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By Madeline Jhawar of Italy Beyond the Obvious
Italy's Lake Maggiore doesn't get as much press as its more famous neighbor, Lake Como, but I'd recommend it for a family vacation anytime. Kids will love the trains and boats, and the whole family can gape at views after a cable car ride. Visit small islands, take a boat around a great castle-island, play on a sandy beach, and participate in the late-afternoon Italian passeggiata, walking on Stresa's or Cannobio's lakeside promenade with a gelato.
Where to stay
Stay in Stresa if you've only got a few nights. If time allows, add a few nights further up the lake. A great hotel for families in Stresa is La Luna nel Porto, and I highly recommend the apartments at the Cannero Lakeside Hotel in Cannero Riviera (near Cannobio). A few miles further up the lake, across the Swiss border, is the fabulous kid-oriented Park Hotel Delta.
- Boat to Islands
From Stresa hop on the boat to visit the islands Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori, and Isola Madre. Kids love boat rides and these islands are quick to visit, though visiting all three will take you a full day. Isola Bella in particular has beautiful gardens.
- Flowers, animals, a playground and a picnic!
Spend at least half a day at the Villa Pallavicino, in Stresa. The gardens and the lake view are spectacular, but the highlights for the kids will be the 40+ types of animals, the little train that runs to Stresa, and the playground. Bring your own picnic or eat onsite at the restaurant. If you love botanic gardens, don't miss The Villa Taranto in nearby Verbania - another great open space in a spectacular setting along the lake.
- Cable cars and views
You've got a few options for incredible lake views via cable car: there's a funicular that goes from Laveno-Mombello up to 1,100 meters (3,600 feet). Sit on the terrace with a drink at the top or even stay in the hotel. Or, from Locarno (Switzerland) take the lift that goes up to Cimetta, with incredible views. A third (and my favorite) option is from Stresa: take the cable car to Mottarone, and enjoy a 360 degree view from 1,385 m (about 4,500 feet).
- Adventure park in Baveno
If your kids are a bit older, or need something more physically challenging than a run in a field, take them to the Adventure Park in nearby Baveno. They can wear themselves out on trampolines, do a tough cycling course, walk a suspension route, or try a climbing wall.
The activities above can be done easily from Stresa; the ones below would work from Stresa but are ideally done if you’re based further up the lake.
- Sandy beach!
Visit the pretty town of Cannobio and let the kids play on the beach or in the water. This beach was actually granted a European Union "blue flag" for its cleanliness, so go ahead, let them swim.
- Incredibly Scenic Train ride
Take the scenic train of the "hundred valleys" from Locarno (Switzerland) to Domodossola. To start, take a boat to Locarno from wherever you're staying on the lake, then catch the Centovalli train to Domodossola (schedule here). The views on this 2-hour scenic ride are absolutely incredible.
- ·Swing by a castle
The Castelli di Cannero - just one castle but on 2 islands - are in the middle of the lake just off Cannobio. The castle can't currently be visited but the kids will love the view from the boat.
Consider hitting these attractions on your way to or from the Lake Maggiore.
- Museo Gottard Park in Castelletto Ticino
This museum showcases the history of many different means of transport including trains, planes, boats, cars and motorcycles and even horses. This is at the bottom of the lake and might be a good option if you're looking for something to do on the way to Malpensa airport.
- Safari Park
Just south of the lake in the town of Pombia, kids will love the Safari Park, which has animals, rides, and water slides.
- Parco della Fantasia Gianni Rodari
Gianni Rodari was a children’s author from Lake Orta, just west of the Lake Maggiore. Allow several hours for this park – it has indoor and outdoor play areas, crafts, performances, a huge outdoor space, and even a library. www.rodariparcofantasia.it
- The Swiss end of the lake
If you'd like to spend some time in Switzerland, there is a lot for families to do around Locarno, with great suggestions in this brochure.
Where to eat
La Taverna del Papagallo, off Stresa’s main tourist track, is reasonably priced with excellent food – especially the pizza. Address: Via Principessa Margherita 46, 28838 Stresa Tel (+39) 0323 30411.
For something higher end or for a special occasion, take the boat to Isola Pescatori and eat at Casa Bella. Via del Marinaio 1, Isola dei Pescatori Stresa (VB), Tel (+39) 0323 33471.
One of the best restaurants in the region is Piccolo Lago, in Verbania. The setting, on the shores of Lake Mergozzo, is stunning, and the food is incredible. www.piccololago.it
If the kids love boats, the moored boat Il Battello del Golfo has (surprisingly) good food. Address: 28835 Baveno (VB) - Frazione Feriolo, S.S. Sempione, Attracco Imbarcazioni. Tel (+39) 0323 28122.
In Cannero Riviera, Il Cortile is a great bet for fine dining. Excellent food - and prices to match. Address: Via Massimo d'Azeglio 73, 28821 Cannero Riviera.
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