The area comprised between Piedmont and Lombardy is renowned for its varied holiday offers, such as its bathing lakes, tourism-oriented activities, paths of faith and the Alps that surround them.
Lake Maggiore or Lake Verbano (German: Langensee) is one of the main Alpine lakes and the second largest lake in Italy.
It washes the provinces of Varese, Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, Novara and the Canton of Ticino in Switzerland.
Lake Maggiore is located at an altitude of about 193 m a.s.l. and has a surface of 212 km2 (80% of which lies in Italy, whilst the remaining 20% is in Swiss territory).
It has a perimeter of 170 km and a length of 54 km; its maximum width is 10 km whereas its average width is 3,9 km.
The lake contains a water volume equal to 37.5 billion cubic metres of water with a theoretical water renewal time of approximately 4 years.
The drainage basin is very vast, about 6,599 km2 almost equally divided between Italy and Switzerland (the ratio between the surface of the basin and that of the lake is equal to 31,1).
Lake Maggiore reaches its maximum altitude at Punta Dufour in the Monte Rose massif (4.633 m a.s.l.), whereas its average altitude is 1.270 m a.s.l..
The catchment basin is characterized by the presence of about thirty artificial reservoirs, which collect approximately 600 million cubic metres of water which, if released simultaneously, would raise the lake level of about 2.5 m.
Its maximum depth is 370 m (off Ghiffa).
Its major tributaries are the Ticino, the Maggia, the Toce (which receives water from the stream Strona and then from Lake Orta) and the Tresa (also effluent of Lake Lugano).
All of the major tributaries of Lake Maggiore show different outflows: the Ticino and the Toce, which have a catchment area at high altitudes, reach their maximum flow between May and October, coinciding with the melting of snow and glaciers, whereas the other major tributaries are strongly influenced by precipitation trends.
Among the minor tributaries are the Verzasca, the Cannobino, the San Bernardino, the Jona, the Margorabbia and the Boesiostreams. The only outflowing stream is the Ticino, which flows from Lake Maggiore to Sesto Calende.
A distinctive feature of Lake Maggiore is the presence of 11 islands, 8 of which are in Piedmont, 2 in Switzerland and 1 in Lombardy.
Between Stresa and Verbania is the archipelago of the Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee), made up of three islands: Beautiful Island (L’Isola Bella), Mother Island (L’Isola Madre) and Fishermen’s Island (l’Isola dei Pescatori), also known as Upper Island (Isola Superiore).
Opposite the Swiss town of Brissago are the two Islands of Brissago, whereas, a short distance from the coast of Cannero Riviera, are three islets known as the Castles of Cannero. The large islet is entirely covered by the remains of Rocca Vitaliana, a stronghold built by Earl Ludwig Borromeo in 1518; the small islet is home to the ruins of the so-called “prisons”, that is a tower topped with cannons embrasures in defence of the southern area towards the canal harbour; the Melgonaro Rock (towards Maccagno), with its solitary but strong tree growing out of the rock, has enchanted and inspired both poets and engravers, such as Pietro Chiara, Marco Costantini and Carlo Rapp.
Finally, there are the Isolino di San Giovanni (literally “St John’s Small Island”) opposite Verbania, the small island of La Malghera, located between Beautiful Island and Fishermen’s Island, and the Isolino Partegora in the small gulf of Angera.
Lake Orta, or Lake Cusio, lies to the west of Lake Maggiore, between the provinces of Novara and Verbano Cusio-Ossola, and is the westernmost of the pre-Alpine lakes.
Its beautiful shores are highly varied: on the eastern side of the lake are the gentle slopes of the hills, surrounded by Mount Mottarone, whereas on the western side are steep shores and the less accessible mountains of Valstrona and Val Sesia.
Lake Orta has a surface of 18.2 km2, a length of 13.4 km from north to south and a maximum width of 2.5 km.
The distinctive and picturesque villages along its shores are rich in woods and cultivated fields and offer a wide range of activities for tourists. For instance, Orta San Giulio: the renowned holiday village, located in the central part of the eastern shore, that gave its name to the lake.
Facing Orta San Giulio is the beautiful St Julius’ Island (Isola diSan Giulio), dominated by a Romanesque basilica, an Episcopal palace and a Benedictine abbey.