Lake Maggiore, also known as Verbano, is split between Switzerland and Italy, straddling the canton of Ticino, Piedmont and Lombardy. It is best known for its unique climate and the lovely towns dotted along its shores that make it an exceptionally beautiful tourist destination. Discovering the lake with its intense colours and surrounding mountains by boat is an experience that will make any holiday feel even more special. If you’re keen to explore, each place where the boat docks make a good starting point for discovering the region’s hidden gems.
Our cruise weighs anchor in Locarno, on a boat heading for Gambarogno. Dominated by the mountain of the same name, this part of the lake is home to the Gambarogno Botanic Gardens. The gardens teem with azaleas, rhododendrons, pines, junipers, exotic firs and a remarkable collection of camellias and magnolias. The best season to visit is early spring, when it is at its most beautiful thanks to an abundance of pink flowers and blossoms. San Nazzaro is home to a lovely swimming area where you can take a refreshing dip during the summer months.
From San Nazzaro dock we get back on the boat towards Brissago. In barely 15 minutes, the boat docks at the picturesque jetty in Ascona, directly onto its famous square overlooking the lake. Anyone getting off here is greeted by the typical brightly coloured houses that immediately provide that Mediterranean touch.
As well as a mid-morning snack in one of the bars on the square, it’s also worth exploring a little further along the streets of the old town or getting lost among the courtyards, passageways and art galleries. If you have more time on your hands or feel like exploring a bit more, stroll across the town to the staircase that leads up to Monte Verità, the hill above Ascona. The climb is quite challenging (you could take the bus instead), but it’s worth the effort. As well as a museum, an events centre and a tea plantation, you can also visit what is left of the naturist community based there in the early 20th century.
The various settings created by the gardens are particularly beautiful and picturesque, even for children, who can have fun taking part in an absorbing treasure hunt. What better place than an island to play at being a pirate? You can also stop to eat or drink something inside the gardens at the Villa Emden restaurant, built in the 1930s. After that, it is time to take the boat back to Brissago, a small village suspended between the shores of the lake and the steep slopes of the mountains, the perfect oasis of tranquillity to retreat for a relaxing holiday. The gardens of the houses here are rich in typically Mediterranean plants, such as lemons and oranges.
The return trip to Locarno by boat is an excellent way to look back at the places you’ve just visited from the lake and relax on deck while enjoying the sun and the breeze. You can finish your day by taking the funicular up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso in Orselina. This stunning church perched on a rocky spur is worthy of a visit both for its beauty and the spectacular views of the lake that can be enjoyed from its portico. Walk back down along the Via Crucis (which should really be followed in the opposite direction, as a climb) to the Old Town to finish your day in Piazza Grande.