Top Outdoor Activities Visiting Lakes Maggiore, Como and Lugano
If you’re looking for a great place to visit that’s easy to get to from Zurich and you want to enjoy plenty of outdoor activities, how about a trip to the Italian Lakes? Lakes Maggiore, Lugano and Como? Each of them offer a unique charm and there is plenty to see and do, especially if you enjoy exploring both on land and over water.
Last October I set off by train from Zurich on a very grey day for a scenic journey through the Swiss countryside to Domodossola and then onto Stresa. My train departed Zurich Hauptbahnof at 9am and by 1pm I was sitting on a wonderful rooftop terrace eating lunch in full sunshine enjoying stunning views of Lake Maggiore!
Views from the Skybar at Hotel La Palma Stresa over the private pool
Italy is Perfect in the Shoulder Season
It felt a little like a dream. The shoulder season is a great time to travel to Italy, either in Spring or Autumn, as you can appreciate the beauty of the region without the crowds and it’s still often sunny and warm without being too hot.
Hotel La Palma Stresa
From Stresa train station it was just a 5 minute or so walk to the lovely Hotel La Palma, situated on the Piedmontese shores.
As well as the Skybar, the fabulous rooftop restaurant with panoramic views across the whole of Lake Maggiore, the hotel boasts a swimming pool, and another pool right by the lake with its own small beach.
Chestnut Trail from Stresa to Belgirate
However, there was no swimming for us! Straight after the delicious rooftop lunch we headed out for a a guided hike on the “Sentiero dei Castagni” (Chestnut Trail), led by Luca Mestrini, who guided us through the picturesque landscape between Stresa and Belgirate. We quickly had time to put on our backpacks and hiking boots and head off. The route takes around 2 hours and 30 minutes on foot and good boots or trainers are recommended as it can be slippery and steep in places. It’s also a good idea to take water bottles as it was thirsty work, but there are a few drinking fountains along the way.
We followed the signs to the wooded “Chestnut Path” which has plenty of informative placards with interesting facts along the way. The path takes you past lots of little churches as well as old villas and ruins, through Piane di Pramezzano to Sant’Albino’s cemetery with its historic church and past Chiesa della Madonna di Passera. It then follows a trail towards Calogna, where you can see the engraved cupel-adorned S.Maria Mater Gratiae Chapel.
Chiesa della Madonna di Passera
After that you start to descend towards Belgirate, past the Church of San Paolo, Pianezza, and Farinelli, where you can take a public boat back to Stresa. Although the route takes you parallel with the lake, for most of the way, the panoramic views can only be seen at certain viewpoints as the trees provide a very thick cover.
Boat Ride From Belgirate to Stresa on Lake Maggiore
We were lucky enough to have a private motorboat waiting for us in Belgirate, to take us to Stresa. It was a breezy and refreshing trip and very enjoyable after the hike. There was just time for a quick, refreshing dip in the hotel pool before heading off on another boat tour, this time for a trip around the Borromean Islands, along with an aperitif on board.
Trip Around the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore
After this beautiful boat trip circling the Borromean Islands we arrived in Verbania.
Ristorante Piccolo Lago with two Michelin-starred chef Marco Sacco
It is here that we enjoyed one of the top highlights of the trip – a culinary extravaganza at Ristorante Piccolo Lago with two Michelin-starred chef Marco Sacco.
Chef Marco Sacco of Ristorante Piccolo Lago
Marco created wonderful dinner for us which was not just beautiful to look at, but tasted amazing.
Marco also showed us into his kitchen and told us all about the history of his restaurant.
Photos courtesy of Ristorante Piccolo Lago
After this gastronomic extravaganza we headed back to the Hotel by minibus. The next day we left Hotel la Palma and set off by train and bus for Hotel la Scheggia in Santa Maria Maggiore which is known for hosting an annual gathering of chimney sweeps commemorating the region’s poignant history of child labour. In fact there is even a Museum dedicated to chimney sweeps in the village.
Hike In The Valle Cannobina Next to the Val Grande National Park
After leaving our luggage we set off on another hike – this time we were intending to explore the rugged terrain of Val Grande National Park, the largest wilderness area in Italy, with our guide Andrea Mosini. However, due to a road closure we weren’t able to start our hike in the place we had intended and so instead began in the charming little village of Finero.
Finero is in Valle Cannobina, a separate valley located to the west of the Val Grande National Park. It is known for its scenic landscapes, traditional architecture, and rural heritage and the Cannobina River flows through this valley.
Good shoes were essential for this hike as underfoot it was slippy and full of tree roots. We walked alongside a river for much of the hike and one of the highlights was sitting in the autumn sunshine on the boulders with our picnic lunch soaking our feet in the cool waters of the river. After the long hike we then headed back to Santa Maria Maggiore, where we enjoyed a typical dinner of Italian specialities at Hotel La Scheggia.
Train Ride Through Valle Vigezzo
The next day we took a very scenic train ride across Valle Vigezzo to Lake Lugano in the Swiss canton of Ticino. The iconic Centovalli train offered breathtaking views of the mountainous terrain, taking us to the shimmering shores of Lake Lugano.
After a little time to explore Lugano we caught the boat to Port Ceresio and had lunch on board
We stopped in Porto Ceresio and checked in at the Hotel Villa Lago Lugano.
Later on some of our group went for exhilarating e-bike tour, along the “Via Francisca del Lucomagno” but I opted for Stand Up Paddling and swimming which was available directly at the hotel.
After all our activities it was time to enjoy a lakeside dinner at one of the local restaurants, Le Lido, before heading back to the hotel.
The following day we travelled from Lake Lugano to Lake Como, stopping at the recently established Parco Rio Ponticelli e delle Miniere. Here there is the via ferrata in Menaggio/Loveno, where they give you full instruction and all the equipment you need and no prior knowledge is required.
If this type of activity isn’t your cup of tea, there is golf available nearby for those who prefer.
After a little physical exertion on the via ferrata it was time to head to the art festival in Gravedona.
Here we went for a tour of the artist’s studios and met some of the local artists who have created a project called “Spazio Bianco” to give the neighbourhood a new artistic soul, before enjoying a delicious Apéro with the mayor.
I was also really happy to meet local artists Loretta Ribaudo Carter and her husband James Carter.
Originally from Australia and London respectively, they now have their art studio in Gravedona and I was luck enough to spend some time with them admiring and getting to learn a little about their great art work.
After all the art it was time for some local cuisine at ristorante Ca’ de Matt in Gravedona before heading back.
The following day we were up bright and early to visit Orrido di Bellano, a stunning natural gorge which was formed 15 million years ago by the erosion of the River Poverna and the Adda glacier. It’s known for its striking geological formations as well as the mystical tales that surround it. It’s very picturesque and as one of the most important attractions on Lake Como, definitely worth a visit.
After taking in all the stunning views, we went for a gentle hike to the Piani dei Resinelli, where from the “passerella panoramica,” you can enjoy even more spectacular views.
After walking around all morning taking in all these stunning views we had worked up and appetite and so we finished with a hearty lunch at Rifugio SEL, which was the perfect end to this memorable getaway. The set menu was absolutely amazing. It was jotted in handwriting on pieces of paper – and it was truly delicious Italian comfort food. Being a Sunday, the restaurant was packed with lots of families enjoying Sunday lunch. It was noisy, vibrant and fun and the portions were generous. Rustic Italian cooking at its best with fast and friendly service. After lunch it was time to head back to Zurich by train having enjoyed a wonderful late October getaway in the ltalian sunshine.
So if you’re looking for an outdoor getaway why not take a trip to the Italian Lakes? It’s a great way to appreciate the fabulous North Italian scenery and to enjoy the region’s rich history, culture and food.
Please note not all of the websites are in English:
Hotel La Palma, Corso Umberto I, 33, 28838 Stresa VB, Italy
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