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Stresa: 90km (56 miles) NW of Milan

Maggiore lies west of Como, a long, thin wisp of a lake protected by mountains and fed by the River Ticino, which flows on to Milan. Roughly a quarter of the northern section of the lake stands in Switzerland, including the city of Locarno and its delightful satellite resort of Ascona. Stresa is the largest town on the Italian lake, a timeless resort on the western shoreline, famed for its pole position opposite the Isole Borromee. Regular ferries span Maggiore and there are frequent stops on the way from Arona, south of Stresa; the most popular include Luino for its massive market, and Laveno for cable-car rides up to mountain panoramas.

Getting There -- Stresa is linked with Milan Stazione Centrale and Porta Garibaldi by 20 trains a day. Journeys take around an hour and cost 8.60€.

Boats arrive at and depart from Piazza Marconi, Stresa. Many lakeside spots can be reached from Stresa, with most boats on the lake operated by Navigazione Laghi (www.navlaghi.it; (tel) 800/551-801). The main ferry office, however, is at the lake’s southern tip in Arona, at Viale Baracca 1; from there, ferries to Stresa take 40 minutes and cost 6.20€.

The A8 runs west from Milan to Sesto Calende, near the southern end of the lake; from there, Route SS33 follows the western shore to Stresa. The trip takes just over an hour, but much longer on a summer weekend.

Visitor Information -- Stresa's tourist office is at the ferry dock on Piazza Marconi (www.stresaturismo.it; (tel) 0323-30-150) and is open daily 10am to 12:30pm and 3 to 6:30pm (Nov–Feb closed Sun).