Lake Maggiore – 6 nights
The Italian Lakes - Maggiore and OrtaBack to Routes
The lake from Monte Orfano
The quay at Isola Pescatori
Romanesque church in Monte Orfano
Monte Rosa from Mottarone
Birth of Saint Francis Sacro Monte
Lake Maggiore from above Stresa
Isola San Giulio
We liked it all, as we always do! The views from Mottarone were simply the best we have ever seen. The alpine flowers were beautiful.
Staying on the island was idyllic for the views and evening peace.
Anon, UK - May 2019
My husband and I enjoyed the walk.
We marvelled at the beautiful scenery, the lovely towns and the incredible scenery from the top of the mountain. We stopped and talked to people along the way and enjoyed the mushroom hunters in the forest. We had progressive picnics along the way which we enjoyed (fruit, cheese, salami, crackers). We are already thinking of where to go for our next walk.
Elizabeth Sterling Baresi, Hemet, USA - September 2018
We had such a great time. Please thank Beatrice for a most interesting and challenging route.
We were blessed with fine weather. Loved walking through the woods up the east side of Mottarone, cool with dappled sunlight. The views from the summit of Mottarone were spectacular with snow-capped Alps to the North. Orta San Giulio is the loveliest of lakeland villages and still not spoilt by too many tourists.
Clinton Heseltine, Livingston, UK - September 2018
We had a wonderful holiday, great walks and great places to stay along the way. Also the driver who picked us up from Milan was excellent, very friendly and helpful.
It would be worth strongly recommending that people spend an extra day on Isola dei Pescatori to go on the ferry around Lake Maggiore and see the three beautiful gardens, Isola Bella and the Palazzo, Villa Taranto and Isola Madre - we understand Isola Bella is the best. We will just need to come back again to see them.
Dai and Susan Smith, London, UK - May 2018
We really enjoyed this holiday which had straightforward walks and really outstanding scenery.
For us, the walks are relatively short, but with so much to look at, a gentle pace suits this area. There are other tourist options too, especially in Lake Maggiore, which suits people who don't want to do all the walks. We would recommend this walk to those who like a gentle pace and enjoy scenery on the way; one of our favourites of the 6 walks we have done.
John Stroobant, Chislehurst, UK - May 2018
We walked over 40 miles... beside lakes and rivers, in the rain and in the sun, up and down mountains, through silver birch and chestnut forests, across meadows, beside ancient stone ruins, along old cobblestone pathways, over bridges, alongside cattle and sheep, through tiny villages and medieval towns, alongside vineyards and tomato gardens... we walked and chatted with old men picking Porcini mushrooms, and a cattle herder, and waved to locals who have rarely seen a tourist come through their tiny hamlet before... we walked to the top of the sacred Monte Mesma and captured the breathtaking view and talked to a monk who was more than happy to say hello, we hiked past dozens of tiny rural chapels. We saw Italy in a way that you could only do by simply walking and being right in the midst of the nature, the culture, and the people... the entire experience was, in a word... MAGICAL!
Ben Spencer, Massachusetts, USA - September 2017
At a glance
Lake Maggiore 6-night option (misses a night in Armeno, continuing directly to Orta for a longer final day). Add extra nights on Isola Pescatori or at Orta to enjoy each lake to the full, or on the top of the mountain (Mottarone).
How much walking?
Full days: 9½-18km per day, 3½-5¾ hrs walking
Using shortening options: The Stresa (Carciano) funicular could be used to avoid the walk to Gignese or to Mottarone. No other feasible shortening options (other than to miss whole days)
A journey from lake to lake
This walk – On Foot’s first in the Italian Lakes – brings the glory of the Alps to walkers of modest abilities. The area was the first Italian stop on the Grand Tour, and the resorts around Lake Maggiore developed early in a style pleasing to the eye. The three Borromean islands, notable for their gardens, are worth an extra day exploring via the frequent public ferries linking them.
The fishing villages of Isola Pescatori (the “Fishermen’s isle”) and Orta retain their medieval charm, and these two form the beginning and end of our route. The central section, and the real walking, heads up to the mountain top of Mottarone (and includes a night on the top, with its stunning views of Monte Rosa, the Alps’ second highest mountain), before returning to the lakeshore at Orta San Giulio. Lake Orta is quieter compared with its larger brother, and has more spiritual attractions, most notably the Franciscan assembly of chapels on Sacro Monte and the peaceful convent on Isola San Giulio.
Walked by On Foot staff: Simon, Mary and Heather
REVIEWS: For independent walker reviews of this route submitted to the Association of Independent Tour Operators visit AITO.com.
ARTICLES: Read an article about the Lake Maggiore holiday from The Guardian newspaper here.
GUIDED TOURS: Join our local contact for guided tours of the delights of Lake Maggiore or Lake Orta – see details here.
TRAVEL ADVICE: To find the latest travel advice from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office for UK citizens travelling to Italy, click here. Citizens of other nations will also find it useful, but should always check their appropriate local agency.
COVID-19 SAFETY PRECAUTIONS: Please read our summary of current regulations.
- The islands of Lake Maggiore – Pescatori, Bella and Madre
- Taking the ferry around Lake Maggiore
- The hike up to Mottarone
- Dining in a mountain-top hotel
- The chapels of Sacro Monte
- Orta San Giulio and the convent on the island
- A walk around Lake Orta
This route features the following characteristics and interests: Mountains, Drive to route
Extra nights at the start and finish to appreciate the lakes, and time in Orta to really explore the 20 chapels of Sacro Monte. Combine with a visit to Milan or explore Piedmont further.
How much Walking?
Using shortening options: The Stresa (Carciano) funicular could be used to avoid the walk to Gignese or to Mottarone. No other feasible shortening options (other than to miss whole days)
Mainly on signed paths and tracks, though with occasional quiet asphalt. Attention to written directions required. Highest point on route 1420m.
Medium: Average cumulative uphill stretches (CUSs) 574m (260m – 790m) per day.
GPX file available for handheld GPS or smartphone App for complete route.
Important note: Times given for each day are walking times for an “average” walker and exclude stops. “CUSs” stands for “Cumulative Uphill Stretches” and measures the aggregated ascents in each day, expressed in metres of climb. See “Walk Grading” for more information.
When to go?
The season starts as early as April (though there can still be snow on Mottarone). A good time to go to the Lakes is May/June – it can get a little hot and crowded in July and August, but mid-September to the middle of October is a colourful time to enjoy pleasant walking weather. Late October is also possible and as the walks are not long, the lessening daylight is not an issue.
Note that for walkers who would like to dine at Villa Pizzini on Mottarone the restaurant is closed on Mondays from June to September, and Sundays/Mondays/Tuesdays the remainder of year.
Please note: date ranges shown are for a ‘normal’ year. While Covid-19 restrictions remain, please contact us to discuss your plans and availability.
Day 1 - Arrive on Isola Pescatori
Your journey to this magical island on Lake Maggiore may be by train or by taxi but it will always end with a ferry - a boat trip makes the start of a holiday such a joy. Settle into your comfortable hotel and have an explore of the narrow streets of "Fishermen's Island".
It's always best to factor in an extra day here if you can so that you can indulge yourselves both with exploring the lake and walking our featured first walk (see below)
Day 2 - Discovering Lake Maggiore
If you have not booked an extra day here, you have two choices – we recommend using the ferry system to explore the Borromean Islands – Bella and Madre and their gardens in particular, the old town and resort of Stresa, and even the Monastery of Santa Caterina del Sasso on the opposite shore of the lake.
Walkers may prefer our featured walk from Mergozzo to Pallanza, with a pretty path along Lake Mergozzo (3¾hr, 14½km, CUSs 540m), but you can decide when you are there.
In place of this walk, or as an extra day, consider spending some time with Beatrice, our local contact and guide. who can show you the very best of Lake Maggiore and its surrounds. Explore the Borromean Islands, their gardens and palaces, and the villages around the shore. Full or half day tours available, from €250 per group of up to 10 people per full day, or €150 per half day, plus travel and entrances. Pay locally. See details here or contact On Foot.
Day 3 - Baveno to Gignese
Following a short ferry transfer to Baveno, the walk swiftly climbs and gains lovely views of the Borromean islands dotted across Lake Maggiore. Leave behind the grand lakeside villas and hotels, and pass through hamlets and woodland offering you a view of the simpler side of life. Ensure you save enough time for a visit to the ‘Giardina Alpina’, botanical gardens showcasing many species of rare alpine plants and a chance to see what’s widely regarded as one of the most spectacular views of the lake. A mule track and some quiet roads lead you to sleepy Gignese for the night. (3¾hr, 11km, CUSs 740m).
Alternatives: You can use the cable car (funivia) to take you from Carciano (Stresa’s smaller ferry dock, see map) to its middle station just before the Giardina Alpina. From there it’s an easy walk into Gignese.
Day 4 - Gignese to Mottarone
Today’s walk may not be very long but you’ll want to take your time as you leave Gignese to climb up through beech and chestnut woods to Mottarone, the highest point of the walk. Mottarone is known as the mountain of the lakes and you’ll see why as you ascend towards the top. From here you will have spectacular 360 degree views of six lakes, as well as the Alps (snow capped if you’re lucky) in the distance. (3½hr, 9½km, CUSs 790m)
Settle into your hotel before heading off to the very highest point to watch the sunset and its rainbow of colours from there.
Alternative: If you want to avoid the climb, retrace yesterday’s steps to the cable car’s middle station and let the cable car whisk you nearly to the top station. It’s just a short walk uphill to your accommodation from there.
Day 5 - Mottarone to Orta
The first part of the day retraces the end of yesterday’s walk but gives you the chance to look at the views from another perspective. Then it’s downhill all the way on relatively gentle paths which lead through birch woodland and pasture to Armeno and its Romanesque church.
Continuing on, the path takes you through the delightful village of Miasino, with glorious view over the Lago d’Orta, before entering the outskirts of Orta from above. Take time to explore Sacro Monte with its 20 chapels, or leave it until tomorrow (5½ hrs, 18km, CUSs 260m)
Day 6 - Lake Orta circuit
Today you will become especially well acquainted with mystical Lake Orta as you circumnavigate its shores and see it from many different viewpoints. Starting with a stroll along the promenade to loosen up your muscles, you then head uphill into the lovely old village of Corconio, with ancient Villa Bonala and some great lake views. A detour up to the medieval Buccione Tower comes next for some more views, before turning to explore the lake’s other face and reaching Lagna. You could take the ferry from here (but do check ferry times) or head onwards to Pella, via the town of Alzo, famous for its tap industry (!), for a more regular ferry service to Isola San Giulio and then back to Orta for the night. (5¾hr, 18km, CUSs 540m)
Alternatives: You can shorten this walk by stopping at Lagna but plan your timings carefully as there are fewer ferries back and not lots to do in Lagna if you miss one. Otherwise, use the excellent ferry service to explore the lake and to visit the island Isola San Giulio, which should not be missed.
In place of Lake Orta circuit, or as an extra day, consider booking Beatrice to help you get the most out of your time in Orta. Here you can discover Sacro Monte di Orta (Unesco Site) and Isola San Giulio with its basilica and fascinating tales. Full or half day tours available, from €250 per group of up to 10 people per full day, or €150 per half day, plus travel and entrances. Pay locally. See details here or contact On Foot.
Depart for home
It’s time to go – unless you can spend an extra night here – or maybe go and experience sophisticated Milan.
ARRIVING BY AIR
The best airports are Milan (Malpensa, followed by Linate and Bergamo), with connections from most regional airports in the UK and Ireland. Other international flights use Milan Malpensa.
Land By: 14:00 for Malpensa, 12:00 for Linate and 11:00 for Bergamo for public transport connections to Stresa/Baveno (for Isola Pescatori). Later flights to Malpensa possible with pre-booked taxi transfer.
Return flight earliest: 12:00 (Malpensa), 14:00 (other Milan airports) for connections from Orta (see transfer information below)
Flight information can change rapidly and not all flights run daily. Please do check directly with the airlines’ websites or Skyscanner (see below) before finalising any booking with us. Do not book your flights until we have confirmed that we have provisionally reserved accommodation for you.
For up-to-date schedules and flights from all airports check Skyscanner.
See “getting to the start of the walk” below for transfer information.
ARRIVING BY TRAIN
Nearest railway stations:
Start: Stresa (has the most connections) or Baveno (best for walk to ferry port)
Finish: Orta-Miasino, or take a taxi to Stresa (30 mins) for more options
Sample rail journey via Paris:
TGV from Paris to either Geneva or Lausanne for overnight stop before travelling on to Stresa or Baveno the following day. Other route options include taking a high-speed TGV from Paris to Milan for an overnight stop and direct journey of approx 1 hr to Stresa or Baveno the following day. There is also a Thello sleeper train from Paris to Milan ~11 hrs, which is a budget option – expect cheap and cheerful rather than hotel-style standards!
We suggest thetrainline.com for times, ticket booking and other information or raileurope.co.uk (formerly loco2.com) for times, prices and booking. reiseauskunft.bahn.de also shows full timetables. See also our blog on travelling to Lake Maggiore by train here.
ARRIVING BY CAR
Park at Hotel Cortese in Armeno (no charge). Taxi to start c.€50, and back at end c.€20 (both pay locally).
Getting to the start of the walk
The first accommodation is normally on Isola Pescatori. The last hotel is in Orta San Giulio. Transfer times and methods are suggested for the three Milan airports. For train arrival transfers see below.
Outwards: Train from Malpensa (shuttle/train from Linate or Bergamo) then short walk to ferry – 2½ hrs, shared shuttle (Alibus – 1 hr)/ferry from Milan Malpensa OR Pre-bookable taxi transfer (1 hr) from Milan Malpensa airport to ferry for Isola Pescatori.
Return: Train to Novara (direct) then shuttle to Malpensa (best), or to Milan (1-2 changes), then shuttles to all Milan airports, allow 3 hours in total, or pre-bookable taxi to Gravellona then shared shuttle to Malpensa only (allow 2½ hrs total) or pre-bookable taxi to Malpensa only (1 hr)
Transfers from train stations:
Outwards: From Stresa station 15 mins walk downhill to Stresa ferry port for Isola Pescatori, or five mins walk from Baveno station to Baveno ferry port.
Return: Orta-Miasino station is a short local taxi ride from your hotel.
For pre-bookable taxi costs, see “Prices”
Full transfer advice, including timetables, is provided in your Walkers’ Pack. Contact us if you would like additional pre-booking information.
Where You'll Stay
The range of accommodation on the complete route here is from the traditional “old resort” hotels in the village centre (Isola Pescatori and Orta), through restaurant with rooms over (Gignese), mountain top skiing hotel or “Villa” (Mottarone) to modern family run (Armeno). All rooms except for some in the “Villa” have ensuite facilities, and while none are luxurious all are comfortable.
Ivan and Sabina have created this great little albergo at 1400m. Simple bedrooms, great position. Closed Sun/Mon/Tue (Mon, June-Sept). We recommend pre-booking the tasting menu (starts at c. approx €45/head for 4 courses, wines extra) - mandatory for tables of 5+, especially on Fri/Sat/Sun.
Isola Pescatori – Albergo Belvedere (B&B)
One of the oldest hotels on the island, quietly positioned and with a noted restaurant.Website
Gignese – Agriturismo La Miniera (dinner, B&B)
Agriturismo with comfortable rooms and good facilities including heated outdoor pool.Website
Mottarone – Villa Pizzini (B&B)
Ivan and Sabina have created this great little albergo at 1400m. Simple bedrooms, great position. Closed Sun/Mon/Tue (Mon, June-Sept). We recommend pre-booking the tasting menu (starts at c. approx €45/head for 4 courses, wines extra) - mandatory for tables of 5+, especially on Fri/Sat/Sun.Host Website
Mottarone – Casa della Neve (dinner, B&B)
Mountain-top chalet hotel with a convivial restaurant and mountain style food (fondues, stews and grills). Cheerful host and amazing views.Website
Orta – Albergo Leon d’Oro (B&B)
Lakeside hotel in the heart of the village, and one of the oldest too. Quixotic charm, including breakfast service by Grandma. (This hotel has limited wifi.) Spa opening spring 2020.Website
Orta – Hotel La Bussola (B&B)
Large modern hotel with lake views and pool, ten minutes walk from the town.Website
Total 6 nights in double/twin room, all breakfasts, luggage transfers between all hotels on walking route; full Walkers Pack with route directions, maps, transfer and background information; local telephone support. Locally levied tourist taxes are not included.
All prices are per person unless otherwise indicated, and are based on a standard booking in May. Prices may vary seasonally and a fixed price will be given to you before you commit.
Single Room Supplement (SRS): From £285
Lone Traveller Additional Supplement (LTAS): From £190
Maximum party size: 12
Extra nights in any hotel: Contact On Foot Holidays (seasonal pricing)
Taxi from Milan Malpensa Airport to Stresa ferry port (for Isola Pescatori):
From £120 1-3 pers, £140 4-8 pers
Taxi from Orta San Giulio to Milan Malpensa Airport: From £90
Taxi from Orta San Giulio to Gravellona (for shared transfer to Milan Malpensa airport): From £36
Shared transfer from Gravellona to Milan Malpensa airport: ~€12 pp prebookable pay locally
Sending Walkers Packs to addresses outside the UK: £10-£40 (per pack, location dependent)
Our local team
Beatrice Bariletta lives in the Ossola Valley, close to Lakes Mergozzo, Maggiore and Orta at the foot of the Pennine and Lepontine Alps, with her husband and two cats. She loves walking, hiking, climbing, discovering and living with nature, and she feels very lucky to live in a wonderful place and to be able to share it with many different people she walks with as she works as a hiking and tour guide in this region.