Even though I have visited Lago Maggiore countless times, I had never navigated the northern part of the lake before this last trip. Some friends advised us to take the Cento Valli Tour offered by the Lago Maggiore Express. This “tour” combines a train ride in a panoramic coach through the beautiful Valle Vigezzo (which sits northwest of Lago Maggiore) with a boat ride throughout the lake. The train takes you steeply up the canyons high above the lake where you will see waterfalls and rushing rivers. Tiny, picturesque hill towns pop up everywhere. We made a stop at Santa Maria Maggiore, a cobblestoned small town with a lovely main square and beautifully decorated buildings. We visited a local delicatessen and had them make up some delicious panini which, along with a bottle of prosecco, became an impromptu picnic lunch at a local park!
The Cento Valli tour can be taken in both directions – you can either do the train first or the boat. It doesn’t matter and you end up seeing the same things. We decided to do the train first because we wanted to end the day with a relaxing tour on the lake. The train ride began in Baveno, but we didn’t actually board the Cento Valli panoramic train until Domodossola. We disembarked at the final stop of Locarno, at the northernmost tip of Lago Maggiore. Locarno is fairly large and busy, with some interesting sights. We didn’t have much time here, so we decided to only visit the main attraction – the beautiful church of La Madonna del Sasso,which sits at the top of a hill with a gorgeous view of Lago Maggiore. There is a funicular that takes you up to the church…but, if you are feeling energetic, you can also walk the entire way!
After spending a few hours in Locarno, we boarded the boat and began our journey back to Baveno. The boat ride took about 3 hours and we went past so many beautiful lakeside resorts – Cannobbio, Cannero, Intra, Pallanza and many others. We sat inside and outside, and enjoyed a glass of wine while cruising the calm lake. This was a memorable day and one that will remain with me forever 🙂