As I mentioned in my previous post, there is plenty to see on lake Maggiore. A fun thing to do if you want to explore the lake itself is to go on an island hopping tour of the Borromeo Islands (Isole Borromeo). They belong to the aristocratic family Borromeo which controlled good part of the area in the XIV-XV centuries.
There are 3 islands:
The biggest one, with vast gardens you can explore, as well as the old palace which is very beautiful, complete with the typical ostentatious gold and red velvet that they loved back in the day. There is not too much else on the island, but it’s fun to visit.
As per its name, it is considered the prettiest of the Borromeo islands, given its magnificent well kept and quite ostentatious gardens, full of beautiful flowers and statues. Many of the princes and princesses got married here given its stunning location.
Here you can find rare white peacocks roaming free (and making weird noises), as well as visit the palace and soak in the views.
By far my favourite of the three Borromeo Islands, Isola Pescatori (the Fisherman’s Island) is to me the most authentic. More discrete and rustic, this is the only island that is fully inhabited, where the children go to school by boat/ferry to reach the mainland and whose parents are mostly fisherman or restaurant owners.
Here you can eat some excellent fish and then wander down the cute cobbled streets to discover little artefact and souvenir shops selling many local products. I feel 100% in Italy when I venture around these tiny streets, most of which then lead to the water since the island itself is very small.
And if you’re in the area, it may be included in the Island Hopping package, but if not be sure to stop at Santa Caterina del Sasso – an incredible hermitage from the 14th century with beautiful frescos on the ceilings. The views there are beautiful and it’s so peaceful!
Legend says that a merchant back in the 12th century got thrown overboard during a terrible storm, made an oath to Santa Caterina of Alessandria that if he made it to land alive, he would dedicate his life to prayer in a cave on the coast. Well, as you can see below, he made it! And had this stunning monastery built 🙂