Lake Maggiore, Orta and the Matterhorn
Just as our desire to explore and experience new lands is timeless, so too is the beauty of the Italian Lakes, unfailingly delighting visitors for centuries. Indeed it was the influx of the pioneering British during the days of the Grand Tour, who first brought fame to the majestic Lake Maggiore and helped to create the sophisticated lakeside villages, nestling like pearls on a string, along its picturesque, verbena-clad shores. This wonderful combination of truly awesome Swiss mountain scenery and the tranquillity of the crystal clear Italian Lakes in a montage of splendour, cries out to be explored. It is very difficult to describe the sheer stunning beauty of the Italian Lakes and it is hardly surprising that so many composers like Verdi and Rossini, plus countless poets and writers have sought peace and inspiration here. Its heady mix of serene, deep waters, fragrant orange blossom and verbena lend their delicate scents to the warm air whilst forest-clad hillsides, typical Italian medieval villages, mouth-watering fresh food and an effervescent people unique on the planet make it hard to beat. Lake Maggiore itself straddles both Italy and Switzerland, and we stay in Stresa, a very stylish typical Italian town and once a favourite haunt of Hemingway, Chaplin and many others. We explore not only Lake Maggiore, but the equally beautiful Lake Como as well, plus the hidden gem that is Lake Orta, probably one of the most entrancing places you will ever visit. With the arc of the majestic Alps stretching out along the horizon you will enjoy probably the finest mountain scenery in the world during your visits to Switzerland, chic Locarno and dramatic Zermatt, nestling famously at the foot of the mighty Matterhorn, the world’s most charismatic peak. Then there are the delightful lost valleys, tumbling glacier streams and classic chalet scenes all blended together to offer a truly inspirational tour.
- Return flights
- Seven nights four-star accommodation with breakfast and dinner
- Visit to the enchanting Isola Bella, its enchanting 17th century baroque villa crammed with art and the stunning formal gardens
- Visit to Zermatt in the Swiss Alps seeing the Matterhorn, probably the world’s most instantly recognisable peak
- Visit to Lake Como, described by Wordsworth as ‘a treasure the world keeps to itself’
- Travel on the famous Centovalli railway famous for its spectacular alpine views
- Cruise on Lake Maggiore to chic Locarno
- Visit to probably Italy’s most romantic lake, enchanting Lake Orta and the delightful 14th century medieval village Orta San Giulio
- Escorted by our experienced tour manager
- The price of this holiday is per person based on two people sharing a twin room. Single rooms are available at the relevant supplement per person. Lake view rooms subject to availability at the supplement of £65 per person at the Astoria Hotel. The price includes return flights, seven nights dinner, bed and breakfast at fourstar Hotel Astoria or Regina Palace; airport departure taxes; all tours as mentioned; boat cruise to Locarno, journey on the Centovalli railway, cruise to Borromean islands and entrance to villa and gardens, visit to Lake Como, panoramic journey to Zermatt, executive coach travel; services of a Riviera tour manager.Where hotels feature an outdoor swimming pool, this will be open summer months, weather permitting.
- Not included : Cable car to Matterhorn, approximate cost €68, payable locally in Swiss Francs
You should arrive at the airport to take your flight to Milan and on arrival you transfer to the delightful town of Stresa on the peaceful shores of charming Lake Maggiore. We stay at the four-star Hotel Astoria, superbly located in its own landscaped gardens on the lakeside promenade and just a short stroll from the heart of the typically Italian old town. The hotel, family run for three generations is extremely tastefully furnished, featuring spacious lounges, a rooftop terrace with fine views across the lake and surrounding mountains, a pool and terrace set in lush gardens and a restaurant with panoramic windows beautifully displaying the shades of the tranquil lake from jade green to deep blue, plus Switzerland beyond, to great effect. The superb four-star superior Hotel Regina Palace, one of the best properties on the lake. Dating from the turn of the last century this recently restored classic hotel, truly reflects the ‘belle époque’ era having the high ceilings, carved plasterwork, crystal chandeliers, brass and wrought iron fittings so typical of this period. The hotel faces the lake and is set in extensive landscaped gardens to the front and rear with terraces, tennis court and swimming pool. In addition there is an indoor pool in the relaxing spa and you dine in the hotel’s elegant restaurant. The superb four-star Hotel Bristol is magnificently set amidst beautiful manicured gardens overlooking the Borromean Islands on the lakeside promenade. The elegant marbled lobby and chic lounge area features Bohemian glass chandeliers and fine frescos, leading through to the atmospheric hotel bar and winter garden overlooking the gardens themselves all reflecting its 19th century pedigree to great effect. All rooms have been decorated with great finesse, in a style that is reminiscent of the ancient noble house from which is the hotel originates, with classic wood paneling and fine fabrics, wooden floors with mosaic works in the bathrooms. All rooms benefit from air conditioning, flat screen TV and a mini bar. The large outdoor swimming pool is set amongst the gardens plus there is also an indoor pool. Outdoor pools are open summer months, weather permitting.
Unmistakably Mediterranean in character, Maggiore’s shores are lined with oleanders, palms and deeply aromatic verbena with the still waters reflecting the azure blue sky above. Just offshore is one of the real gems of northern Italy, the stunning Borromean Islands, once owned by a Milanese Count who, in the 17th century, created the most amazing ‘belle époque’ villa here of which we have a guided tour this morning. Isola Bella, as it is called, is a stunning achievement, with its staterooms crammed with fine furniture, sculpture and art with intricate parquet flooring and elegant pastel-coloured plasterwork and frescoes adorning the high ceilings, it’s simply stunning. Even more impressive though, are the astonishing grounds, featuring ten interlocking terraces imaginatively planted with orange and lemon trees, plus 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 include Queen Caroline of England, wife of George IV, plus Napoleon and Josephine. In complete contrast, the narrow cobbled streets, picturesque harbour and charming buildings of the fascinating Isola dei Pescatori, the second island we visit, reflect its 10th century origins and centuries old fishing tradition after which it is named. This is the perfect place for a relaxing lunch in one of the excellent lakeside restaurants - many with enchanting secluded terraces – before we cruise back to Stresa during the afternoon.
Long and relatively narrow, Lake Maggiore beautifully straddles the Swiss-Italian border and this morning you enjoy a totally different view of the lake as we take a private boat to Cannobio, where you will have some free time before joining the coach to continue into Switzerland, to the chic resort of Locarno, nestling below the towering peaks of the Alps. During our journey you will see ever-grander snow-capped mountains, their colours gently changing from pinks to greens and blues, as the sun, arcing across the sky, casts its ever-changing shadows. You snatch tantalising glimpses of lakeside life with the locals going about their daily lives, whilst birds of prey soar on the numerous thermals and colourful wildfowl rise and fall as the boat’s wake radiates from the stern. Locarno is staunchly Swiss, but the twisting lanes and alleys of the historic centre bear more resemblance to Tuscany than Zurich, lending it a real charm enhanced by a fascinating history encapsulated in the mighty castle dominating from above. After some free time we board the narrow gauge Centovalli train for a spectacularly scenic ride as it winds its way through wild, romantic landscapes, pure mountain cascades, vines, chestnut woods and villages clinging to the mountainsides. Named after the so called ‘hundred valleys’ through which it passes, the train features specially designed panoramic carriages so you can sit back, enjoying the scenery in all its glory as it winds its seemingly impossible way around the valley sides. From Domodossola we return by coach to Stresa.
This morning we explore another of Northern Italy’s most famous lakes and one of its most attractive too. Described by Wordsworth as ‘a treasure the earth keeps to itself’, a favourite of Shelley, Lake Como has attracted visitors for centuries in search of relaxation, culture and inspiration. The famous ancient Roman, Pliny wrote of its luxuriant beauty and it has inspired some of the best works of greats such as Verdi and Rossini to name but two. Como town is renowned for its lakeside parks and grand hotels and the Villa Olmo which has been home to many eminent Europeans including Napoleon, Archduke Ferdinand and Garibaldi, the ‘father of modern Italy’. During the afternoon, you could take a relaxing boat trip across the shimmering waters to elegant and exclusive Bellagio which, with its idyllic location on a promontory on the lake, is often described as Italy’s most beautiful town, and when you see it you will almost certainly agree! The shore lake is lined by attractive, pastel-coloured buildings, faded by decades of sunshine with narrow cobbled streets and lanes climbing their way to the hilly centre. Awash with dazzling flowers of every colour, Bellagio cannot be bettered for a long lazy lunch in one of the many lakeside restaurants, then perhaps a stroll amongst the typically formal Italian gardens so beloved of romantics over the centuries, interspaced as they are with fine, 18th century sculpture.
Today you can choose to relax in the hotel, perhaps take a swim in the pool or explore Stresa’s many delights. The lakeside exudes an ambience of classic ‘belle époque’ gentility, owing its origin to the days of the ‘Grand Tour’ when Europe’s 19th century aristocracy, having crossed the border from Switzerland, experienced their first taste of Italy. Literary aficionados may like to take a drink at the bar of the Grand Hotel featured in Hemingway’s ‘A Farewell to Arms’, and frequented by the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Charlie Chaplin, or if you have a head for heights why not enjoy a cable car to the summit of Monte Mottarone for panoramic views to the majestic snow-capped peaks of the distant Alps.
Today the views will take your breath away. We firstly climb the foothills of the Alps then cross the Swiss frontier and head into the high Alps themselves. We take the Simplon Pass, once used by the Romans to control their northern provinces with the first actual road constructed by Napoleon. Continuing, the scenery becomes ever more spectacular, with lush, wild flower-covered meadows studded with tiny shepherds’ shelters sweeping through the dense forests, crowned by snow-capped mountains glistening in the sun. You could be lucky and catch a glimpse of the elusive ibex, chamois or even a golden eagle soaring high above. Marvelling at the engineering feats, the road traverses towering viaducts and jaw dropping precipices, we pass countless torrential mountain streams tumbling waterfalls before arriving at the legendary village of Zermatt, nestling at the foot of the mighty, instantly recognisable Matterhorn. Zermatt is iconically Swiss, a car-free jumble of chalets and ancient wooden farm huts strewn along the valley floor, towards pastures alive with the sound of cowbells and dramatic cable cars and soaring footpaths weave ever upwards to the majestic amphitheatre of the surrounding lofty summits. The ultimate alpine peak, the Matterhorn is strangely shy until you reach the end of the village, turn a corner, and the Swiss national symbol is revealed in its unrivalled glory - truly, one of life’s ‘wow’ moments! For an even better view take the cable car or cog railway to reach 3000 metres and the absolutely awe-inspiring mountain wonderland of glaciers and summits. Alternatively you can relax in one of the many delightful cafés or take a gentle ride in a horse drawn carriage as you wish.
Our final day, and we experience one of the real highlights of the entire holiday. Orta is probably the prettiest of the Italian lakes, yet surprisingly one of the least known. What Orta does have is an exceptional dose of charm! Surrounded on three sides by the deep blue water, the delightful lakeside village of Orta San Giulio is a haven from mass tourism and the only ‘must see’ sight is the village itself. The pebble studded lanes and stepped alleys, lined with a myriad of traditional food shops selling the gorgeous fresh produce for which Italy is so justifiably respected, lead down to the lakeshore and romantic main square. Buildings with exposed 14th century half-timbers and shuttered windows wear the pastel ochre, magenta and pale blues so typically Italian, in a kaleidoscope of colour. Linger a while, watch the locals going about their daily lives chatting with acquaintances as they go. You cannot fail to be captivated by its perfectly medieval charms. San Giulio’s basilica on the island is incredible; the inside entirely covered with spellbindingly preserved 14th century biblical frescoes and in places you can even see the earlier 12th century works underneath. Before we return to our hotel we visit the monumental statue of San Carlo Borromeo, Archbishop of Milan and the only cardinal ever to refuse the offer of the papacy. This enormous 17th century bronze statue stands 114 feet high, was for centuries the tallest statue in the world and crowns a hill commanding wonderful views across Lake Maggiore and the surrounding countryside.
After breakfast we transfer to Milan for your flight home.