Presiding over 10 tiers of spectacular terraced gardens roamed by peacocks, this baroque palace is arguably Lake Maggiore's finest building. Wandering the grounds and 1st floor reveals guest rooms, studies and reception halls. Particularly striking rooms include the Sala di Napoleone, where the emperor Napoleon stayed with his wife in 1797; the grand Sala da Ballo (Ballroom); the stucco-laced Sala del Trono (Throne Room); and the Sala delle Regine (Queens' Room). Paintings from the 130-strong Borromeo collection hang all around.
Highlights of the artworks are pieces by several old masters, including Rubens, Titian, Paolo Veronese, Andrea Mantegna, Van Dyck and José Ribera (Spagnoletto). You'll also find Flemish tapestries, sculptures by Antonio Canova and – in the Salone Grande – a 200-year-old wooden model of the palace and island.
Below the ground floor, a 3000-year-old fossilised boat is displayed in the cool palace grottoes, which are studded with pink marble, lava stone and pebbles from the lake bed. White peacocks, whose fanned feathers resemble bridal gowns, strut about the gardens, which are considered one of the finest examples of baroque Italian landscaping.
In summer, the family that owns Palazzo Borromeo moves in and occupies the 2nd and 3rd floors (off-limits to visitors), totalling a mere 50-odd rooms.