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We traveled to Lake Maggiore, Italy for our most recent vacation and loved it! We had originally planned to stay at Lake Como, however it was almost two hours further for us to drive (those Alps are some tricky road blocks…) and also much more expensive with more difficult to navigate roads from what we found online and in books. Lake Maggiore, or Lago Maggiore to the Italians, was a wonderful choice and I would recommend it highly to anyone who wants to experience the Italian Lakes region.

Borromean Islands from Stresa

Borromean Islands from Stresa

The Driving

We had driven in Northern Italy once prior to this trip and found it to be much more aggressive than in Germany and slightly confusing, however once we got used to it on we really didn’t have many difficulties. Now, that said, if you plan to drive a larger vehicle… like our Honda Minivan, you will learn really quickly just how wide your car is. After a few tight turns the first day I convinced Jeff to just pull in the side mirrors at times which made us about a foot narrower almost… it was a good idea and we came home with both mirrors in tact and not a scratch on our car.

Arizzano

Arizzano

The Parking

I give the parking its own section because it was one of my major concerns heading into this. Our van is not all that wide, and a normal height, but it is long which tends to make European parking spaces a concern plus the fact that often small towns and cities don’t have a lot of parking to start with. However, we found parking to not be a concern at all along Lake Maggiore and the lovely towns we visited. I’m certain that in the busy season it will get very crowded but each town had its own lot near the promenade by the lake as well as other lots throughout the town and at the Ferry terminals. They all seemed reasonably priced and we even found some free parking (white lines) while the spaces with the blue lines mean that you have to pay at a nearby machine. Some towns do have resident only spaces which are yellow or orange in color and have signs.

Suna, Verbania - parking near promenade and lake

Suna, Verbania – parking near promenade and lake

The Towns of the Western Side of Lake Maggiore

We stayed in the town of Arizzano which was a small town up the hill from Verbania/Intra and about 30 minutes from Stresa and 30 minutes from Cannero Riviera. This turned out to be a great location – a nice quiet street to stay on in a beautiful apartment – but restaurants within a 5 minute drive and a small market within a 5 minute walk also. The downtown of Arizzano had very narrow streets and old historic buildings including a beautiful church. There is just something about the churches in Italy, they are just so different and attractive.

Verbania is a large city area that includes several smaller towns; Intra, Suna, Arizzano, Ghiffa and others. There is a very nice and large Coop grocery store in Intra that even has a large parking garage which was quite nice when we first arrived so we could stock up on all the Italian food we needed for the week.

We went to the Market Day in Intra on Saturday as we had heard this was the largest in the area. It was certainly very large – and the main focus was on clothing, handbags and food. We enjoyed the food portion the best, with vendors more than happy to let you sample cheeses and meats we enjoyed quite a bit. The clothing was plentiful if you are looking for that, I didn’t see any name brands that we were familiar with but if you like Italian clothing, this is the place. We did feel a little spoiled because some of the items that are similar to what we would see here in Germany were a little higher priced there.

Market in Intra

Market in Intra

We also found a small market in Vignone, next to Arizzano that we liked better actually. It was very small and was similar to what we would call in Germany a hobbykunstlermarkt. It had several local vendors selling handmade goods and treats. We found some delicious Italian cookies and also christmas ornaments. They were roasting chestnuts over an open fire, literally, which gave the air a wonderful holiday smell!

Market in Vignone

Market in Vignone

Cannero Riviera was another town about 30 minutes closer to the Swiss border from Arizzano that we spent a half day exploring. It is on a small peninsula that sticks out into the lake a little and has what was my favorite promenade area near the ferry dock and beautiful mansions overlooking the lake. I would highly recommend the Restaurante Magnolia. We had lunch there with a beautiful lake view and the nicest staff. We were tired of walking (well, our almost 2 year old was tired of the stroller more like it and didn’t want to hold our hands to walk around) and it was about 30 minutes prior to their official opening but they let us sit and enjoy the view and have a beverage and even brought us snacks before our delicious lunch!

View walking in Cannero Riviera

View walking in Cannero Riviera

On the way back to Arizzano from Cannero Riviera we stopped in Ghiffa at the Sacre Monte. There are a number of these sites in this area of Italy and it is a grouping of historic chapels or churches. It was very pretty and also had nice hiking trails and views of Lake Maggiore.

Lake Mergazzo was also a favorite of ours in the area. It is one of the smallest lakes in the Lakes Region and does not allow motorized boat traffic. This makes it very quiet and beautiful with smaller mountains surrounding it. We had an afternoon snack on the shore of the lake in the town of Mergazzo that was lovely and we would recommend visiting this area as it gives you yet another perspective on this region.

Lake Mergazzo

Lake Mergazzo

One stop I would not recommend in the area, (unless you have a very small car and really enjoy hiking/camping) was the Val Grande National Park. Now, maybe we were not on the right road, I will admit that, but we have checked multiple maps and really believe the road we went on was the only way in. We headed into the park from Lake Maggiore up the road to the town of Cicogna expecting something similar to a National Park in the United States – nice road, good views, parking areas to go hiking and possibly refreshments or maps available. After a terrifying 13 kilometre drive up to the town of Cicogna we found no available parking and no real signs for trail heads or views from that area. The road was no more than 2 meters wide and in many places narrower making passing another car coming towards you impossible and once you get past halfway there are very few areas to pull over if you do come head to head with someone. There were some lovely vistas and views of the waterfalls in the area but we found no real lake views and the drive may have taken a few years off my husband’s life.

Val Grande National Park

Val Grande National Park

(Another of our days was spent at the even more gorgeous Lake Orta. We will be posting a full blog on this lake soon as it is more than worthy of extra attention.)

Lake Maggiore is really as magical as you may read about and made for the perfect Italian Lake Region vacation for our little family!

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Sunset view from our Apartment in Arizzano

 

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Prominade in Cannero Riviera

 

 

 

 

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