Welcome back to my Ask a Local series.
Today, I’m sharing a bonus interview. This one didn’t make it into the full Italy guide (because it came in a hair too late), but it’s so lovely that I thought it should still really be published. And, so, without further ado, a bonus interview from Marjie, owner of a top Arona B&B, about Arona and Lago Maggiore.
First tell us about you.
My name is Marjie and I am originally from Canada.
Since living here, I have operated a small farm where we raise unusual chicken breeds, as well as horses. When we moved (in 2002) to our present location, just five minutes by car from Arona, we decided to open our country villa as an agriturismo, hosting guests B&B style. Cascina Incocco is a very special place with a long history, including a lovely, small church with magnificent views over the rolling green countryside, where guests now take their breakfast to the sound of classical music.
Farm life is different every day; guests and animals are endless fun. Right now we have two new foals gamboling in the spring meadows and chicks popping out every week!
Photo credit: Francesca Special K.
If someone is visiting Lago Maggiore for the first time, what do you recommend they see or do?
I like to start people at the statue of San Carlo, as we are so close to him. “Big Chuck,” as we fondly dub him, is the second largest statue in the world after the Statue of Liberty, but he was painstakingly built of bronze in the 1600s to commemorate Saint Carlo Borromeo (who was born in the Arona castle). To climb up an ancient ladder inside him and look out his meter high nostrils is pure adventure.
Another must-see is the Borromeo Islands just out from Stresa; Isola Bella has a magnificent house to tour and spectacular gardens with a foremost example of Baroque architecture in the garden statuary and design. Isola Madre has lovely botanical gardens and a villa (not open to the public). And Isola Pescatore is known for its characteristic tiny walking streets and wonderful fish restaurants.
A whole day can be spent on the lake ferries on the Lake Maggiore Express trip. In the morning, one sails up the lake to Locarno in Switzerland for lunch. Then, you can take the train through the wild, magnificent Swiss Centro Valle, returning to Italy and home via either train or ferry.
Lake Orta is a marvel; the old town is no longer accessible by car, except by residents, so it is very walkable with tiny, old shops and restaurants all situated around the central piazza on the lake. The tiny island of San Giulio and its church can be reached with a four-minute ferry ride. Slate roofs, cobblestone streets, and ancient architecture abound to give a peaceful, magical setting for a special day on the lake. Lake Orta also has many swimming beaches and walking paths to follow for magnificent views.
From Stresa, a cable car may be taken up to the top of Mottarone, the peak between the lakes of Orta and Maggiore. Here are many fine eating spots and abundant paths to walk.
In winter, ski slopes are everywhere. Good roads can also be followed up from Orta or Stresa in about 30 minutes; on a clear day, the view is incredible from this top of the world to the snow-covered distant alps.
Angera, on the opposite lake shore, has a dream castle to explore with fine architecture, eating, and even an antique doll and toy museum.
The towns of Arona and Stresa are definitely worth a stroll; very fashionable shops abound. A evening stroll is recommended to eat gelato, exquisite Italian ice cream, which is a way of life in the summer evenings.
For those who enjoy mountains and hikes, the Parco Val Grande is less than an hour away, as is the resort of Macugnaga and innumerable ski slopes. Every valley has spectacular walks, flora, and fauna to explore.
For shoppers, there are factory outlets, such as the huge mall, Vicolunga, near Vercelli. You’ll find cashmere from Colombo stores, top fashion at Loro Piana, Zegna, and Aspesi, and shoe outlets at Lario 1898, among others. Omegna at the north end of the lake also has outlets for Alessi, Lagostina, and Bialetti kitchenwares.
Children will delight at Villa Pallavicino Park on the lake close to Stresa, a botanical garden and zoo combined where they can actually touch and feed some of the four-legged residents. Also, the well-kept Parco Torbera and large Pombia Zoo Safari are worth a visit, both less than 30 minutes away.
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Let’s talk about day trips…what nearby places should everyone make sure to visit?
Most towns have a large market day (Arona’s is Tuesday morning). Check those out for lots of local goods, color, and produce.
There are also lots of swimming spots, boat rentals, and water sports. Some people even do the annual August swim, crossing of the lake between Arona and Angera (a big adventure).
The local tourist offices carry programs of summer events (like the open air concerts in the park of the ancient castle ruins above Arona, which offers an incredible lake panorama). Every town has programs of concerts, art festivals, theatre, etc. The lake’s excellent tourist office site at has information in numerous languages.
Tell us about the local dishes. What should people try here in Lago Maggiore?
Few people are aware that, in addition to innumerable outstanding restaurants in the Arona area, the store of world-renowned cheese maker, Luigi Guffanti, is located here in town, even offering small meals and tasting sessions. Simply incredible.
Also nearby are Suno and Ghemme, both exceptional wine-growing areas, and visits for wine tasting are always available.
What are your top three favorite bars and restaurants in the area?
It’s almost impossible to choose just three; are there are so many. I guess I have to say Ristorante Castagneto (at Via Vignola 14 in Montrigiasco Arona), Trattoria Campagna (at Via Vergante 12 in Campagna, Arona), and Trattoria San Salvatore (at Galleria Massino Visconti in Novara) for the incredible lake panorama from its terrace.
What can we do to better fit in with the culture?
Dress modestly and do not get carried away with alcohol. The locals consider this very brutta figura (literally: bad figure). Alcohol consumption is done with discretion and always with food, which is the true centerpiece of enjoyment. Italians present themselves with courtesy and decorum to the world and expect the same in return.
What is the best way to meet locals and make friends here?
Learn some of the language, participate in local activities, and be friendly, just as anywhere else in the world.
Photo credit: Martin Spijker.
Why should people make sure to visit Lago Maggiore when they come to Italy?
It’s a jewel in the north Italy area and is very close to the international airport of Malpensa and also to the city of Milano, with its innumerable art, fashion, and business attractions.
What is the best place to go take beautiful photos of the area?
Perhaps up at the top of Mottarone, the 1,500-meter hill between Lakes Orta and Maggiore. That has some spectacular views.