Where To Stay In Lake Maggiore, Italy
Some say it’s Italy’s most beautiful lake, some say it’s the ‘Garden of Eden’, and some say if you had a heart and a shirt you would sell your shirt and go visit Lake Maggiore! – Stendhal
So it’s settled then… a Lake Maggiore holiday is on the cards. But what do you need to know before you book? And as the second largest lake in Italy, how on earth do you decide where to stay in Lake Maggiore? Spanning 2 countries, and host to an abundance of gorgeous towns and tourist attractions, it can be quite the conundrum.
Where are the hot spots? What is the prettiest part of Lake Maggiore? Can you visit without a car? Are there any incredible hotels worth splashing out on? Which side of Lake Maggiore is best? Should you stay in the Italian half or the Swiss half? And, is there a better place to stay on Lake Maggiore with kids?
So many questions and so many criteria! So we have endeavoured to break down the data for you and help you choose where to stay on Lake Maggiore.
Ascona, Lake Maggiore
A Bit About Lake Maggiore, Italy
Lago di Maggiore is Italy’s northernmost glacial lake of paradise proportions and it has been stunning its visitors for centuries. And, whilst other Italian lakes like Como and Garda are beautiful in their own right, Lago Maggiore just has that extra sense of style and refinement. But how come?
Well, you only have to spend a short amount of time on Lake Maggiore before you become familiar with the name of the Borromeo family. In fact, one of the lake’s most popular tourist attractions – the Borromean Islands – are still owned by the family.
This well-to-do Tuscan family were exiled from their homes after a revolt in Florence but quickly settled on the shores of Maggiore, buying up anything they could get their hands on. And, being one of Italy’s most noblest families, they proceeded to rebuild their fortune and power over the following centuries. How better to show off one’s importance than to build palaces, castles, gardens, and villas. Lake Maggiore is the Gucci handbag of Mr and Mrs Borromea!
Fast forward to the 17-19th centuries, and Lake Maggiore was a prominent spot on the ‘Grand Tour’ – a coming-of-age trip around Europe for the wealthy elite of Britain in search of the arts and culture. It was also a popular weekend getaway for the wealthy Italian families from the cities. These waters have seen some parties I tell you!
Isola Superiore, one of the Borromean Islands
BUT WHAT ABOUT TODAY?
Well for those in the know, a Lake Maggiore holiday is a quieter alternative to Lake Como and Garda but with equal measure of attractions and arguably prettier. There are far less British and Americans visiting Maggiore, the roads are less mental than Lake Como and you have easy access to Switzerland and other day-trip ventures (including my favourite Italian hidden gem – Lake Orta). So what are you waiting for? Get booking that Lake Maggiore Holiday!
But, how do you decide on the best place to stay on Lake Maggiore??
Lake Maggiore – Where To Stay…
There are all sorts of options for accommodation on Lake Maggiore. You could opt for the Grand Hotels of Stresa which started life in the 19th century for the holidaying elite. Or, you could go for a more smaller boutique-style hotel, often family-run, elsewhere. Unlike Lake Como where many apartment blocks were purpose-built for holidaymakers, Lake Maggiore utilises the buildings that are already there and as a result there are fewer places to stay than Como or Garda. But, this makes the lake more serene and peaceful in our opinion. There are plenty of b&b’s too and an abundance of lakeside villas and apartments.
So, how do you decide on the best places to stay on Lake Maggiore for you? We have broken down the next few sections into advice and recommendations depending on your unique set of circumstances.
WHAT IS THE MAIN TOWN ON LAKE MAGGIORE?
Verbania is the largest town on Lake Maggiore and as such, has the most availability for accommodation. It’s effectively 2 towns in one though – Pallanza and Intra. Pallanza is definitely the prettier of the two but Intra is larger.
Verbania is often labelled the garden on the lake because of its landscaped lakefront and the famous Botanical Gardens at Villa Taranto. But the views across this section of the lake towards the Alps also make it a beautiful place to stay.
There is plenty going on in this lively town including water sports, horse riding, hiking trails and museums. But it’s also a working town with plenty of residents, so if you’re planning to visit Lake Maggiore in the off-season, there are still plenty of hotels and restaurants open in Verbania.
Verbania is nice, but we think there are more appealing towns on Lake Maggiore. However, you will always be able to find accommodation here if you are booking last minute or visiting Lake Maggiore in the winter season.
Historically, Stresa has always been the main holiday town on Lake Maggiore. The Art Nouveau hotels along the waterfront are reminiscent of a bygone age when Stresa was part of the Grand European Tour. It’s quite obvious why this town became the main place to stay on Lake Maggiore, with its close proximity to, and pretty view of, the famous Borromean Islands. It really oozes old-world charm and plus it’s only just over an hour from Milan airport.
Stresa is probably the town where you will find the most amount of Americans and Brits and subsequently will be handed a menu in English wherever you eat in this town. You may see this as unfavourable but some of the pros associated with making Stresa your base are…
- It’s a central location for a lot of main attractions, making it perfect for a short break on Lake Maggiore.
- You are very close to Lake Orta – a beautiful lake we really can’t recommend enough!
- It’s easier to eat out with kids when the menus are in English.
- Lake Maggiore’s great public boat system is very strong in Stresa, making access to all the other towns and attractions a breeze. And, it is the easiest place to pick a private-hire motorboat too if you want to explore the lake on your own.
WHERE TO STAY IN STRESA…
Whilst the British elite might have been glamming it up at the Grand Hotel des Iles a few hundred years ago, today its rooms are a little dated (albeit VERY magestic). We think the posh set would now be booking into the new 5 star Boutique Hotel Stresa. So if £500 a night is your budget then it doesn’t get better than this.
Alternatively, we can personally recommend this 2-bedroom apartment (Appartamento Virgilio) where we once stayed with the family in Spring. It’s beautifully decorated and well equipped which meant we could eat in occasionally and there is a handy supermarket close by for supplies. You’re only a few minutes walk to the waterfront, it’s a lovely neighbourhood and the apartment has free parking. We loved the views from the balconies and one night we had the most epic thunderstorm shows from the huge panoramic windows. And even when the lightning blew out the electrics the owner came and sorted it immediately.
We think Stresa is the perfect place to stay with kids on Lake Maggiore and the two bedrooms and extra sofa bed in the lounge was ideal for our family of 5.
For the best deals at Appartamento Virgilio, click here.
WHERE TO STAY ON LAKE MAGGIORE WITHOUT A CAR
The train network from Milan is very good so if you are wondering where to stay around Lake Maggiore without a car, there are definitely several options.
As we have already mentioned, Stresa has the best ferry/boat links to other towns on Lake Maggiore, including the Borromean Islands, so this is naturally the top choice for most travelling without a car. There are direct trains from Milan Central Station to Stresa on the route to Domodossola.
However, there are also trains from Milan that travel up the east of the lake and we think there are a couple of towns worthy of consideration if you are visiting Lake Maggiore without a car – Laveno and Luino.
From the moment you step off the train in Laveno Mombello you are treated to some of the prettiest views of Lake Maggiore, just a stone’s throw to the water’s edge. And whilst the town mostly attracts day-trippers in search of the famous ‘bucket lift’, we really loved the atmosphere of Laveno on the weekend. This beautiful town has been wooing Milan’s city-dwellers for a very long time and come Friday night it swells with trendy Italians. A spritz at Café Vela with a sunset over the water is always going to tick my box.
There’s a great vibe and a younger feel to Laveno and we loved the choice of restaurants and bars in the evenings.
Laveno is well connected to the rest of Lake Maggiore via the train and ferries and it’s only a 10 minute bus journey to the Santa Caterina del Sasso Monastery, a famous Maggiore landmark.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAVENO…
We like the two-bedroom apartment Ferienwohnung in Laveno because it’s the older, quainter side of the town and only 5 minutes walk from the train station and even closer to the ferries. The apartment is in a modern and striking blue building, it’s well equipped and there’s a lovely balcony to enjoy a glass of wine on. The beds are so comfy too!
We fell in love with Luino on its market day (Wednesday) and it’s become one of our Lake Maggiore bucket list recommendations ever since. But it’s also a great place to stay if you’re visiting Lake Maggiore without a car as the same train line to Laveno Mombello continues up the lake to Luino too. Luino is the perfect place to stay if you have a week or more on Maggiore lake, and if you have plans to visit Switzerland and nearby Lake Lugano by public transport also. It’s not as well connected as the aforementioned Laveno and Stresa, but for the extra effort and the slower pace in this sleepy town, we think it’s worth it. The train terminates in Luino so for any trips planned for further north or east you will need to check with the bus and coach networks.
There’s a tiny historic centre, cobbled streets and a beautiful promenade by the lake. There are also many local hiking options in the nearby lower hills and Alps – just head to the local tourist information office for some maps. You’re also only half an hour by bus to the beautiful Villa Della Porta Bozzolo.
Luino is a working residential town which means that the transport links are good, most places are open all year round and the food… well you can guess just how good it gets if the locals are eating it! And, hotel prices are a little lower than some of the towns on the west side of Lake Maggiore.
WHERE TO STAY IN LUINO
We have had Hotel Camin bookmarked for a long time as it has been recommended to us several times, but most times we have visited Lake Maggiore it has been as a family and an apartment was more suitable. Hotel Camin is a beautiful old villa not far from the water’s edge with frescoed ceilings, stained glass windows, and all the other features of a classical 19th-century hotel. You can eat breakfast and dinner on the lawn if you so desire and by all accounts, the hotel staff are so helpful with travel organisations. I can’t wait to spend a weekend here.
For the best deals at Hotel Camin, click here.
WHERE TO STAY ON LAKE MAGGIORE FOR FOODIES
If you’re the kind of person who plans your whole itinerary around food stops and fabulous restaurants then you will already know that Italy is your kinda place. And, I’m happy to report that a Lake Maggiore holiday is not going to disappoint in this regard.
You’re going to want to visit the Isola dei Pescatori (the fisherman’s island) for some of the freshest fish and seafood dishes on Lake Maggiore. Then there are all the local cheeses, cured meats, honey and local wines to sample. Plus the famous Margheritine di Stresa biscuit, Dolce di Varese cake, and the unique Alborelle fritter – some fried fish in a paper cone that you eat on the go. But is there a town on Lake Maggiore that outranks in the Gastonomique world? Yes.
Locarno and Madonna del Sasso Church
ASCONA – LOCARNO
With Locarno to the north and Ascona to the south of the Maggia River, you get bang for your buck with this double-town at the Swiss end of Lake Maggiore.
Boasting 3 Michelin-starred restaurants (2 with 2 stars!), the town of Locarno is a food-lovers paradise. And whilst your holiday budget might not stretch to eating at all 3 of these prestigious restaurants, the bar has been set high for Locarno and Ascona and it’s not hard to find great food in this area. We had one of the best meals of our holiday at the traditional Grotto Broggini on the outskirts of town – it’s famous for its porcini mushroom risotto but the spare ribs and chicken went down a treat too.
And if you are interested in trying a whole load of the local produce, head to Ristorante Bistrot Stuzzichini for meat and cheese platters and local wines.
The lower town of Ascona is just as busy with great places to eat, especially on the waterside adjacent to the Ascona ferry stop. There are so many great restaurants with incredible views, and a whole host of trendy bars too.
Something you don’t often find in Italy is a variety of cuisines but there is a fabulous Asian restaurant, called ASIA, here that definitely has to be tried. It’s on the Bib Gourmand list (part of the Michelin group) and every day they do a wonderful set menu for lunch.
WHERE TO STAY IN ASCONA
We think the Seven Boutique Hotel would be worth considering – it’s a great location right on the water and near all the best restaurants. There’s also our favourite bar in Ascona just below, Bar Battello, if you fancy a cocktail with views accompanied by live music.
The hotel has been tastefully decorated, combining modern with the old beams and features. Plus the balcony rooms with lake views are well worth the upgrade, although you might find you never leave the room!
For the best rates, click here.
WHERE TO STAY IN LAKE MAGGIORE FOR A ROMANTIC BREAK
Lake Como has Bellagio and Lake Garda has Sirmione, but what about Lake Maggiore? In our opinion, any part of the lake could be the setting of a love story and I’m sure many a bended knee hath raised a proposal here. So, what is the most romantic town on Lake Maggiore?
I think some would say Stresa, for its Grand Hotels, Art Nouveau architecture and old-fashioned holiday vibe, and as we mentioned before the 5 star Boutique Hotel in Stresa’s waterside is a beautifully romantic hotel. It’s also the perfect location for visiting Lake Maggiore’s most romantic place – Isola Bella.
But there would also be another hoard of holiday-makers that would choose the Swiss town of Locarno as the most romantic town on Lake Maggiore. It’s certainly more pristine and manicured than its Italian neighbours and with all the Michelin-level restaurants and waterside bars, it’s a great place to hang out and not do much. But I think what draws most to Locarno for a romantic break are the views, which are particularly special at this end of the lake. The snow-dusted peaks contrasting against the tall Mediterranean palm trees, and the Madonna del Sasso church are just a few of the permanent features that uplift the views from Locarno. And nearby Cimetta, a peak with 360 views, is a fun ride from Locarno on a funicular then some chair-lifts.
WHERE TO STAY IN LOCARNO
Locarno is a large, established town and there are many sizable hotels that have stood for generations. But we’ve found that they are quite soulless and not special enough for a romantic holiday on Lake Garda. However, just a short walk from the centre we have two very special hotels to recommend.
Hotel Belvedere is a south-facing hotel and SPA with the most incredible views down Lake Maggiore. From the minute you enter the lobby, then through into the bar area, you know you are going to be pampered in luxury. The staff are wonderful, as are the chefs in the restaurant. Trust me, you won’t want to leave these unexpectedly beautiful grounds.
For more photos of Hotel Belvedere, click here.
Our other hotel recommendation for Locarno would be the small luxury hotel Villa Orselina, also with a SPA at the top of the town. You will need to take the cable car down to Locarno but that’s right on your doorstep and we think it’s well worth the trip.
Villa Orselina welcomes you with champagne on the terrace and everywhere you go in this hotel, including all of the rooms’ balconies, has birdseye views of both Locarno and Lake Maggiore. It’s one of the most luxurious hotels you will stay in, and their most gracious staff go above and beyond to make your holiday perfect. This hotel isn’t cheap, but it’s a fantastic treat for a romantic break on Lake Maggiore!
For the best deals at Villa Orselina, click here.
WHERE TO STAY ON LAKE MAGGIORE WITH KIDS
There are so many things to do on Lake Maggiore with kids, it’s the perfect place for a family holiday. There are lido’s, water parks, and lake activities. The aforementioned bucket lifts and the famous Alpi-Land. Then there are numerous hiking trails for all levels with the most epic views of the lake. And I don’t know about you but our kids love a good market too. So, it’s fair to say that wherever you stay On Lake Maggiore there is always going to be plenty to do with kids.
Lake Orta and the Lake Maggiore Zipline
That said, it’s definitely worth mentioning that the Swiss end of Lake Maggiore is a tad more expensive than the Italian towns, and when there are kids to pay for it all mounts up!
Anywhere from Stresa up to Cannobio would be a good base to have access to all of these attractions. However, we do have a favourite town…
We think that the town of Cannero Riviera is a great place for a base for all of this family fun. It has its own beach, at the end of a pretty promenade, which has repeatedly won blue flag status. And, unlike its neighbour Cannobio, it’s more sheltered from the lake breezes. Those winds do come in handy for water sports though so it’s ideal that Cannobio is only a 10 minute drive.
Cannero is on the correct side of the lake for an easy trip to Lake Orta, Alpyland, the Lake Maggiore Zipline and hiking in the incredibly beautiful Valley Verzaska. But there is also a ferry to Luino on the other side of the lake for the famous 500 year old market.
We love Cannero, it’s small-town Italian at its finest and you will be warmly welcomed in restaurants and shops.
WHERE TO STAY IN CANNERO
We found the perfect apartment, beautifully decorated with balcony views from most of the rooms. It’s a 4 minute drive to the centre of Cannero in a cute little village called Oggebbio which has all the things you need like fresh bread and coffee. It’s a 15 minute walk to a little lido and lakeside bar but realistically you will be driving to most of the family-friendly tourist attractions in Lake Maggiore so it’s the perfect location and not too far from anywhere.
For the best deals at Apartment Cadebei, Oggebbio, click here.
And if you are planning a family holiday to Lake Maggiore, make sure you check out our other article…
So there you have it – our Lake Maggiore ‘Best Places To Stay’ list, whether you are looking for a family holiday, a romantic break or one where you can leave the car at home. It’s the most fabulous area of Italy and we know you are just going to love Lake Maggiore!
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