Exploring the lesser known of the Italian Lakes
Our route through Switzerland and the San Bernadino tunnel soon brought us to the shores of Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore. Then came our first mesmerising view of the lake. Ahead, the route took us towards the shore before merging onto a narrow lakeside road.
The Alpine scenery was already beautiful. Before long the mountains plunged towards the water, where reflections glistened in the early evening sunlight. Soon, the first lakeside villages appeared, our route winding along between rows of tightly packed buildings.
Up until now, the lake had still been within Switzerland. Then the border came into sight. We were now crossing and stepping into Italy for the first time ever.
To be honest, we had no idea of the set up for motorhome parking. Except we knew, there was some kind of system called a Sosta.
The shoreline seemed to have a few campsites, but we really wanted to find a place to stop similar to a French Aire. Incredibly, as if by magic, a motorhome Aire sign appeared in the lakeside town of Cannobio.
Following the narrow streets through the lovely town brought us to a proper overnight parking area for motorhome’s, just like you’d see in France. A welcome relief and perfect for our first stop in Italy.
Arriving just in time for an essential Summer alpine storm, our parking place alongside a river became a refuge from the rain.
Several other campervans were parked alongside us. Whilst a dump and fresh water area were a welcome sight. Thank goodness! This was our first Italian motorhome Sosta area, although we did have to pay several Euro’s to park, we were still super pleased.
The following morning, our low supply of rations, meant a dash to the shops before breakfast. The streets of Cannobio beckoned, cobble stones and narrow alleys brought a character charm to this gorgeous town.
A cycle path followed the river in front of us, so out came the bikes to explore a little further. Soon we found ourselves on a lakeside promenade, leading to a large lido area, complete with sun loungers and grassy areas.
This place was simply idyllic. As the cafe-lined frontage of the old town appeared, it was time to lock up the bikes and set about on foot.
Wow, it was so picturesque, but no more so than the views of the Alps surrounding the calm water of the lake. In addition, an abundance of flowers made a colourful backdrop to the old town.
Away from the water amongst charming architecture, the old town oozed character. I think we were already hooked!
After a stroll through the narrow, cobbled streets, it was time for a bite to eat back at the van. Afterwards, we were heading off again on the bikes. This time following the river cycle path inland, towards the incredible gorge and chapel of Orrido di Sant’Anna.
What an absolute gem of a place. By the time we’d reached the end of the cycle track, not only had the river become a beautiful clear swim hole, but above it hung an ancient stone bridge. Below, a narrow gorge tore though the rock, whilst the quaint little chapel, with it’s doors ajar beckoned us inside.
Elderly locals gossiped on the church bench. Greeting us with a nod before carrying on with their chatter under the shade of a large leafy tree.
What a fantastic first day it had been. Last but not least, an amazing introduction to Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore.
After doing a spot of laundry in Cannobio, it was time to move on along the lake towards Baveno. Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore, is the second largest of the Italian lake’s, so this place is big!
We were keen to move onwards but low and behold, after several slow, winding sections of road, the engine warning light lit up. Not only that, but the engine went into limp mode, meaning that we were now crawling along at a snails pace with a huge queue of traffic behind us.
Eventually, we managed to find a safe place to pull over but we just couldn’t get the light to go off. Luckily, we were still covered with Mercedes under the warranty. So, Nigel gave them a call, but thankfully just as he got through to the operator, the actual engine light went back off.
Apparently, all we needed to have done, was take the keys out of the ignition and wait a few minutes. However, no sooner had we driven off again than on came the light and there we were back in slow mo along the winding lakeside road.
So, after a snails pace drive and another phone call back to Mercedes, they suggested limping to our nearest Mercedes garage to get it looked at.
Fortunately for us, there happened to be one in the next town. So after a couple of phone calls back and forth to Mercedes, they arranged for a diagnostic check.
After a quick exchange of hand signals between us and the chirpy Italian chap at the garage, he hopped on board and took us for a spin. His conclusion was that the emission sensor on the exhaust had detected too much emissions. Possibly due to the slow, winding roads preventing the exhaust dispelling the emissions quickly enough.
Anyhow, there was nothing he could do except the usual advice in these sort of situations – wait and see how it goes! Fingers crossed it would behave, otherwise we’d be spending the next couple of months limping round Italy.
So back on the road, the mind soon left the engine issue behind. Instead focusing on our next stop at Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore, Arona.
We passed through the most gorgeous lakeside resort, Stresa but couldn’t find a place to park. It was one of those places that looked and felt really upmarket. Now going by experience. If a place looks super classy, it’s usually not somewhere they want you parked up in a campervan overnight.
So with this in mind, we decided to try and get there another way. Hopefully from our next stop, in the low-key lakeside town of Arona.
Personally, I think this was a super little find. Firstly because we found a perfect overnight Sosta right alongside the lake, not only that, but it was free! Always a super big bonus!
Then, we realised we were just a short walk away from the beautiful town centre. So, off we set on foot to see what it was all about. Quirky cobbled streets and narrow alleys greeted us, as well as a colourful display of umbrella’s hanging overhead. Don’t those just seem to be the thing nowadays?
Whilst pavement cafe’s opened out onto a beautiful lakeside square, the temptation of a couple of Latte for just 3 Euro was too good to miss. What’s more, the boat’s left from the jetty, taking regular trips to various places across the lake, including Stresa.
Well, I can honestly say, there is no better way to see Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore, than by boat! My goodness, this dreamy ride from the top deck of the boat would take some beating.
The heat was intense, the lake resembled a duck pond and the Alps surrounding us sparkled in the midday sun. To top it all, there weren’t even that many people around. As we took a row of front seats in the open air, our view looking across the water brought a sense of calm and gratitude.
Tucking into a bunch of grapes, whilst pretending to be on a luxury cruise liner, we wallowed in our 24 Euro ride. Only a couple of other people occupied the deck. One couple caught my eye, as they sipped wine from a bottle of Prosseco. Need I say more to sum up the atmosphere here.
Through the water we glided, happily taking in the surroundings. The towns and villages adorning the water’s edge seemed to cling to the backdrop of the mountains. At the same time, the picturesque architecture almost called out to us for a photo opportunity.
It was a perfect way to see a few different towns on the lake, as the boat stopped at different points. Acting as a leisurely cruise as well as a functional ferry.
Stepping off the boat at the little dock in Stresa came as a bit of a disappointment. Not that there was anything wrong with Stresa, but I just loved the boat, so much so, I could have happily sailed around all day!
Never mind, we still had the return to look forward to, in the meantime, Stresa called! Unfortunately, often when a place is super gorgeous, everyone knows about it, so the coach loads arrive! Yes, Stresa is no different as we were about to find out.
What a difference a few miles along the lake had made. Gone were the locals spending lazy days under shady trees and instead we’d arrived in tourist land! Maybe I’m being a bit mean-spirited, but Stresa was packed out with tourists, mostly American’s and plenty of English accents.
First we headed for the beautiful, flower-lined promenade. Before long the effortlessly elegant facades and manicured lawns of plush hotels were upon us. Outside on the most comfy looking sun-loungers, guests lay sipping cocktails at two in the afternoon. Now that’s my kind of hotel!
We stuck to the lakeside prom. Stopping by a fabulous statue of a life-size horse, stood in time against the most amazing views. The flowers alone along this stretch were enough to compete with the finest resorts in Europe.
Finally it was time to check out the town centre and get mingling with the masses! Those narrow cobbled streets beckoned, now all too familiar in this part of Italy.
Here we found pavement cafe’s which spilled out into a small square, Whilst the clear water of an ornate fountain flowed through the centre.
It has to be said that Italy is certainly one of the most romantic country’s on earth. Although tourist shops selling everything from local Limoncello to biscuits, wines and geleto was all a bit much. Stresa, although beautiful was certainly a bit too much of a tourist hot spot for us.
After the return boat ride back to Arona, it was time for something a little out of the ordinary. Coming in the form of biggest statue we’ve ever seen!
This copper mega structure is the giant statue of Colosso Di San Carolo Borromeo, a 16th Century Saint. At 35m tall, not only can it be seen for miles, but it also earns the title of the second largest statue in the world that you can climb inside!
So, in for a penny and all that. We pay our 6 Euro entrance fee and walk the steps up to this huge landmark of Arona.
A friendly chap at the entrance asked for us to hand over any bags or drinks bottles, as nothing should get in the way once inside. Gosh, what had we come to? I started to get a bit nervous, especially when I first caught a glimpse of the dark stone hollow, dimly lit with a spiral staircase winding through the centre.
Well, up we went inside the strange contraption, taking each careful step towards San Carlo’s 6.5 meter wide head. Low and behold, the staircase then came to an abrupt stop, instead breaking out into a tiny metal ladder. Oh my goodness!
“Heck this wouldn’t be allowed by in Blighty” I think were my words, as my now sweaty fingers clung tightly to the tiny ladder rail. One Slip of my trainers on the tiny rung or loss of grip on my now trembling hands and I’d fall to oblivion through the middle of the Saint himself!
Finally, a narrow platform came into view, so I took my chances and lunged myself across into the copper head of the Saint. Nige came up behind, both of us thankful to have made it, but now having one of those moments realising we had to go back down!
For now though came the piece de résistance. Yes, peering through the eerie eyes of San Carlo and out across the splendid views of Lake Maggiore. How bizarre, I felt as if I was spying on the world outside – could they see me, my spooky roaming eyeballs in the eyes of the Saint himself!
Thank goodness we were alone up here, but voices were echoing in the hollow stairway, meaning time for a sharp exit back down the ladder. I’m glad to report we made it back down to a viewing platform, 11.5 m up without much fuss. Stepping outside onto a wide terrace felt slightly less hair-raising. Just in time for a few pics before leaving the 85 steps to those waiting down below.
Well, for us this was enough excitement for one day! Time to leave Italy’s magical Lake Maggiore behind and head off to the fashion capital of Europe, Milan.
We’d spent 5 days exploring round the lake, but we could have spent longer. At the centre of the lake are The Borromean Islands which we never got to but are meant to be beautiful and can be accessed by boat trips from various towns.
That only means one thing for us, a return trip!
Exploring the lesser known of the Italian Lakes
If narrow roads and cycle paths are your thing, you’ll love Como!
The most beautiful of the Italian Lakes
Walking the fabulous Italian 3-peak circuit
In Flanders Fields to The Somme visiting the sights of The Great War 1914-1918
“Work sets you free” a moving visit to the historic memorial site