Selected departures in September and October 2019
It’s difficult to describe the flawless beauty of the Italian lakes, yet viewing them you’ll immediately understand why so many artists, composers and writers have sought inspiration here. The heady mix of serene waters, forest-clad hillsides, medieval villages, orange-blossom-scented warm air and delicious food make them an irresistible destination.
It was the arrival of the British during the days of the ‘Grand Tour’ that first brought fame to the sublime Italian lakes and helped to create the sophisticated villages nestling like pearls on a string along the verbena-clad shores. This wonderful combination of magnificent Swiss mountain scenery and Italy’s tranquil, crystal-clear lakes creates a stunning visual montage that cries out to be explored.
Lake Maggiore straddles both Italy and Switzerland and we stay in Stresa, a typically stylish Italian town that was once a favourite haunt of Hemingway, Chaplin and many others. We explore not only Lake Maggiore but also the equally beautiful Lake Como and lesser-known Lake Orta, one of the most spellbinding places you’ll ever visit. With the arc of the imposing Alps stretching out along the horizon, you’ll enjoy arguably the finest mountain scenery on the planet during your visits to Switzerland – dramatic Zermatt, nestled at the base of the world’s most mesmerising peak, the mighty Matterhorn. Then there are the delightful lost valleys, tumbling glacier streams and classic chalet scenes that, when blended together, offer a truly inspirational tour.
Arrive at the airport for your flight to Milan. We transfer by coach to the captivating town of Stresa on the peaceful shores of Lake Maggiore. Walking the cobbled streets of Stresa’s old town is like winding back in time to the elegance of a largely bygone era. There are many restaurant and café options in the main square, while modern and more traditionally minded shops sit side by side. You’ll stay in the historic four-star Grand Hotel Bristol for seven nights, with breakfast and dinner.
Situated amid beautiful manicured gardens looking out to the Borromean Islands on the lakeside promenade, the hotel has a chic marbled lobby and lounge area, which features glass chandeliers and fine frescoes leading to an atmospheric bar and winter garden. The large outdoor swimming pool is set in the grounds, while the spa centre includes an indoor pool and all the rooms are decorated in classic styles.
Your first full day in Lake Maggiore includes a wonderful walk through the ‘balcony of Lake Maggiore’, a beautiful area with superb views of the lake below. You have a choice of an easy hike or a moderate one that covers a longer route.
Duration: 2 hours (2.5 miles)
Altitude gain: 460 feet
Terrain: mix of mule tracks, and earth and gravel paths
Our easy walk begins at Carmine Inferiore, a small hamlet on the shore of Lake Maggiore, and takes us up to Carmine Superior, a beautifully preserved medieval village nestled on a rocky outcrop. Standing in front of the handsome Romanesque church, you’ll see breathtaking views over the lake and surrounding mountains. We continue to a beautiful viewpoint and catch glimpses of the legendary castles of Cannero Riviera. Emerging on twin fortified islets, the fortress was once seized by bandit brothers, who terrorised the coastal population with their roguish exploits until a siege forced their surrender. Before long, we reach a lovely garden known for its numerous species of camellias.
Duration: 3 hours (4.6 miles)
Altitude gain: 1,115 feet
Terrain: mix of mule tracks, and earth and gravel paths
The moderate walk starts in the delightfully quaint town of Cannobio, just a few miles south of the Swiss border. We walk up an old mule track through tiny hamlets and a hillside chestnut forest until we reach Carmine Superiore. Take in the spectacular views of Lake Maggiore and the majestic mountains before we continue our hike. During our descent, we are treated to views of the ruined castles of Cannero Riviera, built by the noble Borromeo family. Soon we see a pretty camellia garden and arrive in the town of Cannero Riviera itself. There’s time for a stroll along the lakeside promenade to the citrus park, where it’s lovely to walk among the rows of brightly coloured lemons, oranges and grapefruit.
Unmistakably Mediterranean in character, Lake Maggiore’s shores are lined with oleanders, palms and aromatic verbena, with its tranquil waters reflecting the azure sky. Just offshore are the fascinating Borromean Islands, which take their name from a Milanese family who once owned the four rocky outcrops and, in the 17th century, commissioned the finest architects and landscape gardeners to craft luxurious residences on them.
Pride of place goes to the amazing Baroque palazzo on Isola Bella, which we visit on a fascinating morning guided tour. Its resplendent rooms feature refined furniture, sculptures and paintings, with intricate parquet flooring and pastel-coloured plasterwork; underground you’ll find elaborate shell-adorned grottoes. Even more impressive are the exquisite grounds featuring terraces imaginatively planted with orange and lemon trees, magnolias and a host of other fragrant and colourful shrubs and plants. Marble statues and unique white peacocks add the final touches to this dramatic display. Previous distinguished visitors to the palace include Napoleon and Josephine, as well as Prince Charles and Princess Diana.
The second island we visit, Isola dei Pescatori, is a complete contrast. Its cobbled streets, picturesque harbour and charming buildings, which are ideal for strolling around, reflect its 10th-century origins and the ancient fishing tradition after which it is named. This is the perfect place for a relaxing fish lunch in one of the excellent lakeside restaurants – many with enchanting secluded terraces – before we cruise back to Stresa this afternoon.
Lake Como has a rich history as an important trade hub, a battlefield for the ambitious, and a holiday destination for the affluent. Strolling along the lakeside promenade, it is easy to forget that navigating the lakes was once a challenge. The many mule tracks and makeshift roads of yesteryear that crisscross the hillside have been carefully restored and make wonderful walking paths today.
Take an easy walk along part of the Greenway del Lago, a delightful hiking path that hugs the lakeshore, or choose the moderate option, which follows the same route but continues all the way to Cadenabbia on foot.
Duration: 2 hours (3.5 miles)
Altitude gain: 462 feet
Terrain: mix of mule tracks and tarmac roads
We begin in Sala Comacina, a colourful fishing village with fantastic views of Lake Como and Isola Comacina, the only inhabited island on the lake. We walk through a string of charming hamlets and villages along cypress-lined paths, seeing medieval churches, historic buildings and grand villas with manicured gardens – everywhere you look is another wonderful photo opportunity. Our walk concludes near the magnificent Villa Carlotta, famous for its botanical gardens. We transfer by coach to Cadenabbia, a lovely hamlet where the mountains descend to the lake. You have free time for lunch or perhaps a boat trip to Bellagio.
Duration: 2 hours 45 minutes (5 miles)
Altitude gain: 1,010 feet
Terrain: mix of mule tracks and tarmac roads
For the more energetic, we continue on the final section of the Greenway past more opulent villas and superb gardens. As we approach Cadenabbia, the striped façade of the Anglican Church of Ascension stands out against the rocky hillside. Cadenabbia was a favourite destination of the English in the 19th century, and author Mary Shelley wrote about her stay here in her book, Rambles in Germany and Italy.
Today you can choose to relax in your hotel or explore Stresa’s numerous delights. Enjoying a coffee in the Piazza Cadorna is a preferred pastime for many, but there’s also a cable car to the summit of Mount Mottarone, taking in alpine gardens en route. Alternatively, boat trips to Isola Madre with its botanical gardens, or Pallanza, a charming Roman town, offer wondrous views. The Maggiore lakeside exudes an ambience of gentility that has its origins in the days of the ‘Grand Tour’ when Europe’s aristocracy, having crossed the border from Switzerland, experienced their first taste of Italy. Aficionados of literature may fancy a drink at the bar of the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, featured in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms and frequented by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin.
Today you can choose to hike the same path at either an easy or moderate pace. We start in the leafy village of Armeno and gently descend through a chestnut wood, passing charming country houses and the villages of Carcegna and Miasino. We explore Miasino’s cobbled lanes and admire its elegant buildings, such as Villa Nigra, which today hosts concerts and exhibitions. Walking downhill toward Lake Orta, the last thing you’d expect to see is a Moorish palace, yet there is enchanting Villa Crespi with its minaret-like tower, surrounded by verdant gardens.
Our walk ends in picturesque Orta San Giulio, where you have free time to wander its pebble-studded lanes and stepped alleys lined with traditional food shops. You’ll adore the medieval architecture of handsome buildings with shuttered windows in typically Italian shades of ochre, magenta and light blue.
Duration: 2.5 to 3 hours (3.7 miles)
Altitude gain: 380 feet
Terrain: mix of mule tracks, woodland paths and tarmac roads
You can expect some truly breathtaking mountain vistas today as we climb the foothills of the Alps, cross the Swiss frontier and head into the high Alps themselves. We take the Simplon Pass, an ancient traders’ and smugglers’ route that didn’t have a vehicular road until Napoleon had one constructed in the early 19th century. The scenery becomes ever more spectacular, with wildflower-covered meadows studded with tiny shepherds’ shelters and forests crowned by snowy peaks glistening in the sun. You could be lucky and catch a glimpse of an ibex, a chamois or even a golden eagle soaring above. You’ll marvel at the engineering feats required to build the road as it traverses towering viaducts and jaw-dropping precipices, passing countless mountain streams and tumbling waterfalls before we arrive at the legendary village of Zermatt.
Nestled at the foot of the mighty, iconic Matterhorn, Zermatt is classic Switzerland, a car-free jumble of chalets and old wooden buildings strewn along a valley floor of pastures alive with the sound of cowbells, while cable cars and soaring footpaths weave ever upwards to the majestic amphitheatre of the surrounding lofty summits.
The ultimate alpine peak, the Matterhorn is relatively unobtrusive until you reach the end of the village and turn a corner, when the Swiss national symbol is revealed in its magnificent splendour – the sight is truly one of life’s ‘wow’ moments! For an even better view, take the cog railway up 10,000 feet to Gornergrat, the awe-inspiring mountain wonderland of glaciers and summits. Alternatively, relax in one of Zermatt’s many cosy cafés or take a gentle ride in a horse-drawn carriage.
Transfer to the airport for your return flight.
The price of this holiday is per person based on two people sharing a room. Single rooms are available at the relevant supplement. The price includes: seven nights’ accommodation with breakfast and dinner; all tours as mentioned; airport departure taxes; return flights and hotel transfers; all coach travel as mentioned; the services of a Riviera Travel tour manager and an expert local walking guide.
What to Pack
All transfer times listed here are approximate, and dependent on traffic. If you have a question regarding transfer times please don't hesitate to contact us.
|Arrival airport||Hotel location||Transfer time|
|Milan Malpensa Airport||Stresa||1 hr|
We want to ensure you make the correct choice before you book your holiday with us. If you have any concerns regarding the suitabilty of the holiday due to reduced mobility we would encourage you to call us to discuss these concerns. General information on mobility in connection with our tours can be found here.