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Lake Maggiore

Glistening expanses of water surrounded by spectacular scenery of verdant hills and luxurious gardens; mountain itineraries from which seven lakes, the Po Valley and the Italian and Swiss Alps can be admired. Thus are the Lakes of Maggiore and Mergozzo introduced. The first thing that impresses the visitor to Lake Maggiore are the three beautiful islands that, together with the Castles of Cannero and the small isle of San Giovanni Battista (where Arthur Toscanini sojourned), form the splendid Borromeo archipelago: Isola Bella, with its magnificent Palazzo (1670) and gardens, Isola Pescatori, a maze of picturesque lanes and passages, and Isola Madre, with its famous botanic gardens rich in rare flora and freely roaming fauna and exotic birds.

Isola Pescatori

Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen Island) is found a little to the north of Isola Bella in front of Stresa. It is occupied almost entirely by an antique, rustic, village, from the tortuous and narrow lanes, that come to nothing in the beautiful walk of the northern point of the island. Of the archipelago it is the most common island, but not for this avoid of attraction. Above all the charm is really in its rested grace of a typically Lombardian village, being lived in by hard-working frugal people, still in part devoted to fishing.

Isola Bella

The count Carlo III Borromeo started then the construction of the island of a palace to dedicate to his wife Isabella D’Adda. The architectural taste of the epoch by now extended to the Baroque style, veined purely of mannerism. This way was born that work of art that today is called Isola Bella, to name that, even though it seems to phonetic quarrel with Isabella, is nevertheless the place-name more appropriate for the island. Only a visit to this delightful place can make one understand how art was in the baroque gardens.

Isola Madre

The most wide island of the Borromean archipelago is Isola Madre, a botanical garden on water. The favourable microclimate and man’s care make visitor seem to be in subtropical environment, rich in rare plants, exotic flowers and animals, above all iridescent birds in liberty. The garden is one of the most suggestive for the luxuriant vegetation and the variety of its plants. It can be considered between the most important and ancient of Italy. Its realisation in fact goes back to before the XVI century, when work began to transform the olive-groves already present in a picturesque garden. Then, with following interventions it became an English garden, subsequently more times modified to the actual aspect. On the island rises another beautiful palace of the surname Borromeo, going back to 1590. To visit is interesting in that inside has been restored valuable furnishings, environments of the epoch. There is also an exposition of small theatres showing ancient marionettes.

Lake Orta

“Orta, the Lord’s watercolour, seems painted on silk, with the Sacro Monte towering above it; its noble promenade flaked by close buildings, the silent piazza and the Austere facaded behind the foliage of the horse-chestnuts, and, facing it, the Isle of San Giulio, resembling Dante’s airy purgatory, hesitant between water and the heaven”. This is how Piero Chiara, the writer of the lakes, exhalted the silence of Orta and this lake. A retreating silence upon whitch the local have spun their ancient legends.

Lake Mergozzo

Known in ancient times as Muregocium, Mergozzo is a picturesque conglomeration of houses constructed of the local Ossolan stone separated by narrow lanes which often turn into flights of steps. These charming lanes lead down to the main square where an ancient elm still grows; the Magistrates of the town held court under its shade as far back as the 17th century. Into this archaic urban web are inserted religious edifices which date back to the Romanesque period: the Oratory of Santa Marta, which may have been founded in the 9th century, renewed in 1130 and, in part, modified in the 1700’s and the Churches of the Assumption and Santa Maria in the hamlet of Bracchio. A visit to the Antiquarium, a 17th-century arcade housing testimony of the traditional local activities of stone, granite and marble working as well as archeological finds from around Lake Mergozzo, is recommended. This small lake, which was once connected to Lake Maggiore, is one of the cleanest in Italy. Motorboats have been banned for a number of years now, and the lake is noted for the
opportunities it offers to fans of water sports. An excursion to the nearby village of Montorfano is of artistic interest for its charming little Church of S.Giovanni Battista, one of the best preserved Romanesque edifices in the area. It was constructed of granite quarried at Monte Orfano (so called due to its being an isolated peak). Next to the church are archeological excavations which have brought to light traces of a pagan edifice dating back to the 5th-6th centuries.

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