Water is the leitmotiv of this itinerary, designed for visitors to explore the treasures of Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta and the Alpine lakes of the loveliest valleys of the Verbano Cusio Ossola province.
Our tour begins with a legend. Towards the end of the 14th century the travelling Saint Giulio came to the shores of Lake Orta. Armed only with his faith, Giulio decided to found a church on the island, which was infested with snakes and dragons. So he spread his cloak on the water, and used it as a boat to cross the 400 metres of water to the island, where he managed to drive out the snakes. The spirit of San Giulio is still alive in these places, where water has had so much significance in history and in the landscape. You can reach the Island of San Giulio, a jewel of art and spirituality, from the highly picturesque medieval village of Orta San Giulio, by public or private boat.
Turning towards the east from Lake Orta we come to another, larger lake: Lake Maggiore, fringed with elegant small towns and rich in history. Embarking from the main resorts of Stresa, Baveno and Pallanza you can visit the three “stars” of the Borromean Gulf: Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola Pescatori. More modest islands in the Gulf are the tiny Isolotto di Malghera, also known as the Island of the Lovers, and the Islet of San Giovanni, where the great conductor Arturo Toscanini once lived. Going along the Piedmont shore towards the Swiss border you come to the Castles of Cannero, whose ruins are a magnet for adventurous bathers.
The Verbano Cusio Ossola province is also made up of mountains and Alpine lakes; a splendid example is Lake Agaro in the Antigorio Valley, with its backdrop of green mountain scenery – a perfect place for hiking. In the Anzasca Valley, the wildlife oasis of Macugnaga contains the Lago delle Locce and the Ephemeral Lake, both of which can be reached from the marvellous Belvedere glacier.
Lastly, our itinerary must include the river from which all the lakes in the area originate – the Ticino. Once the scene of major battles and an important commercial port, Castelletto Ticino at the outlet of Lake Maggiore witnessed the journey on the river of the fine white Montorfano granite on its way to Rome to build the church of San Paolo fuori le Mura, and the famous pink Candoglia marble used to complete the construction of Milan Cathedral. The Ticino also possesses the last surviving ancient fishpond in the area, the Vernome Fishpond, a favourite destination for walkers and cyclists.