A grouping of enchanting small islands in Lake Maggiore, the Borromean Islands were purchased and developed by the Borromeo family as their private playground. There are five little landmasses in the lake, covering only 50 acres in total; three of them are still owned by the noble family today. Of the islands, three are visitable by ferry or water taxi. Their presence and twinkling lights make an captivating backdrop on the scenic beauty of Lake Maggiore. Ferries depart from Stresa and other area port towns to take you to the islands for a day. You can also hire water taxis or private boatmen to take you there.

Isola Bella. This islands leaves a lasting impression, with its aristocratic palace and its pyramic-shaped terraced garden. Named for Countess Isabella Borromeo, it was a rocky wasteland until Carlo Borromeo turned it into a manicured paradise. The Baroque palace contains all the original period furnishings and decorations, making it a fascinating and historic place to visit, and giving a view into life in the 1600s. There are six underground grottoes decorated with pebbles and seashells, and carefully tended gardens to enjoy.

Isola Madre. The largest of the islands, the highlight is the botanical gardens with rare plants, along with peacocks, pheasants and parrots. The lush and ordered English style garden is gorgeous, but so is the elegant mansion house. The splendid palace is filled with masterpieces.

Isola dei Pescatori. The most "real" of the Borromean Islands, it is still inhabited by hardy fishermen and their families who keep the island's traditional trade alive. This island is a characteristic fishing village rather than a noble residence. It has a handful of lanes lined with tidy homes and simple buildings. Here you'll find some shops and seafood restaurants, and a laid-back atmosphere.

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