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Concierge.com's insider take:
The Borromeo clan has controlled much of the Maggiore region since Renaissance times and still owns most of the land on this trio of islands off the shore of Stresa. The rambling Borromeo Palace on Isola Bella ("Beautiful Island") is the showpiece, packed with Murano chandeliers, 16th-century Flemish tapestries, antique musical instruments, and Renaissance-era family tombs. The art collection includes masters such as Titian, Giordano, Zuccarelli, Jacopo da Bassano, and Giovanni Paolo Pannini. Make time to stroll the terraced formal gardens rimmed by statue-lined balustrades where you can strut along with the white peacocks.
The Borromeo Villa on Isola Madre ("Mother Island") is less impressive than the palace but has a more comfortable, lived-in feel. It's also more quirky. The mediocre baroque paintings and antiques are accompanied by weird mannequins dressed in Borromeo livery and an odd collection of puppet theater sets. A more extensive aviary collection populates the surrounding botanical gardens, including not only peacocks but also pheasants and rare roosters, and parrots and doves fluttering in cages. Pick up a map at the ticket desk that will lead you along the paths of azaleas, rhododendrons, and camellias, plus Europe's largest Kashmir cypress.
The third island in the group, the Isola dei Pescatori ("Isle of the Fishermen"), does not have a grand palace. Instead you will see some quaint village houses that are actually not owned by the Borromeos, plus the Hotel Verbano.
Borromeo Palace and Borromeo Villa open daily 9:30 am to 5:30 pm late March to late October.
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