The best time for photos of Isola San Giulio is morning till noon when the island is light up by sunlight. When we arrived at Orta San Giulio in the afternoon the day before, the island was covered in shadow which made a big difference for photos. Our hotel’s breakfast room faced directly toward the island so it gave a beautiful view.
On the other hand, breakfast was a bare minimum. There was no hot food, only croissants, dried fruits, cereal , and very sour yogurt. I wasn’t too thrilled about breakfast….
After the quick breakfast, we walked to the pier for more photos of the island.
Then to the back street because it was so early that only two of us were on the street (occasionally a local or two going to work) so it saved us a lot of time waiting for people to clear out for photos.
After some quick photos, we walked up those flights of stairs to the parking lot to get our car. There, you can see the island at a higher angle.
The parking fee was a shock at €20 but I was able to pay with my 4-digit pin credit card; no way I have coins for €20. We took the car and drove to Stresa, one of the popular towns on Lake Maggiore. The drive took a little more than half an hour and as we were near Stresa, we saw a lot of bigger 4* and 5* hotels and resorts; the area was a lot more busy than Lake Orta. I didn’t have a specific address in Stresa so I just plugged in “Stresa” and then as we get close, we’ll find a parking lot, that was the plan. We indeed found a parking lot right at the pier where we could take the ferry boat to our destination: Isola Bella.
Parking was €1.80 per hour and the machine took my 4-digit pin credit card so I pay as much as possible with the card to reserve the coins for “emergency” use. At the pier, you can see Isola Bella where it’s famous for Palazzo Borromeo and its magnificent garden.
There were a lot of private tour operators at the pier offering boat rides to both Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori (Fisherman’s island). The most affordable way was the public ferry where there’s a ferry station to purchase ticket there. At €9.20 for two adults roundtrip and we could take any of the ferry on the timetable back, it offered the flexibility since we don’t know how long it’ll take us to tour the island – Palazzo Borromeo and its garden.
I didn’t realize it until I saw on the ticket, we were actually not at Stresa pier; 2e were at Carciano pier LOL! Stresa pier is another 6 minutes away by car. Anyways, it worked out, we were able to find parking here.
The ferry ride across the lake was literally a few minutes, the shortest ferry ride ever!
Once we docked, we wanted to visit the palace first so we walked quickly past those vendors.
The admission to the palace and garden was €17 and totally worth it for the awesome architecture details we saw! I didn’t look into the pictures of the palace before the trip but I did saw the photos of the garden and that was what attracted me to the island. It turned out, the palace totally blew my mind off. I didn’t expect such an extravagant, lavish, and jaw-dropping beautiful palace in such a small island. I thought it is a mansion like other “palazzos” in Italy. Remember, we stayed at Palazzo Seneca in Norcia at the beginning of our trip.
Palazzo Borromeo is like those big palaces where royalties lived back in the days…that type of palace. I couldn’t imagine how rich Count Vitaliano Borromeo was to build such a masterpiece. Let the pictures tell the story:
Those paintings were huge and filled the hallway.
The details of the ceiling, the wall, furnishing, etc. fit for a king!
What I especially loved about Palazzo Borromeo is the sea world theme, I felt like I was in Little Mermaid’s undersea castle.
Then we entered this baby-blue tall ceiling room, it felt even more like in an undersea palace.
Just to give you a perspective of how high this room is, look at the size of the door compared to me 😀
A model of the palace and the garden where it took up the majority of the land in the island.
After the baby-blue room, we entered this baby-pink room, I love that piano, isn’t it beautiful? It looked like a room for a princess 🙂
Then to a yellow-toned room….I like the pastel color choices.
The ceiling was unbelievable!
We saw a group of Chinese tourists in a guided tour and they left after this hall; they totally missed one of the highlights in the palace!
Walk down this stairway to…
Not yet…through this room of figurines…
To the grottoes!!! From ceiling to floor, every inch is covered by cobblestones and shells! We have been to many palaces across Europe and it was really unique!
Didn’t expect Borromeo’s collection included a pair of Qing Dynasty figures.
Look at this masterpiece….just WOW!
After the grottoes, the stairway lead us back to the other side of the baby-blue room:
Then through a few beautiful rooms before we headed out to the garden.
The masterpiece of the garden – Teatro Massimo just appeared right in front of our eyes.
Next to it housed a totally white peacock.
We saw most people at Teatro Massimo so it required some wait for lesser people to take photos.
We walked up to have a closer look of its pretty statues…once again sea themed.
At the garden, one of the highest points on the island, you can see the towns around Lake Maggiore.
The garden is huge!!!
Once we finished the loop, we were shocked that no one was there for a few minutes where we were able to take a shot like this without other tourists.
I wondered how many landscapers it takes to maintain this garden.
The back of Teatro Massimo with layers of roses.
There’s also a greenhouse with many kinds of tropical plants including orchids.
We finished the palace and garden in 1.5 hours I think. We spent a lot more time in the palace than in the garden…totally opposite than what I expected. I have seen videos where people quickly walked through the palace to tour the garden, they have missed a treasure! I recommend be there early and take your time to explore the palace and the garden!
After the exit of the palace and garden, we ended up on the back street with a few shops and restaurants.
We walked around back to the direction of the palace to get back to the palace’s ground for this view of the Fisherman’s island and the mountains surrounding the lake.
We saw two painters there, their paintings looked nice!
We had an hour before the next ferry so we decided to have lunch on the island. Even though we expected to be more like a tourist trap but our baby was complaining about it was time for lunch. The restaurant is called Ristorante Magnolia, on the end of the island close to the ferry dock.
Their wet napkins were cute!
We ordered mussels which were edible, Jason’s seafood spaghetti was tourist trap okay quality, while I ordered a simple spaghetti with tomatoes.
After the fast lunch at €48, we boarded the ferry back to the pier to pick up our car and explore the other towns surrounding Lake Maggiore. We drove the 6 minutes ride to finally Stresa. There is parking and I asked the staff at the parking lot if our parking ticket (still have like an hour remaining) is valid here, he said yes! Stresa is a busy lake town with many restaurants and some souvenir shops.
The main tourist area is quite compact and the houses here are not as cute as other small Italian villages.
I saw an upscale gelato shop with so many flavors to choose from. However, their gelato is just average but with an above-average price and small scoop so I do not recommend them!
This building stand out with its busy mosaic tiles going on.
We literally browsed the town in half an hour and we decided to go to the next town – Baveno…only 6 minutes drive away. There is also a parking lot at the pier and slightly less expensive at €1.50 per hour. We paid like 35 minutes or so knowing that the town is small to be able to walk around within that timeframe. I main attraction and right at the center is this church, Chiesa dei Santi Gervaso e Protaso.
I like this bright orange corridor with paintings.
There are two buildings, the smaller one’s interior is just a room but nevertheless filled with paintings.
The bigger church’s interior:
I was super happy to see that there is a free public restroom behind the Tourist Information Center right next to the church! It was clean yay!!!
After the church, we looked at the map, it seemed not many shops except a Carrefour Express supermarket nearby. We decided to go to the market to stock up on some drinks before heading back to the waterfront. The waterfront looked very pretty with nice views of the islands on Lake Maggiore.
It was mid-afternoon by this point and we still have time to visit another place before we headed back for dinner. I looked at the map and decided to go to Pella, the other side of Lake Orta from Orta San Giulio. The drive was around 40 minutes but through very narrow roads circling Lake Orta. The town was extremely quiet……no shops, nothing; it’s purely a residential town.
The other side view of Isola San Giulio, the town on the left is our town – Orta San Giulio.
There’s a church tucked in between streets…
The interior of the church:
With not much to see at Bella, we drive back to Orta San Giulio so we completed a loop around Lake Orta.
We got back to Orta San Giulio, parked at the same parking lot, and then walked back to our hotel to get a quick rest before heading out for dinner. After browsing the restaurants’ menus around Piazza Motta, we decided to have dinner at Ai Due Santi. We got the first-row seat with this view 😀
Its scallops are highly rated so we ordered that, they were pretty good and refreshing!
I ordered the ribs and it was better than yesterday’s meal at Venus.
Jason ordered the local lake fish cooked in a bag…yep, it was literally inside a bag!
They cooked just about right, Jason was happy that the fish meat was still tender and has flavor. Our dinner with an incredible view was €67 and was much better than Venus! After dinner, of course, we walked to the next door, Pan Vino for their amazing gelato, yum yum!
After visiting Lake Orta and Lake Maggiore, I think of all the lakes that we visited so far in the Italian Lake District, the towns surrounding Lake Garda are the prettiest! If I were to plan this trip again, I recommend arriving Lake Maggiore early to spend 3/4 of the day there visiting Isola Bella –
Palazzo Borromeo and its garden, browse the nearby towns and then to Orta San Giulia to spend the evening and overnight. One evening at Orta San Giulia is enough 😉