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Maggiore is quite large, could span multiple trips. From North to South:

Locarno

Locarno itself is worth a few hours (wouldn’t stay there). It’s touristy in a fairly Italian way, flashy clothing and lakeside promenades.

**Madonna del Sasso, above Locarno, is historically important but a bit of a let-down. It does have good views. Museum/Library has very limited access, check in advance for days/times.

***Ristorante Cittadella: In a town packed with touristy options, this is a classy and elegant seafood option. Don’t miss the church and garden across the street.

Intregna

There are many beautiful passes to get to the Northern end of the lake. If you take the Simplon, be sure to stop at ***Ristorante Grotto Du Rii (Intragna), which has great food and a perfect patio.

Isola Brissago

***Isola Brissago: definitely the winner of the Maggiore islands. A perfect romantic getaway, with a hotel & a great restaurant, and after the ferries stop in the early evening you have the entire island to yourself.

Isola Bella Cluster

It’s worth considering getting a private taxi if visiting the Isola Bella area as a group. Ferries work but you’re a bit captive to the schedules and the wait can be very long.

  • ***Isola Madre: enchanting sub-tropical gardens, and exotic birds! Birds were the best part. Much less crowded than Isola Bella. We ate on the island at ***La Piratera, not bad, friendly and good food with a nice outdoor patio.
  • *Isola Superiore: the island with restaurants. I’m sure there are good options but we couldn’t wait to leave the chaos.
  • **Isola Bella: dramatic and overwhelming crowds. Worth it once.
  • The ***Botanical Gardens of Villa Taranto are really beautiful and worth a detour. 

Stresa

We stayed in Stresa, which is incredibly touristy but the best option for island access.

  • **Ristorante Il Vicoletto, Vicolo Del Pocivo 3, Stresa: great reviews, and the food was excellent. Setting a little boring. 
  • ***Grand Hotel Iles Borromees (Hemingway stayed here, and Winston Churchill had his honeymoon here), wonderful in classic grand hotel style.

Also consider ***Villa Pizzini for a meal (see Orta notes), also accessible from the Maggiore side.

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