For hours travelling the greenly blue waters of Lake Maggiore, above us the slightly cloudy sky, at the shore villages and landscapes passing. With every stop the village come close to discover. Those who want to take the time can go visit and join another boat later during the day. Doubtless the best way to get to know Lake Maggiore is a boat tour with “Lago Maggiore Express”. During the round tour one travels all the lake by boat and combines this with the neighboring valleys – the perfect combination.
On the on-day-version of the roundtrip you will enjoy the boat and train ride. The two-day alternative leaves times for flying visits of selected villages and towns on the tour.
We started our trip in Stresa at the lovely Borromean Gulf with the enchanting Borromean islands right under our nose. You can join the tour at every other stop at the lake such as Arona, Baveno, Pallanza, Intra, Cannobio. Thus, you can plan your itinerary absolutely individually.
The boat is spacious with two large sun decks (sun protection!) allowing an unhindered view onto lake, sky and mountains. There are side decks with seats in the shade and an ample bar inside. I feel ready to go on a long river cruise – from my comfortable seat I would see exotic places pass by with the option to debark anytime.
We traverse the Borromean gulf and approach Pallanza, then we circumnavigate what is Verbania peninsula passing Intra. Now we go north up to Locarno the Swiss town.
The sun is burning and sight is hazy. I wished, the English tourists would leave on their outerwear, in vain. I escape inside, where the bar is empty and cooler to look at the historic photos on display. Reach the islands only by rowboat, Lake Maggiore without the noise of motorboat engines – makes me want to embark on a time travel. A quarter past twelve lunch begins. We have a reservation and paid cash after we embarked. The sun got me hungry.
Brissago Islands and Swiss border
Then the Cannero castle ruins emerge, where one could jump through window directly into the lake. The next village is Cannobio, a contemplative townlet with a famous market and the last station before the Swiss border. We wonder if is would be possible to spot the border in the landscape somehow. The border would be invisible, but could maybe distinguish a building at the shore, directly on the border. Soon after the Brissago islands emerge, they are situated already in Switzerland.
At the latest when we approach Ascona the difference becomes obvious: the buildings differ. Italian houses are seemingly archaic, classic dwellings. In contrast the Swiss houses are modern holiday domiciles with large windows and a balcony, coercively.
We debark in Locarno. The town with its 15.000 inhabitants with its 2,300 sun hours is the warmest place in Switzerland. During summer its main piazza hosts open air concert events such as the Moon and Stars Festival (Link). Every year the Golden Leopard, Pardo d’Oro is awarded during the Locarno Film Festival. Its surrounding valleys invite to hikes though woods with chestnuts, along streams followed by a stop for a glass of wine in a grotto. In Locarno we board the Centovalli Bahn (Centovalli Railway) which will bring us to Domodossola.
Countless canyons, high bridges und deep down in its stony river bed Malezza rushes by – Centovalli, the valley of hundred valleys appeals to its visitors. The train trip is possible because of the Centovalli train, opened in 1923 with its 79(!) bridges and 24 tunnels. The railway was initially supposed to revitalise the valley, after its giddiness-free youngsters had left it in search of better livelihood – and yet made it even more easier to leave the place.
Today the Centovalli Bahn skirts the mountain and valley-addicted along vineyards and chestnut woods from Locarno to Domodossola. Having taken the Centovalli Railway finally completes my picture of Lake Maggiore in one day: I saw all of the lake and one of its surrounding valleys. This combination has always been fascinating visitors.
Tip: Photographers in search for spectacular views should go for a seat on the left in driving direction. Try to take your seat 15 minutes before the trains leaves to still find a good one.
Domodossola (18,400 inhabitants) is a beautiful town of Roman origin combining Alpine with a southern flair. Situated at the river Toce in the centre of the Ossola valleys the town gained strategic importance lying on the pass road to Simplon pass across the Alps (built by Napoleon in 1805). For 40 days in 1944 Domodossola was the capital of the Partisan-found Ossola Republic.
In Domodossola we experience the disadvantage of the on-day-trip. We have only 10 minutes to buy delicious cheeses and salami on the market before our train back to Stresa leaves.
Tips for Lake Maggiore Fans
- Timetables are available for every stop on the roundtrip – displaying the arrivals and departures from your starting point
- Reserve your lunch on the boat by phone (you pay in cash upon arrival on the boat)
- Take your passport (even though you will most likely not need it, as Switzerland and Italy both are members to Schengen agreement)
- Bring a jacket or sweater to be prepared for a weather change (frequent in the mountains)
PS: I am not linking to the website of Lago Maggiore Express as my computer has been infected by a Trojaner from this website today?! So, go there only with your virus definitions updated. 🙁