Lake Maggiore – Borromean Islands and Stresa

18-08-18

It was gutting to leave the beauty of Como without having bumped into George Clooney at his villa, but we did so with our sights set on Lake Maggiore. This would complete our trio of Italian lakes.

Even though we gave ourselves five days in each location we only scratched the surface in terms of exploration. You could spend weeks just touring and enjoying the lakes and still not see everything, but this trip has definitely whet our appetites for a return holiday. It’s been great to limit our driving by slowing down and relaxing in each place.

It took about two hours to drive west along some more shockingly bad roads to our new campsite in Baveno which is situated in the west shore of the lake. Thankfully we pre-booked and took one of the last pitches available. We set up and then went for a wander into town.

Baveno is a pretty little town framed by a long promenade with gorgeous flower beds.

With just a few restaurants, a classic piazza and church and a little dock for tourist boat trips, it’s a perfect base for exploring. We found a cute street side cafe for a drink whilst we watched local kids running and jumping off the harbour walls. They were having an absolute ball and were so carefree. We both remarked on what a great childhood you’d have living here with amazing scenery, awesome weather and the tastiest food. We made a quick pitstop on the way home for yet another gelato.

We’ve had to start rationing ourselves because the ice cream here is so damn tasty with out of this world flavours.

The next day we packed a picnic for our day trip to the Borromean Islands located just a couple of km from Baveno. We caught the ferry to Isola Bella and it’s star attraction palace was our first stop. Palazzo Borromeo was built in the 17th century and occupies 75% of the island. Napoleon famously stayed at the villa with his wife in 1797 and the music room was host to diplomatic meetings with the prime ministers of France, England and Italy in 1935.

Neither of us had particularly high expectations of the Villa interior, suspecting it would resemble a stuffy and staid stately Home but we loved it. It was light and airy and sumptuously decorated.

Most rooms had full length windows offering incredible views across the lake. The graceful ballroom was a particular fave of mine with powder blue and gold accents.

On our way out to the gardens we were led through the ‘summer grottoes’ which were stunning. They are effectively underground basements adorned with shells, pebbles and statues in the most gorgeous of patterns.

The gardens absolutely blew us away. Perfectly preened flower beds bursting with vibrant colours and white peacocks roaming around the immaculate grounds.

The grass was the greenest we’ve seen and had the texture of a plush carpet and the box hedges were trimmed to perfection.

The focal point of the gardens was a ten tiered terrace at the back of the property with roses and climbers dripping down each level.

Statues adorned each level with an epic unicorn at the top….how did they know?! With the sun beating down and illuminating the grounds in amazing colour it felt perfect.

We left Isola Bella and hopped on a ferry to nearby Stresa. A larger town than Baveno, Stresa boasts stunning lakeside villas and grand Belle Epoque hotels. It has a prevailing air of elegance and bygone decadence that we found charming. We found a great spot to eat our lunch and then strolled along the shore line, gawping at the luxury hotels that got more elaborate and lavish as we went along. Some of them had exclusive swimming pools and bars and we saw a wedding party complete with personal security and butlers.

We had a quick pit stop to load up on cake and coffee (well we needed to keep our strength up), before our final stop at Isola dei Pescatori. With a permanent population of just 50, the ‘fisherman’s island’ is tiny but beautiful. We walked around it in about 10 minutes and loved it’s pretty, colourful houses and charming restaurants.

There were fishing nets put out to dry and Shabby little boats bobbing on the front. We stopped for a cold drink and a few games of uno at a little bar with amazing views across the lake. As if that weren’t perfect enough we found a gorgeous sleepy cat to fawn over.

We wearily returned to Baveno in the late afternoon on the ferry in wonderful golden light having had an incredible day.

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