Castles of Cannero

Cannero Riviera
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How to get

By car: from the A26, exit for Verbania. Continue in the direction of the Swiss border along the SS34 by the side of Lake Maggiore as far as Cannero Riviera. Here you can hire a boat to take you close to the castles.


The Castles of Cannero are today picturesque ruins on two rocky islets close to the shore, and seem to float magically on the surface of the water. They are all that remains of the Rocca Vitaliana fortress built between 1519 and 1521 by Ludovico Borromeo, who gave it this name in honour of an illustrious ancestor.

The fortress was built over the ruins of an earlier castle, the Castello della Malpaga, which had been used since the 15th century as a refuge by the powerful, cruel Mazzarditi family. These five brothers took control of the burgh of Cannobio between 1403 and 1404, terrorizing the inhabitants of the district with their acts of violence and piracy.

This went on until the Viscontis laid siege to the fortress, starving the bandits into surrender. The old castle was razed to the ground, so that no trace of it remains. The Rocca Vitaliana was then built to defend the upper part of Lake Maggiore from incursions by the Swiss after the Duchy of Milan lost control of the Ticino Canton. The main part of the castle, on the eastern islet, still has its massive walls built right on the water, following the irregular contours of the rock, and some towers of different shapes which still have part of their battlements.

All that remains of the castle on the western islet is a ruined tower and some crumbling parts of the wall. The ruins cannot be visited as they are unsafe, but the view of them from the shore or from a boat continues to be compelling.

The islands’ rocky shores are a magnet for adventurous bathers.