Nestled beneath the Alps in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, the beauty of Lake Maggiore is legendary. Here you’ll find a lakeside getaway filled with flowery villas and gardens, perfect for lazy days of aimless wandering. Boat rides and sunshine are obligatory. Seafood and relaxation mandatory.
Where Italy and Switzerland Meet
Lake Maggiore is a quick escape from Milan’s big city bustle. With its shores straddling both Italy and Switzerland, it’s the perfect transition for travelers, myself included, headed to Switzerland from Italy. I caught a train out of Milano Centrale, and about an hour later the blue waters of Lake Maggiore rushed into view as flowers and lush plant life grew thicker and thicker outside the train windows. I hopped off at Stresa, the main city linking up Milan and Lake Maggiore. As the train roared off on its way to busier places, nothing but quiet settled in all around me.
Italy in the Mist
Just a few minutes from the train station is Lake Maggiore’s stately lakeside promenade. That day there was a light mist enshrouding the lake, casting a magical spell. Since it was off-season, no one was out, although I could imagine busy summer crowds flocking here to stroll along the dreamy promenade under the bulbous lamps. Surely there would be music and dancing too, and a gelato stand or two. But for now, just misty sprinkles, and no tourists—my idea of a perfect retreat.
Hemingway’s Lake Maggiore
The first time Lake Maggiore came onto my radar was when I read Ernest Hemingway’s novel “A Farewell to Arms.” Near the end of the story, which is set on Lake Maggiore during World War I, the main characters flee across the lake in a rowboat under cover of heavy fog from Italy to Switzerland. Since then I’ve been dreaming of this lake, with its famous floating islands offshore. I couldn’t get this image out of my mind as I gazed across the lake, which was getting foggier by the minute.
Old World Hotels
Although “A Farewell to Arms” is fictional, Hemingway did visit Lake Maggiore, where he stayed at the glamorous old world Grand Hotel des Lles Borromees, where today’s guests pay high prices for this distinction. We stayed instead at neighboring Hotel La Palma a couple buildings over. On the top floor is a glass-enclosed deck where businessmen sipped Perrier at the bar, while vacationers soaked in the pool, taking in the endless panoramas. You could see all the neighboring lakeside towns from this vantage point, but front and center were the stars of the show: the Borromeo Islands with their elegant villas and gardens. By twilight the lake was drowning in fog, and all that could be seen were soft twinkling lights in the distance.
Then, like no time had eclipsed at all, I caught the same Milan-Switzerland train that I had arrived on days before, continuing on my way to Switzerland, and leaving Lake Maggiore behind like a foggy dream.