Arona

Lake Maggiore

The first thing you see when you exit the small nice train station is the view over the castle at the other side of the lake. Everything here is somehow linked to the name Borromeo, the seven century old family of bankers, politicians, cardinals and royal titles. The castle in Arona, Rocca Di Angera, also known as Borromeo castle still belongs to this family.

Rocca Di Angera Castle

Arona is not very big city, but it is so close to Milano that some people prefer to stay here during the big events in Milano. Surprisingly the city is not crowded at all. It is August, we are at a lake and there is plenty of space to walk, seat at some bench at the lake promenade, sunbathe under a natural tree shadow at the beach…We enjoyed this privacy as much as we could.

The city itself is charming with a nice lake promenade with a beautiful view over the lake and the white swans swimming in leisure close to the lake-bend. Small boats floating playfully all over the lake front. The life here is slow and easy. No hustle, no car horns or loud machine voices. 

Beach in Arona

On the right side of the train station there is a public beach and camping space. It is free and there are available chairs for rent. You can also buy something to drink or eat. The water was nice, just perfect for the hot summer days but there was a lot of lake grass. A little bit of sand and pebbles and a little bit of grass place with a lot of tree shadows all around. If you continue walking on the right side there is another lake promenade where you can walk to the lake. Very nice places for picnic. We went there on Saturday and again the place was not crowded at all.

The swans will be your friends if you feed them

Playground for the kids

The city center is very much the same as at the other italian cities with some old houses, cathedral at the center, open square, small stores on the both sides and restaurants serving local italian food that also includes fresh lake fish.

Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo

Half an hour walking toward the hill above the old Quarter there is a big statue of Borromeo, Colossus of San Carlo Borromeo, that is a massive copper statue, erected in 17th century. It represents Charles Borromeo, Catholic saint and former archbishop of Milan. The route is by the road so you need to be careful although some parts are trough the woods and the breeze air makes it comfortable to hike. If you are not into hiking and long walks, there is an electric tourist train that goes there. You can enter the statue of Borromeo for a fee but you should know that inside there is very little space for climbing the stairs, it rather looks like a firearm stairs and the steal can be hot during the summer heat. The first stairs lead to a view platform at Borromeo feet while the inside stairs lead to the Borromeo head where you see through his eyes and ears. However the views over the lake and the mountains are magnificent.

Lots of stairs to the top

The stairs to Borromeo's head

See through his eyes

We had no problem with supermarkets here, we found several that were good equipped with everything you need. The prices were slightly cheaper than at Lake Como. Besides restaurants there are fast foods, Turkish giro, pizza delivery, Chinese take out etc. all for very affordable prices.

If you want to travel around there is a ferry that goes almost everywhere around the lake Maggiore but we preferred the train as faster and cheaper option. The train that goes to Domodossola stopes at the small villages on its way on the left side of the lake (check which train stopes where, some don’t stop at every station).

Stresa

We went to Stresa on a day trip and it was well worth it. Only 12 min train ride to there. Less than 10€ each way for the whole family. Stresa is a great start point if you want to visit the Borromeo islands. There are three Borromeo islands: Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola Superiore (Pescatori ). Isola Bella has a big villa from the 17th century and a scale garden with ten terraces that looks like pyramid watched from the Stresa lake bend. It is so close to Stresa that you have a feeling you can swim the distance. Behind Isola Bella stands the biggest one, Isola Madre, with its botanic garden in English style, specially designed for a lot of years with number of flowers and trees from all over the world. The Isola Dei Pescatori (Isola Superiore) is the only inhibited island and for that it is known for its restaurants with a fresh, local food, especially the fish dishes. The ferry goes to them all but also there are private boats that offer ride to two or three islands. You can find them at the ferry dock in Stresa near the funicular.

Stresa Fenicular

What we liked the most in Stresa is the funicular to the top of the mountain named Mottarone. There is one stop at the middle of the way (at Alpino) where you can exit, look around and catch the next funicular to the top. Short walk from the funicular stop there is a cable car to the top (everything was included in the price). The ride is over tick tall green forest that meets the lake at the bottom. Great views over Borromeo islands, the city of Stresa and lake Maggiore. At the top you can see the both lakes Maggiore and Orto surrounded by the Italian Alps. Endless views and breeze air under the white clouds.  But that’s not all. Here you will find the Alpyland slide. Although the lines are long (we waited for an hour) it was well worth it! Sliding with your own speed with an adrenaline rush and splendid view. I think we were going with maximum speed without a fear, screaming all the negative feelings out. When you finish the ride you can exit the slide car or they will bring you back automatically. If you stay there you are at the funicular level, if you go to the top you can go down with the cable car. The rides are very affordable, just 5€ for a ride and you can buy more rides and just go up and down.

Day trip to Milano

We also did a day trip to Milano.

If you can choose on which station to arrive in Milano choose Milano Porta Garibaldi over Milano Centrale. From Milano Porta Garibaldi it is not more than 30 minutes walking to Duomo square (Piazza del Duomo).

Milano is urban city with elegant modern buildings such as the Bosco Verticale, the two buildings that are very cute with all the plants and greenery planted from the bottom to the top. Nice way to fight the city pollution.

Toward the center there are old massive buildings, cobbled streets, small churches, little squares and everything looks very clean. As you approach Duomo square suddenly the number of tourists grows. From Teatro alla Scala (the opera house) and the opposite Scala square where stands the monument of Da Vinci and the four of his pupils at his feet, you enter the tourist twilight zone. 

Leonardo Da Vinci statue

A river of people goes through the passage of Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II where all the world famous fashion brands have their stores, to exit at the Duomo square and join the crowd that admires the magnificent cathedral and the royal palace. The place is beautiful especially the grandiose Duomo di Milano, the third largest cathedral in the world,  but it’s a bit like circus. Street sellers trying to sell you things, doves flying everywhere, instagram models trying to catch a good spot for their shot (which is almost impossible), long lines to enter the cathedral and tourist groups gettered by their guides pointing to every direction of the square. And again a lot of Borromeo history linked to the development of this cathedral.

A river of people

Duomo di Milano

Statues on Duomo square

We walked a circle at Duomo square, and trying to get away from the madness, we found a safe spot in the Da Vinci museum right before you enter the Galleria Vittorio. It is a small museum but has all the replicas of his inventions with multimedia touch screens with information of the structure, use, history etc, copies of his graphics and notebooks,  digital restorations of The Last supper, Mona Lisa, the self-portrait and The Lady with the ermine. There were a virtual reality glasses showing the place where The Last super was created. At one part of the museum kids got a chance to make by them self some of the workshops. It was fun for us and for the kids.

This was our last stop on this trip. The bags are packed and we are going home. It was a very memorable journey. Great destinations for summer vacation with kids.