Finally a great dream has come true! After I don't know how many years I was trying to organize myself to go and visit these beautiful ones islands of Lake Maggiore I finally did it !!! I took advantage of a beautiful sunny spring day to take a trip outside the city to discover theIsola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Bella. From Milan it is very feasible in a day and it is absolutely worth it!
The islands are named after the Borromeo family, originally from San Miniato in Tuscany but later became a powerful family of feudal lords of the area, who acquired the three islands in the XNUMXth century and thus began their transformation. Even today the family still owns Isola Bella and Isola Madre (small gossip note, many offspring of the family got married here, for example Eleonora Borromeo and Pierre Casiraghi).
How to get to the Borromean Islands
The closest point to reach the Borromean Islands is the town of Stresa, on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, but there are ferries that also stop there starting from Arona, Angera and Baveno. From Stresa you can take the motorboats that leave from the Molo di Carciano and go around the 3 islands at set times (they stop first at Isola Madre, then Isola dei Pescatori, and finally Isola Bella). You can buy this ticket which is valid for a full day and allows you to get on and off as many times as you want within the hours of 9: 30-18: 00.
By car: from Milan take the Autostrada dei Laghi towards Gravellona Toce, and then exit at Carpugnino. Without traffic it takes about 1 hour and 15.
By train: there is the Milan-Sempione line which stops right in Stresa and the train timetables coincide with the boats
Buy the hop-off ticket for the Borromean Islands - you can get on and off as many times as you want!
When to go to the Borromean Islands
Normally the islands are open every year, every day, from the end of March to the end of October and spring (April-May) is undoubtedly the best time to visit them, when all the plants are at the peak of flowering. For 2021 the opening is being defined on the basis of the updates relating to the COVID emergency. I recommend that you consult the official website or contact the call center 0323.933478 to receive updated information.
How much does it cost to visit Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Bella
Ferry: if you want to visit all 3 islands (and I recommend it!) the cost of the boat is 15 euros per person and includes all routes. You can get off and on as many times as you want during the day, between 9:30 and 18:30. The boats leave every XNUMX minutes.
Entrance to the gardens and Borromeo palaces: the whole Isola Madre is entirely paid (it is not possible to go down to the island without paying), while on Isola Bella you can go down without necessarily visiting the magnificent palace of the Borromeo family and its garden. To visit the palaces and gardens of both islands the cost is 24 euros per person, only Isola Madre 13, 5 euros, only Isola Bella 17 euros. There are also other types of combined tickets that include the Rocca di Angera and the Pallavicino Park (which is also located near Stresa).
What to see in the Borromean Islands (Lake Maggiore)
If you decide to visit all three islands (and I highly recommend it!) The first stop will be theIsland Mother, the largest island of the three and the most important island of Lake Maggiore. On the island there is a sixteenth-century palace immersed in a magnificent English botanical garden which dates back to the end of the 800th century. Thanks to a favorable climate, on the island you will be able to see many exotic plants (including many rare plants, such as the famous Kashmiri cypress) as well as white peacocks, golden pheasants and very funny hens with very white and ruffled feathers. These scenic gardens will steal your heart, especially if you go there in spring (as I did) because you will find all the plants in full bloom. After the relaxing visit of the gardens (from which you can also enjoy a beautiful view of the shores of Lake Maggiore and the other islands) you will then enter to visit the palace. The palazzo it dates back to the 500th century and in all the rooms there are beautiful furnishings that come from several other palaces and estates owned by the Borromeo family. Very particular is the rich collection of antique puppet theaters with which family members and their guests were entertained. The visit of the gardens and the palace takes at least 1 hour and a half, if you want even more. There is also a restaurant and a bar on the island.
Isola dei Pescatori
From Isola Madre you then go toIsola dei Pescatori, That is the only public island of the three and is also the only one permanently inhabited by a small community. What used to be an ancient fishing village today is completely devoted to tourism and is full of restaurants, bars and souvenir or food shops. However, the island is still very pretty and it is perfect for a lunch break before going to Isola Bella. Among the many restaurants I recommend the Verbano restaurant, on the eastern end of the islet (it is the restaurant of the hotel of the same name, see Where to Eat below). From this site you can buy the ticket to reach only the Isola dei Pescatori.
Isola Bella, on the other hand, is famous for its heavenly Italian garden with the Teatro Massimo in the center, made up of ten terraces that form a truncated pyramid adorned with statues and fountains; the scenographic system is of rare beauty !! The garden and the palace were commissioned by Count Vitalino Borromeo in 1650, but it took 4 centuries to transform a rock into the magnificent work that we visit today. The palace it is much more sumptuous than that of Isola Madre, the rooms really look like those of a palace and during the visit you pass through all the historic rooms: the Throne and Queens Room, Napoleon's room (who was a guest here), the Gallery of General Berthier and many others. In hindsight, I regretted not booking the guided tour or taking the audio guide (which I recommend you do instead). In addition to the palace and gardens on the island there is also a small, nice village with some bars, shops and restaurants.
Where to eat in the Borromean Islands (or nearby)
Lunch - Verbano Restaurant (Isola dei Pescatori). It has a magnificent garden terrace where you can eat outside. The food is good and the prices are more than acceptable for the location (full menu around 35 euros). It was recommended to me by several expert friends of the area and it did not disappoint the expectations, quite the contrary! Booking more than recommended if you go on the weekend.
Dinner - Rapanello Restaurant (Lesa). What's better than ending a wonderful day with a nice fish meal in an excellent restaurant? This place was also recommended to me by multiple people and I liked it a lot. It is located in Lena, about ten kilometers south of Stresa, on the lakefront. It is a small restaurant specializing in fish (but it does something else too). It is a classic cuisine revisited by the chef (who is also the owner) and everything is really great, I would not be surprised if sooner or later he gets a Michelin star! The price is around 50-60 euros for a full dinner with wine, etc.