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More to Explore Around the Lake

Alongside Stresa, Maggiore offers natural beauty and architectural wonders as well as lively towns, markets, and cable-car rides up into the mountains.

Arona ★★ -- As well as having the lake’s main ferry office this sophisticated town at the southern end of Lake Maggiore is a shopping center of some distinction. The charming Via Cavour runs parallel to the lake and is lined with elegant boutiques and expensive delicatessens. The tourist office is on Piazzale San Carlo, just outside town and next to a giant bronze statue of Carlo Borromeo, who was born in Arona in 1538, which can be explored by climbing inside ((tel) 0322-249-669; admission 5€; mid-Mar to Oct daily 9am–noon and 2–6pm).

Luino ★★ -- On the western shore of Lake Maggiore just a few miles from the Swiss border, Luino is home of one of northern Italy’s most popular tourist markets, with more than 350 stalls taking over the town every Wednesday. Here you’ll find cheery sarongs, spices, piles of salami, grappas, olive oils, and hand-tooled leather belts and bags for which the region is famous. Day visitors from Milan can catch the train directly to Luino from Milan’s Stazione Porta Garibaldi in under 2 hours (18€), while extra ferries serve the town every Wednesday. Check ferry timetables with www.navlaghi.it.

Sasso del Fero [SSS] -- East of Laveno, make for Laveno Mombello (www.funiviedellagomaggiore.it; (tel) 0332-66-012; 10€ roundtrip) and take the 16-minute cable-car trip 1,062m (3,484 ft.) up the lush Val Cuvia to the Poggia Sant’Elsa viewpoint at Sasso del Ferro. Here you’ll find truly breathtaking panoramas across Lake Maggiore to the Alps looking west and mini-lakes Varese, Monate, and Comabbio looking south. Nothing can beat relaxing over a prosecco in the Ristorante Albergo Funivia, enjoying a bright blue sky, and spotting snowy peaks on the horizon. If the conditions are right, there’ll be plenty of paragliders to watch, and the hills are crisscrossed with scenic hiking trails. Weather conditions make opening times vary, but the cable car generally runs April to October (Mon–Fri 11am–6:30pm; Sat–Sun 11am–10:30pm).

Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro ★★★ -- Just south of Reno on the southeastern leg of Maggiore, there’s an inconspicuous car park in Piazza Cascine del Quiquio; park up and take the elevator down to the magical hermitage of Santa Caterina del Sasso Ballaro (Via Santa Caterina 13, Leggiuno; www.santacaterinadelsasso.com; (tel) 0332-647-172), clinging to an escarpment 15m (49 ft.) above the lake. The Dominican monastery was founded in the 13th century and sits photogenically against a sheer rock face. The serene complex is of soft pink stone and embellished with Renaissance arches, a square bell tower, pretty cobbled courtyards, and 14th-century frescoes of biblical scenes in the chapel, which were hidden under lime during the Italian suppression of the monasteries in the 1770s and only re-discovered in 2003. The little gift shop sells honey, candles, and soaps made by the monks. Admission is free, but donations are accepted; open April to October 8:30am to noon and 2:30 to 6pm and November to March Saturday and Sunday 9am to noon and 2 to 5pm. Mass is held every Sunday at 4:30pm.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.