Travel Guide to Lago Maggiore, Italy

Wow, I’m like REALLY behind on my posting here.. New job, new dog – you know how it goes ;-).  But seriously, not cool, and thanks for sticking around! I have this post in draft since returning from our Honeymoon almost a year ago (August 26 – September 3), so it’s about time I’d finish writing & publishing it. Pics from our honeymoon are on Facebook.

Similar to my Beginners Guide to Prague post, this one will follow the same format – general information, the schedule, tips and best practices. Each day’s title links to a Google Maps route, so you’ll have a better understanding of distances/times. If you have comments or suggestions, don’t be shy – share away, here on tweet me @dvirreznik.

The view from our room @ Hotel Astoria Stresa

The view from our room @ Hotel Astoria Stresa

General Information

When traveling to any country you have two options:

  • Stay at one place and take day trips – the relaxed option
  • Plan a course and drive, sleeping at different city every night.

Being on our honeymoon, we preferred the more relaxed format, taking daily trips to the major attractions in Northern Italy. Lago di Como, Lago di Maggiore and Lago di Garda are the three biggest lakes in northern Italy and we opted for Lake Maggiore and the town of Stresa as our honeymoon location. There’s plenty to do in the area, all within a day’s drive, even visiting Como – although we didn’t see George there. We pre-ordered our car (Hertz) in Israel, and even got ‘a honeymoon upgrade’ – from Ford Focus (Group D) to Mercedes SLK200 (Group W6)!

On the water, literally @ lake Como

On the water, literally @ lake Como

Communication-wise, it was before my Onavo days, so we had two phones: Nokia E72 with an Israeli SIM (texting, incoming calls) and a Samsung/Android with pre-paid Italian SIM for data and outgoing calls. The SIM was about 15 Euro, 250MB data and 200min calls – but remember to have your passport with you when purchasing it.

We also brought with us a Mio C320 Car GPS – which was probably one of the best decisions we did. You have no idea how easy it is to drive in a foreign country with those devices, not getting lost even once, and at times using it for in-city navigation, before buying the Italian SIM and launching Google Maps on our Android phone.

Wife and I have a rule – we’re NOT eating in fast food places when we travel (at home either), so supermarkets were our first or second stop of the day. Picking up 6-pack of 1.5l water bottles, fruits, bread, sliced salmon or salami, snacks – and off we went. We ended up doing spontaneous picnics in gorgeous places.


Day 1

Sforzesco Castle, Milano

Sforzesco Castle, Milano

Landing in Milano Malpensa Airport late AM, we drove to Milano for a short visit, an hour’s drive. Milan Cathedral, Piazza del Duomo, Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II, Sforzesco Castle were among the places we visited – definitely worth staying more, if you can spare it. Around 4/5PM we entered Hotel Astoria (recommended hotel) to the GPS and drove away.

Arriving around 9pm, hungry, decided to go to the center, 5min walk, grab something to eat. You remember our wedding in NYC back in 2010, at City Hall, where we grabbed someone we saw at the hall? Guess who was dining next to us, in Stresa, Italy? Joelle (aka our witness) and her husband!! What are the odds..

Tip: if you’re visiting Milano with a car, make sure to have change for the parking meter. Wouldn’t want to get a ticket on the very first day.

Day 2

Day 2 was dedicated to Stresa and the small garden islands in Lake Maggiore: Isola Bella, Isola Borromeo and Isola Madre. It was a bit cloudy, so we postponed the Stresa-Mottarone Funivia to a brighter day, and did a relaxed day in the city and boat ride to two of the three islands.

Tip: Isola Bella, ‘The Beautiful Island’, is a P-E-R-F-E-C-T location for a picnic. Get what you need before boarding the boat, make sure you bring wine and plenty of water.

Day 3

At the bottom of Cascata del Toce @ Formazza

At the bottom of Cascata del Toce @ Formazza

If you’re into hiking, make sure you pin Cascata del Toce (Val Formazza). This waterfall, ‘The Most Beautiful, the most powerful among the waterfalls of the Alps’, is the highest in Italy and 2nd highest in Europe – a must-see sight! It will take you 2.5 hours to get there (BTW – perfect road for a sporty little roadster like SLK200 Kompressor!), plus another 3 hours to walk down (and back up) the 143m fall to the base. Cascata del Toce is open June till September, but ask your hotel concierge to verify opening hours.

Tip: Before arriving, stop at a local store, get some food, wine, have a picnic at the bottom of the fall. We even had a 30min nap before climbing back up.

Day 4

For day 4 we decided to drive to Lake Como and visit the cities of Como and Bellagio. Lake Como is like a upside ‘Y’, with the city of Como situated on the western leg, Bellagio right in the center. The drive to Como takes about 2 hours, highway most of the way, very easy. When arriving to Como, we were even more pleased for opting to stay at Stresa – Como has become to ‘touristy’, lots of people, noise, promenade was under renovation work – which meant the hotels on the first line suffered the most. After a short walk + lunch (again, supermarket and picnic on the promenade), we drove north, towards Bellagio. From Bellagio you take a ferry boat to Mennagio, where we ate dinner at a local restaurant before heading back to Stresa.

Tip: Dedicate a few hours to visit 2-3 of Lake Como Villas, such as Villa Carlotta and Villa d’Este.

Bellagio, Lago di Como

Bellagio, Lago di Como

Day 5

Lake Maggiore is mostly Italian, but if you drive north along the shore, you’ll reach Switzerland in an hour. We dedicated the day to visit the Swiss cities of Locarno and Lugano, and before crossing the border stopped at Cannero Riviera, a European summer resort, very popular with the Nordic guys and gals. Good thing Hertz upgraded us to SLK200 – we felt a bit more at home arriving to Locarno and especially Lugano – Ferrari, Bentley and Porsche are a common sighting, fitting the wealthy population of those cities.

Tip: Head back to Stresa due south and stop at Campione d’Italia, an Italian municipality that is separated from Italy, located at the Swiss Lake Lugano. Beautiful little place, especially at dawn. Perfect for a short Italian coffee before hitting the road.

Locarno, Lake Maggiore, Switzerland

Locarno, Lake Maggiore, Switzerland

That’s about it. Overall we had 8 days of pure fun and relaxation. We could have driven to Venice and spend the night there, but decided against it eventually. Waking up each day to those deep blues of Lago di Maggiore was really all we needed.

3 Responses to “Travel Guide to Lago Maggiore, Italy”

  1. 1 Vitor Pereira July 30, 2011 at 22:43

    Great write up! Keeping it in my travel bookmarks.

  2. 2 Dag Kvello July 31, 2011 at 21:40

    I love the Lago Magiore region, allthough i prefer living out of Locarno on the Swiss side.

    Many summers as a child/teen was spent there.

    Dag Kvello
    Oslo, Norway

  3. 3 Dvir Reznik July 31, 2011 at 23:01

    Thanks guys, appreciate the feedback!

    Lovely area, wish we could go there every year.

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