We visited all three Borromean islands on Lake Maggiore (see my reviews on Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori for info on the other two) and this was my favourite! Totally over-the-top – an exercise in impressing other people! The opulence of the palace décor and contents is awesome (as intended!) Take in 16 century Brussels tapestries with their grotesque creatures, the bed in which Napoleon slept and the music room which holds valuable instruments and where the Stresa conference was held and where Mussolini almost joined the Allied cause against Hitler! You can pay extra to visit the Borromean painting gallery (densely packed with more than 2,000 paintings!) and throne room (we didn't} and for an audio guide to the palace (2.50 euros) Look out for the House of Borromeo's symbol (the unicorn) and for their motto (ironically “humilitas”!)
You emerge from the sumptuous palace and grottoes into the spectacular and immaculate Baroque Italian gardens, arguably one of the most famous in Italy There are ten terraces of statues, fountains and basins, the topmost giving spectacular views over Lake Maggiore and excellent photo opportunities (especially if the white peacocks are displaying – they weren't when we visited). Unfortunately the gardens were hit by the 7-minute storm which decimated the Villa Taranto gardens and seem to have hit two of the topmost obelisks on Isola Bella, as well as causing some other damage, so that the gardens were temporarily closed :-( However, they have now reopened and only one or two areas were closed off to the public when we visited .
Warning – there is little to do or see on Isola Bella except visit the tourist shops and cafés UNLESS you buy a ticket for the palace and gardens
Tip: We too bought our ticket at the ferry terminal which gave a day's unlimited ferry travel and access to the two paid islands, saving time queuing up on the island and making considerable savings, especially if you are planning on taking the Lago Maggiore Express the previous or following day. Ask for the 2 day programme (40 euros for travel ) and then buy a joint ticket for Isola Madre and Isole Bella (18 euros – they have to be visited on the same day) This saves 8.90 + 6 euros = 14.90 euros pp!