Lake Maggiore is a great base to pick for a holiday by the Italian Lakes, as it is less well-known than Garda and Como and so has plenty of secrets for you to uncover. Among its most popular sights are the Borromean Islands. Read on to learn more.
An aristocratic past
The Borromean Islands take their name from the family of aristocrats that owned them during the 16th and 17th centuries. They treated the three isles almost like a renovation project, albeit one of epic proportions.
In order to transform the rocky isles, the best architects and botanists in the region were summoned to give them a total makeover. They shipped soil over to plant beautiful botanical gardens, and built ornate palaces that were lapped at by the water.
Each of the islands has its own atmosphere, which is why it's worth visiting them all. You can reach them by setting off from the town of Stresa, which was a quiet fishing community until the Borromean family took over and gave it a more aristocratic air.
This is the jewel in the Borromean crown. Once it was nothing more than a large rock, but today it is home to a lavish palace and lush, landscaped gardens.
The project was first embarked on in 1630 by Charles Borromeo and it took 40 years to complete. Look closely as you approach and you may see the buildings and gardens together form an almost ship-like shape, which was the intention of the architects.
Lombard Baroque is the major style of the four-storey palace and within its walls is a ballroom, music room and tapestry hall, which is adorned with stunning 16th century Flemish wall hangings.
If you have green fingers, visiting this spot is likely to be your idea of paradise. Once an uninhabitable rock, today it is a 20-acre park boasting gardens of all different styles. There are English lawns sitting among tall trees and rare and exotic flowers also bloom thanks to the pleasant climate.
Count Vitaliano IX Borromeo was a particularly keen gardener and collected cuttings of plants during his travels. He wanted a home for his collection and Madre offered a solution, so taking a stroll through here is like walking in numerous landscapes all over the world.
As well as exotic flora, there is also wildlife to be seen, including strutting peacocks and chattering parrots. In addition, there is a palace that today has been transformed into a museum.
Isola dei Pescatori
Although it is the smallest of the three islands, Isola dei Pescatori is also the only one that is inhabited. The clue to this is obvious from its name, which translates as Island of the Fishermen in English.
Indeed, this has long been a popular fishing village and continues to be home to a thriving community who spend their days on the water. The village takes up virtually the whole isle, which is so small it is possible to walk around it in the space of an hour.
You should also leave time to navigate your way along the narrow cobbled roads and pleasant backstreets, which are home to a surprising number of restaurants. If you're looking for some top seafood, this is the place to come and you will be able to tuck into it in decadent surroundings, as the eateries are all known for being particularly chic.