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The largest town on the shores of Lake Maggiore, Verbania is strung out along the waterfront and looks across the Borromean Gulf toward glamorous Stresa. The setting is impressive with panoramic views of the Borromean Islands and mountains beyond, and the grand villas lining the shore.

In the old town, streets wind around stone houses and a cluster of small restaurants, bars and shops. Verbania is also home to one of Europe's finest botanical gardens at Villa Taranto, known for its extensive collection of rhododendrons and azaleas.

Hiking trails and bicycle paths offer the chance to explore the lake and its surroundings independently.

Verbania is divided into three sections, the most interesting of which is central Verbania Pallanza. It has an old-world core of winding streets and pastel-painted houses, and a waterfront lined by elegant villas. One of the finest of these is Villa Taranto, a grand Normandy-style mansion now the seat of the provincial prefecture.  

Scottish captain Neil McEacharn bought the villa in 1931. Over the next 30 years, he imported more than 20,000 plant species from all over the world and lovingly cultivated his dream garden. The elaborate scheme encompasses grand boulevards, terraced water features, and a winter garden, bog garden and dahlia maze. Many of the rare species aren’t found anywhere else in Europe.

You can reach the gardens (the villa isn’t open to the public) on the extensive jogging and cycling path that lines Verbania's waterfront. This traffic-free route offers panoramic views of the lake and lends itself to an evening stroll along the shoreline. When you get to the little port, you can see the nearby islet, Isolino San Giovanni, which was home to the conductor Arturo Toscanini for 25 years.

You can see a sculpture of Toscanini in the Museo del Paesaggio, which is set in a 17th-century palazzo in the heart of town. The museum includes works by sculptor Paolo Troubetzkoy, world-renowned in his heyday, including busts of Tolstoy and George Bernard Shaw. Along with the sculpture galleries, there are many paintings of the region from the 16th and 17th centuries, while further sculptures by Troubetzkoy are displayed on the lakeside.

Another attraction worth seeking out is Villa Giulia with its bright-yellow façade and colonnaded balconies overlooking the waterfront. The villa was built by Bernardino Branca, inventor of Italian liqueur Fernet. It hosts regular exhibitions and has a restaurant and bar with waterfront seating.

You can visit Stresa for the day or lunch on fish from the lake on Isola dei Pescatori (Fishermen's Island). If you prefer to walk, many hiking trails lead up into the hills that surround the town.

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Map of Verbania

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