Round The World and other travels

A frequent flyer's collection of trip diaries

This is: Tasmanian Devils (2010)

Island-hopping and mountain climbing

My plan for today was to explore the Borromean Islands of Lake Maggiore, so called after the family that has owned them, to one extent or another, over the last few centuries. I made sure I got up in plenty of time to set off before any crowds might build. The weather was much brighter than that which had greeted my arrival the previous day, and I enjoyed the clear lake views while taking breakfast in the hotel's dining room. I did note, however, that there was still a bit of a breeze coming down from the Alps. After a pause to get organised for the day ahead, I set off to walk the short distance to Stresa's little pier, where I spent EUR12 on a ticket that would allow me to visit the three developed islands in this miniature archipelago: Isola Bella, Isola Superiore dei Pescatori and Isola Madre. While these equate (in one case, more or less) to Beautiful Island, Fishermen's Island and Mother Island, the English translations do not appear to have become established as alternative names. My first ferryboat left Stresa on schedule for the short crossing to Isola Bella.

Isola Bella

During my short time on Isola Bella, I explored the narrow lanes and enjoyed the views at the western end of the island, but unfortunately never managed to find my way to the large house and its grounds that occupied the eastern end, closest to Stresa. It's possible that I was there a little too early on a Sunday morning for that area to be open. It's also possible that I just screwed up!

Isola Superiore dei Pescatori

I made no such mistake on Fishermen's Island, where there were no stately homes, but rather a maze of lanes, alleys and shore-hugging walkways filling the entire island. It all seemed to be in keeping with its history as a working settlement, although I suspected that these days tourism would be at least as important to the inhabitants as fishing. I decided to sample the fresh, local produce by having lunch in one of the many restaurants, and most enjoyable it was too!

Isola Madre

The third and largest island lies apart from the other two, opposite the lakeside town of Verbania, and the ferry makes an intermediate stop at Baveno on its way there (see picture to right). Isola Madre is also distinguished by being given over entirely to the grounds of the Palazzo Borromeo, an entrance fee being payable immediately on exiting the landing jetty. While the grounds and the palace itself proved to be interesting, the undoubted highlights were the stunning lake views that frequently opened up through gaps in the vegetation.


I'd only become aware of the Mottarone cable car earlier in the day, during my first ferry crossing. Realising that I still had some time available after completing my visit to Isola Madre, I decided to make a premature exit at Isola Bella from what would have been my final ferry of the day, and catch a shuttle directly across the water to Carciano, a little to the west of Stresa. I rode the two cable cars up to Mottarone, changing at Alpino. Although there were some excellent views available en route, I thought that there was disappointingly little to see or do on arrival at the summit compared, for example, to the many mountain ascents that I had made over the years in neighbouring Switzerland. I reminded myself that the middle of May was still not really peak season for visitors.

Safely returned to Carciano, I walked the short distance back to the hotel, avoiding the splashes caused by the strong breeze that had been such a persistent feature of the day's sightseeing. As something of a consolation prize, the walk opened up some excellent views of the green and terraced eastern end of Isola Bella - the bit I'd managed to miss earlier in the day.

Back at base, I got my laptop hooked up and paid the steep fee required for a day's Internet access. An hour later, I had abandoned my intended journey to Australia in favour of a new routing via Dubai, thereby keeping myself out of the way of volcanoes, cabin crew strikes and anything else that might have the temerity to try to upset my plans! I had another enjoyable evening meal in the hotel's dining room, content that it had been an excellent day and breathing a huge sigh of relief at the removal of at least two high-risk factors that had threatened to wreak havoc in less than two days' time.

Sunday 16 May

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