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Thursday, January 19, 2012

FYI: Lago Maggiore

This view of Lago Maggiore is near one of my favorite spots, the towns high above Stresa. This is in the vicinity of, a bit to the west of, the Giardino Alpinia; one of the towers for the cableway can be seen in the lower right. Verbania is the heavily populated area across from the islands, we are looking directly up the lake in the direction of Switzerland, and across the lake on the right is Laveno, in Lombardia.

Search Lago Maggiore online, read about Lago Maggiore, and you know what you will find? A lot of tourist information, and a lot of adjectives: magical, unspoiled, panoramic, picturesque, sinuous. It is described as having gentle shores, intense colors, mild climates, and lush vegetation. 

But you know what I noticed?

I noticed that here on Stresa Sights, while we have mentioned Lago Maggiore countless times, also with many adjectives, we have never really spoken factually about Lago Maggiore. So I think it is high time that we remedy that and present a little bit of information about this gorgeous, glorious, tranquil lake that you've come to see.

This view is from the Lombardia side of the lake, in the vicinity of Laveno. Now we are looking back at the Borromeo Gulf, and Stresa is the town on the far upper left of the photo. Verbania is the city on the right side peninsula. This is a great view of how Stresa and the gulf are surrounded by Alps.

Lago Maggiore... it means Great Lake, and from the name you may think it was the largest lake in Italy, but it isn't. While it can boast being the longest lake, it is number two, behind Lake Garda, in terms of surface area. Because the lake is so long and winding, one doesn't get a sense of how large it is, even when out on it on a boat. However, this shape does make it more interesting visually, and means that there are always new and surprising views around the next bend.

Historic Name: Lago Verbano
Length:     68 km.
Width:      varies from 3 to 5 km, except at the Borromeo Gulf where the width reaches 10 km.
Surface Area:    212.5 km sq.
Length of Shoreline:    170 km.
Height Above Sea Level:    surface height is 193 meters, however the lake bed is deep below sea level.
Average Depth:   177.4 meters
Maximum Depth:   372 meters
Water Volume:      37 cubic km.
Main Inflowing Rivers: Maggia, Strona, Toce, Versasca, Giona, Cannobino
Main Outflowing River:  Ticino (which then joins the Po and flows into Milano)

This map is from the Navigazione Laghi website. It shows all of the towns on the shoreline with a ferry stop. On the website these are interactive; each will give you information about the town, and schedules can be found to plan your trips. It illustrates well how long the lake is, and how much there is to see.

The lake is in actuality a large glacial basin, formed tens of thousands of years ago, as are the other two prealpine lakes in northern Italy, Garda and Como. Quoting from Wikipedia:
"The upper end is alpine in nature, but the middle region lies between hills, and the lower end advances to the verge of the Plain of Lombardy. The lake's jagged banks are surrounded by the Prealps of Piemonte. The western bank is in Piemonte [Stresa is located in this region], and the eastern bank is in Lombardy. The most northern part extends 13 km into Switzerland, where it constitutes the lowest point above sea level in that entire country."
Stresa is located in the Borromean Gulf, the Golfo Borromeo. The gulf is also home to the three Borromeo Islands and two small islets: Isolino di San Giovanni (which you see in front of Verbania when you travel there via ferry), and tiny tiny Scoglio della Malghera (that teeny bit of island between Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori).  The lake is also the cause of the relatively mild Mediterranean microclimate that one finds here. The large surface area of water never freezes, and keeps the surrounding air slightly warmer. And in the summer the water cools the hot summer air that blows across it, causing the famous cooling breezes along the shores. So that microclimate, which allows us to have the unique juxtaposition of palm trees against snow-capped Alps, and the safety and security provided by those enclosing mountains, is exactly what brought the earliest settlements to the banks of the lake. For centuries these settlements have existed and grown, with so many of the towns, such as Stresa, tracing their roots back 1000 years or more.

Ah... the famous microclimate. That makes possible views like this that one would never guess are in this most northern region near the Alps. In fact, this view is from the most northern, Swiss part of the lake.

There you have it. A little bit of geography, and a little bit of science, about the lake. Not too much though. Because I know you really want to get back to the adjectives, right? So let's do that: Lago Maggiore is fanciful, fantastic, diverse, wandering, breathtaking, relaxing, surprising ...

We here at Stresa Sights tend to be, obviously, a bit Stresa-centric, and write about the lake only around Stresa for the most part. We want you to base yourself here, but see the rest of the lake. For starters, use a few good websites to learn about other destinations. I like using the Navigazione Laghi website, which has information about each ferry stop around the lake, as well as schedules for the ferries, planning information, and dozens of photographs

Looking for more facts: Here's an FYI post about Piemonte:

Photo credits: photos  used are from berge-exclusiv, luxe bed and breakfast, wikipedia, and the navigazione laghi websites.

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