By AriannaAndrews, Contributing Editor, May 2006
Stendhal once said that if "you had a heart and a shirt, you would sell your shirt and visit Lago Maggiore." It reaches into three different areas, in fact, with its less mountainous shores in Lombardy, its higher eastern banks in Piedmont, and its northern tip reaching as far as Switzerland. The lake is just over 65 kilometers long and on average, about 5 kilometers or so wide, although at one point it extends to twice that. It size at some locations easily gives the impression of a seascape and not an inland water.
Unlike Lago Como or even Lago di Garda, Lago Maggiore presents a vast panorama because, especially at its southern end, it is not crowded by the slopes and steep rock faces that encompass the others. It is, until the waters are stirred by wind, wonderfully serene, and its calm waters have the same pensive and reflective look found in the eyes of those sitting on its shores or cruising its surface.
Today, Lago Maggiore offers much to visitors of all interests: there are fine hotels and restaurants in all of the lake side towns, pristine and highly manicured gardens, water sports and boat excursions, and, of course, walking in or trekking through the nearby mountains. Nearer to the end of the 19th century, Lago Maggiore (as with the other lakes in the area) became synonymous with high style and class. Many lakeside resorts and hotels popped-up along its shores, many of them erected in the grand style of the epoch, Art Nouveau and its Italian counterpart, Liberty. Architects even went on the lake’s island archipelago - the Borromean Islands - and constructed pastel-colored villas and majestic-looking exotic gardens, all of which are accessible today by boat.
Most of the better known resorts are found on the western side of the lake, in Piedmont. And of these, one of the most noted towns is Stresa, a charming tourist destination once an exclusive preserve for the extremely rich of Europe and, increasingly, North America. Now the town is relatively quite, except for the summer months, when the grand hotels, which are still very grand, are inundated with tourists who have the money to stay there.
At times, coming to the lakes is not exactly getting away from it all as one might intend it, but rather an odd mixture of antique and modern, old-money and new industry, peaceful water front and roaring back roads. There is a simple and delightful way to escape all this, however, should one be disappointed that the times have caught up even with Stendhal’s "unequaled loveliness": a stroll in the encompassing hills.