one of the best and the entire hotel is a sort of beauty farm where to rest and relax. Probably the most stunning architecture in the area. 

WHERE TO EAT

Ristorante Piccolo Lago (Via Filippo Turati, 87, 28924 – Verbania (VB) TEL.0323.589762)

This is one of the best restaurants of the area and the two Michelin stars prove it. It has a great view on the small but scenic Mergozzo Lake, just behind Lake Maggiore. The tasting menus (5, 8 or 11 courses) are sensational. This restaurant has one eat-in-kitchen table where guests can have dinner while observing the chef cooking his delights and explaining their story.  

Ristorante La Rampolina (Via per Someraro, 13, 28838 – Campino di Stresa (VB), Tel. 0323 923)

This traditional and cozy tavern offers typical plates from Piedmont region and a good pizza. Ingredients are fresh and organic. Meet is the specialty of the restaurant and the view on Lake Maggiore is great. During summer it’s one of the coolest places in the area.

Ristorante Via Roma (via Roma 19, 28921, Verbania (VB), Tel. 0323.402759)

Only locals know this simple tavern with a good and genuine meet and fish cuisine. The restaurant is located in the very center of Intra, a picturesque town on the lake’s bank. Good value for money.

Ristorante Hotel Verbano (via Ugo Ara 2, Isola dei Pescatori, 28838, Stresa (VB) Tel. 0323 30408)

This is one of the most suggestive restaurants on the entire lake’s area. The place has an enviable history owing to the fact that in the hotel, where the restaurant belongs, many prominent figures have stayed in the last hundreds years (from Alessandro Manzoni to Queen Elizabeth). The place is simple but very graceful. At night, the only way to get to the restaurant is by taxi boat from Stresa (during the day there’s also a ferry service). You might book the taxi boat in advance. You arrive on the fisher’s island and to this restaurant that overlooks the stunning building of the Isola Bella, entirely lit at night. The cuisine offers lake fish, meet and local specialties. Absolutely to try.

Il Battipalo (Via V. Veneto, 2
Lesa sul Lago Maggiore, Tel +39 0322 76069
, Cell +39 366 3901901)

Delicious restaurant overlooking the lake. Food is extremely good (both meet and fish) and the price is worth the quality. Cheerful design location. Perfect both for lunch and dinner.

Osteria da Drè (Via Pertossi, 21, Arona, tel. 0322 47908)

Small and cozy restaurant with an artistic touch. The cuisine is simple, traditional and good. It’s located in a very quite and calm area at walking distance from the lake view promenade: a good compromise.

Hostaria la Speranza (via della Cartiera 11, 28040, Lesa, NO, tel. 0322 77803)

Fabrizia, the owner of this restaurant, welcomes you as if she was in her house and, in fact, the place seems more like a British country house than an Italian restaurant. A selection of very refined starters and few plates to follow (both meet and fish). Everything is good and home made, from the pasta to the ice cream. And the bill is more than fine. A place to taste!!

Ristorante il Clandestino (Via Rosmini, 5, Stresa (VB), tel. +39 0323 30399, cel. +39 338 2050700)

Good fish restaurant. The atmosphere is very familiar and the location is cozy. It’s not cheap but the quality and the freshness of the food fully justifies it.

NIGHTLIFE

Bar Malmosto (Piazza S. Rocco 6, Verbania, (VB))

The attire of this bar is very eclectic with a smart lighting. The bar tender won in 2014 the ‘Best Italian Bar Tender of the year’ prize so we can easily say cocktails are everything but bad.

Caffè della Sera (Corso Gugliermo Marconi 87, Arona, NO)

This Bar, where you can also have something to eat, is located on the Arona promenade. In this area there are quite many bars but this is the most renowned for its cocktails. In the spring and summer weekends this place is full of young people with a party atmosphere.

Discoteca La Rocca (via Verbano 2, Arona, (NO), Tel 0322.48051)

La Rocca is a club born from the conversion of a big old house overlooking the lake into a nightclub. It’s one of the most known club of north of Italy. Three floors with different music and many famous guest djs. During the beautiful season you can enjoy the garden dance floor with the night lake scene in front of you. Owing to the crowd of the weekends it’s suggested to book a table in advance.

WHAT TO BUY

Regarding fashion, handicraft or art, in this area there’s not much to shop. But what somebody visiting should carry back home are the typical treats of the area. Here’s a short list of good food stores.

La Casera (Piazza Ranzoni, 19, 28921 Verbania VB, tel. 0323 581123)

Specialized in cheeses: here you can find every sort of cow, goat, sheep or hoax cheese. They also do a very tasty own cheese production.

Bar Gigi (Corso Italia, 30, 28838 Stresa VB, 0323 30225)

This bar in Stresa is very renowned for the ‘margherite’, typical shortbread sweets that they sell both fresh or packaged.

Salumeria Bianchetti (Via Mazzini, 1, Stresa VB, tel. 0323 30402)

Heritage shop where you can buy salami, pastas, cheese and sauces: everything local and high quality.

La Chocolaterie des iles (Via Cavour, 3, 28838 Stresa VB, tel. 347 692 9290)

Chocolate shop: very famous for the nuts chocolate and for the typical Piedmont gianduja that they directly produce.

Guide by Leonardo Bongiorno

Words by Federico Sigali

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