Northern Italy has a couple a very scenic lakes. And today we joined an organized bus tour to see a bit of Lago Maggiore, the second largest after Lago di Garda (which I had visited as a 14 year old back in the early 80ies).
The busride was very comfortable and took about 2 hours and we entered the lake area at Arona, and our first stop shortly after was the giant (35m / 100ft) statue of San Carlo. Nice to look at, but the view of the lake was more impressive.
Our next stop was the small town of Stresa, which has a couple of really cool looking hotels … namely the Regina Palace (average price 276 USD) and the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees (average price 347 USD). After flipping through some reviews of these 2 places I get the feeling that they are banking in on their location and yes, they might have pretty rooms and great views .. but service, food and ambience seem to lack … then again, I have never stayed there .. but from our very quick glance we got the impression that most guests there are over 65. Maybe not the best place to stay with a kid.
Then we took a boat ride to Isola Bella, which has a great palace full of antique furniture and a bunch of nice, touristy restaurants .. I guess with the little time we had, we had the choice between a) extensive palace and garden visit – no food b) hurried palace and garden – hurried food c) nice relaxed lunch at the seafront … we selected c) … we are already thinking about coming back .. so we will do the palace / garden thing when we have more time … but at 1:15 PM we were surprised that Julius had not turned into terrorist mode yet … but we knew that finding food was not the top priority.
After checking several places (most of which had some easy to select and someone cheap looking) tourist menu, we found a place we liked (Ristorante Magnolia), that had some very nice stuff (especially fish from the lake, grilled) and on top of that we had a great table right at the water and some very friendly waiters.
The food was great and when we were done we spent the remaining time exploring the maze of little streets (filled with souvenier shops and cats) and then it was time to return to our boat.
We hopped on the bus again to go back to Arona for some walking around there … that timing was not the greatest for Julius, who just fell asleep before be stopped in Arona .. so we carried around a sleeping baby most of the time … and when it was time to get back to the bus, he was all awake … all through the 2 hour drive back.
In summary: the area is really sweet .. well worth a visit … stay clear off obvious tourist traps … and you will find lots of stuff to enjoy.