Isola Madre

Lake Maggiore West Bank

The closest of the three islands to Verbania, Isola Madre is entirely taken up by the Palazzo Madre and the lovely gardens that surround it. The 16th- to 18th-century Palazzo Madre is a wonderfully decadent structure crammed full of all manner of antique furnishings and adornments. Highlights include Countess Borromeo’s doll collection, a neoclassical puppet theatre designed by a scenographer from Milan’s La Scala, and a ‘horror’ theatre with a cast of devilish marionettes.

Outside the palazzo, the English-style botanic gardens are dazzling with colourful azaleas, rhododendrons, camellias, eucalypts, banana trees, hibiscus, fruit orchards, an olive grove and much more. Exotic birdlife, including white peacocks and golden pheasants, roam the grounds. The pride of the garden is a rare Kashmir cypress tree planted in 1862 that was uprooted in a 2006 tornado. It was quickly replanted and is now supported by special cables.

A combined ticket also covers admission to Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Lake Maggiore West Bank attractions

1. Museo del Paesaggio

1.01 MILES

Set in a stately 17th-century palazzo tucked down one of Pallanza's back lanes, this museum houses an exquisite collection of works by sculptor Paolo…

2. Villa Rusconi-Clerici

1.02 MILES

This 19th-century villa with English-style gardens hosts occasional concerts and other events, though it's mostly used for weddings and other conferences …

3. Villa Giulia

1.03 MILES

Theatrical Villa Giulia, with its towering lemon-yellow facade and colonnaded balconies, has a photogenic setting on the lakeside. Originally the home of…

4. Chiesa di San Vittore

1.13 MILES

This tiny church on equally tiny Isola Superiore generally gets more tourists than congregation, except on 14 August when its saintly figurine – the…

5. Isole Borromeo

1.17 MILES

The Borromean Gulf forms Lake Maggiore's most beautiful corner, sheltering the Borromean Islands and their spectacular, privately owned palaces. Closest…

6. Palazzo Borromeo


Presiding over 10 tiers of spectacular terraced gardens roamed by peacocks, this baroque palace is arguably Lake Maggiore's finest building. Wandering the…

7. Villa Taranto

1.64 MILES

At Villa Taranto it's all about the gardens (the house itself is not open to the public). The grounds of this late-19th-century villa are one of Lake…

8. Lungolago di Stresa

1.75 MILES

For the best passeggiata (afternoon stroll) on Lake Maggiore head for Stresa, where a 2km-long lakeside promenade meanders through florid gardens and past…