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The Borromean Islands in the heart of Lake Maggiore

Located in the Piedmont region, the Borromean Islands are one of the most visited attractions in the Lake Maggiore area, in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola. Today, one by one, we will discover all the beauties of the incredible Borromean Islands.


The Borromean Islands in the heart of Lake Maggiore

Today I bring you a very special post about the Borromean Islands in the heart of Lake Maggiore. With a privileged location, the Borromean Islands form one of the most beautiful archipelagos in all of Italy. Here at Traveling to Italy you can make the trip of your dreams! Also check out our Section Accommodations in Italy – Tips for your Vacation. Here at  Your Travel to Italy with Ana Patricia  you make the trip of your dreams! ALSO: see our  “Accommodation in Italy – Tips for your holidays!”.

Our introduction

In the Piedmont region, province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, the islands stand out for their beauty and elegance. The islands of the archipelago are: Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori; Also, as part of the set, we find a small island called Isola di San Giovanni and a rock formation called Malghera; although we will visit one by one of the three main islands that are the most important and most visited. Are you ready? So let’s go!

1) The Borromean Islands in the heart of Lake Maggiore – ISOLA MADRE

Among all the Borromean Islands, Isola Madre is the largest and most characteristic of the entire archipelago. It is on this island that the beautiful Palazzo Borromeo is located, which is one of the best witnesses of the power of the homonymous family that baptizes the group of islands.


One of Isola Madre’s biggest attractions is its splendid Kashmir (Cashmir) Cypress. The tree is 25 meters high, with 8 meters in diameter around it and a total weight of approximately 25 tons. It is one of the oldest in the world and is estimated to be over 200 years old! This is considered the oldest specimen of its species in all of Europe. The tree, originally from the Himalayas, is endangered – in other words: it is a very special tree!

Isola Madre and its history

According to a document dated September 22, 846, the island has been present there since the Ice Age, however it was known as Isola di San Vittore and had only a few houses, a small church dedicated to the saint who gave the island its name. , and some olive trees destined for the production of oil to be used in liturgies.

During the medieval age, the island belonged to several owners (abbots and bishops) and, according to the present documentation, in 1501 the property passed from the bishop of Novara to the noble Lancilotto Borromeo.

However, due to marriages, in 1520, the island of San Vittore became part of the Trivulzio family, returning to the hands of the Borromeo family only in 1563, when Renato Borromeo named it Isola Renata.

The construction of the Palazzo Borromeo

The construction of the island building received a new impetus in 1563 and the final appearance of the place was not defined until the 16th century. The gardens were completed in 1710 with the addition of staircases, pergolas and vases.

At the end of the 18th century, Isola Madre took on the appearance we see today and remains, also, a place of peace and rest, as it offers us a mild climate and an abundant nature that enchants us.

Another point worth mentioning are the beautiful and well cared for plants on the island. Rare and exotic were collected by Vitaliano IX, a botany enthusiast.

In 1826, greenhouses were built and in 1858 a chapel. At the beginning of the 20th century, it was decided to transform Isola Madre into a hotel, and then rent it out as a holiday home to a very select clientele.

However, between the 60s and 80s of the 20th century, Giberto and Bona Borromeo Arese defined, once and for all, the future of Isola Madre: the palace, which is sumptuously furnished with furniture and works of art from Villa Borromeo Arese in Cesano Maderno, and the vast gardens needed to be seen by the general public and so the island opened for visitation in 1978 and has remained so to this day, making Isola Madre an important part of the incredible history of the Borromean Islands.

What to see at Isola Madre’s Borromeo Palace?

The Palace is of magnanimous beauty, but some rooms deserve to be highlighted. Among them are: the Reception Room, the Seasons Room, the Venetian Room, the Library, the Battle Room and the Popes Room.

The Palace has galleries and large windows on all sides, from which it is possible to glimpse suggestive views of the lake and the botanical park. The rooms are filled with porcelain, family paintings, four-poster beds decorated with sumptuous brocades, as well as many other beautiful, well-preserved and very interesting objects.

2) The Borromean Islands in the heart of Lake Maggiore – ISOLA BELLA

Until 1630, Isola Bella was a simple rock inhabited by fishermen. The island had only two small churches and a few vegetable gardens. The Borromeo family, who already owned Isola Madre, focused their interests on Isola Bella and, shortly after acquiring it, began an ambitious and grandiose project for the construction of another Palace and an immense garden.

The works on Isola Bella, an integral part of the elegant Borromean Islands, gave rise to what we see today and continued through the 18th and 19th centuries, until 1948, when the New Hall, the north facade and the large pier were built.

The Baroque and its unique examples

Between art and history, at Isola Bella’s Palazzo Borromeo, you can follow the fascinating Baroque style in more than 20 rooms.

Worthy of mention is the Berthier Gallery, which presents a mosaic of more than 130 paintings including masterpieces and some copies of great masters of the past such as Raphael, Correggio, Titian, and Guido Reni; the Throne Room, the Queens Room, the Tapestry Room and the Caves, created to surprise visitors and take them to a marine world full of magic.

The splendid garden of Isola Bella

The garden was built between 1631 and 1671 and is one of the most famous – and beautiful! – from Isola Bella. There you will find the magnificent Teatro Massimo, which is the most important monument in the garden.

Filled with statues, obelisks and fountains, this is where you will find the fascinating Unicorn statue, heraldic symbol of the Borromeo family.

Around the Theater you will find a ‘sea’ of flowers and rare plants, among them the centenary camphor, the interesting Gunnera manicata – whose leaves can reach 2 meters in diameter; the fragrant Olea Fragrans, the very rare Halesia Diptera – with its flowers that look like snowflakes, and the Mexican pine. In addition to them, the place still has camellias, roses, citrus fruits, hydrangeas and other magnificent species.

In the gardens there are also beautiful white peacocks that love to show off to visitors.


Since 2002, the gardens of Isola Bella, like those of Isola Madre, have been part of the Royal Horticultural Society’s prestigious English circuit list.

3) The Borromean Islands in the heart of Lake Maggiore – ISOLA DEI PESCATORI

Isola dei Pescatori is the smallest of them all and, without detracting from it, is perhaps the least “important”, but – even so – it is worth a brief visit.

The island has just over 40 inhabitants who are dedicated to fishing and, of course, tourism. Here you will find excellent restaurants and it is the perfect island for a perfect lunch.


Visiting hours change according to the seasons. I suggest that before your visit you confirm the opening times at this link.

Useful information

The Borromean Islands can be reached thanks to the boats that generally depart from Arona, Stresa, Locarno, Laveno and Pallanza. There are also some private companies that do the route.

To access Isola dei Pescatori, there is no fee, however, to go to Isola Madre and Isola Bella, I suggest you buy the Combined Ticket, which also entitles you to enter the palaces and gardens.

To buy tickets, which have different prices, you can click here!

If you prefer, you can also choose to explore the islands with a tourist boat. The price of the tour is 15 euros and you can buy the tour by clicking here!

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The Borromean Islands and their charms in the heart of Lake Maggiore. The islands are beautiful, and if you’re in the Lake Maggiore region, be sure to include them in your itinerary!

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