The boat trip to the two islands of Lake Maggiore hasn´t been on our itinerary for a long weekend in Ticino, but since we had time after our hike in Valle Verzasca before we were supposed to check in our place of accommodation, we decided to let them have this experience.
From Lavertezzo, we drove past the famous Locarno and Ascona resorts to the village of Porto Ronco to see what time leaves the ferry for the Brissago Islands. You can reach them also from the cities mentioned above, but from Porto Ronco, it´s the shortest way and therefore also the cheapest. In addition, boats run more frequently from here (see the timetable here – scroll down to the bottom of the second page).
Knowing the rates of the nautical company shown on the internet may be a little complicated, we have paid 26 francs (children were free) for the return ticket Porto Ronco – Isole di Brissago for two adults.
In addition to the boat ticket, you have to pay the entrance fee to the botanical garden on the island. Adults: 8 francs, children 6-16 years: 2.5 francs, family admission (2 adults and 2-3 children): 20 francs.
Ronco sopra Ascona
Before we boarded, we had driven up the hill above Porto Ronco where the town of Ronco sopra Ascona, whose history dates back to the Middle Ages, spreads out. There are two Baroque churches just a few steps away from the main square (where there is a car park).
Church of Our Lady of Graces
On the front of this church, you can admire the columns with three Tuscan arches, inside the baroque altar and magnificent ceiling frescoes.
St. Martin´s Church
This church dedicated to the patron of the village is located on a rocky hill. When you get around it, you reach the panoramic terrace, where you will have a magnificent view of the lake (of course, the Brissago Islands) and surrounding mountains.
From the San Martino Church, we went for a walk to the old center. We walked through the narrow, labyrinthine streets. Under the arcades connecting the houses with the pastel-colored facades, I had a strong feeling that it was very easy to get lost here.
Isole di Brissago
It was a pleasant five-minute boat ride to the larger of two islands, San Pancrazio (also known as Isola Grande). It is well known for its botanical garden – Parco Botanico del Canton Ticino.
Richard Fleming St. Leger and his Russian wife Antoinette bought the islands in 1885 and started to create a botanical garden here. On the site of the former monastery, they built a large house and then began to bring fertile land to the island, build trails and plant the greenery. After her husband left for Naples in 1897, Antoinette remained and cared for developing the botanical garden at Antoinette. Unfortunately, due to bad investments, she got into debts and was forced to sell the island in 1927. *
The following owner, Max Emden, was not really into botany but decided to keep the garden and vegetation on the island. He built a large neo-classical villa, which currently serves as a restaurant and hotel. There are seminars and congresses, as well as wedding receptions being held.
The mild climate of the area provides excellent conditions for the growth of various subtropical vegetation from all around the world. The garden is home to more than 1700 species of trees, succulents, shrubs and plants from Africa to Oceania.
Apart from different plant species, you can see the Roman Baths in the area.
You can read all over the internet and in guides that the smaller of the two islands (also known as Isolino, or Isola Piccola) is private and is not open to the public. At the time of our visit, however, it was accessible. From the main island, we reached it with a “floating” footbridge, whose transition was a quite adventurous thing with the toddler in my arms.
On the island, which is covered with the original vegetation that is kept in its natural state, we have seen the ruins of the church, which now (according to the chairs and prepared appliances) serve for performances. On the benches in the shade of the trees, we could enjoy chilled drinks from a small stand in its immediate vicinity.
- Arrive long ahead of the departure time of the boat. Although there are two car parks in Porto Ronco, their capacity is not unlimited.
- Take cash – they don´t accept cards if you pay less than 20CHF in the botanical garden on the island
- If you do not want to have the same starting and destination port (for example, from Isole di Brissago you´d like to visit Ascona or Locarno), it is possible to take the bus line 316 (Brissago-Locarno) back to Porto Ronco.