Fall in Love with the Brissago Islands of Lake Maggiore

Tucked away in serene Lake Maggiore lies the absolutely gorgeous Brissago Islands (a must-add to your Switzerland best places to visit list!) 

I can close my eyes and immediately transport back to the invigorating smells of flowers from the botanical gardens of the islands. 

Situated where Italy meets Switzerland, I feel so lucky that this hidden gem is only an hour’s scooter ride away from Lugano, where I call home. A short, peaceful boat ride from the charming Ascona village gets you straight to the two islands.

My husband and I love the charm of the Brissago Islands so much, that we’re thinking of doing a “25-years-together” celebration with friends and family there next June. I can’t wait to spend a night there in the hotel and take in all of the breathtaking scenery. 

But I don’t want to keep this island oasis on Lake Maggiore all to myself; I want to share it with all of you too! Keep reading to uncover the magic and see why the Brissago Islands are one of Switzerland’s best places to visit!

Discover the History of the Brissago Islands

The Brissago Islands are two islands located within Canton Ticino’s botanical garden park on Lake Maggiore. The smaller island Isola Piccola, or St. Apollinaire, has wild vegetation that has been preserved to its natural state. The larger island Isola Grande, or St. Pancrazio, was opened to the public in 1950 with subtropical plants and an exotic garden. (It’s perhaps best known for the smells of flowers!)

The history of these islands dates back to 1885, when the baroness Antoinette Saint Leger cultivated a space for creatives to meet and enjoy the botanical gardens. In 1927, Max Emden from Hamburg became the new owner. He built the palazzo, dock, and Roman bath built, and also expanded the gardens.

Plan Your Trip to the Brissago Islands

Feeling inspired to travel to the Brissago Islands on Lake Maggiore? You should! It’s a well worthwhile day trip.

Lake Maggiore is located north of Milan, Italy, and stretches into the Ticino region of Switzerland. You can reach the islands by boat from Locarno, San Nazzaro, Ascona (where I travel from), Porto Ronco, and Brissago. It is only 15 minutes by boat from Ascona, which is a lovely town in itself.

I’d recommend taking the time to explore Ascona before your journey! The idyllic views along Lake Maggiore give a distinct Mediterranean feel with palm trees along the promenade. Vibrant colored houses line the shore of this former small fishing village. Explore the winding alleys with boutiques, restaurants, and art galleries. There’s also a market held weekly in the main piazza where you can buy local products and handmade items.

Once you arrive in the Brissago Islands, the main attraction is the botanical gardens.

Enchanting Botanical Gardens on Lake Maggiore

The Brissago Islands at Lake Maggiore are part of the Gardens of Switzerland network and one of Switzerland’s best places to visit for a variety of natural beauty. Step into the expansive botanical gardens with the smells of flowers that draw you in. The park is divided into several areas based on the unique vegetation regions and types of plants:

  • Americas
  • Australia, New Zealand, and Tasmania
  • China, Korea, and Japan
  • The Mediterranean
  • South Africa
  • Themed and ornamental areas
  • Medicinal and useful plants
  • Symbols, myths, and magic

The location of the Brissago Islands is surrounded by the alps and the water of Lake Maggiore, which stores heat in the summer and releases it during the winter. This creates a sunny subtropical climate that allows for so many different plants to thrive and grow outdoors. The main botanical garden that’s open to visitors is located on Isola Grande or St. Pancrazio.

Start your exploration of the botanical garden at the north point of the island with the Mediterranean section. Transport yourself to the Mediterranean countryside for sights of cork trees and palm of the Canaries, along with the aromas of Lamiaceaee, white cistus, rosemary, and sage.

Next up is the Australian region, with forests of eucalyptus and acacia trees. Followed by the South African fynbos shrubbery as you make your way to the Americas with agaves, prickly pears, cypress, poppies, magnolias, and yucca of Central America.

Finally, the bright colors of azaleas and rhododendrons greet you as you enter the Asian part of the botanical gardens. Explore all of the subtropical plants, such as bamboo, palm trees, camellias, banana, and ginkgo.

Something I find so fascinating about the botanical gardens is the species that are linked to esoteric rituals, hexes, and conspiracies, such as the poisonous hemlock plant. It’s best to admire these plants from a distance (no witchcraft spells or mishaps needed on your vacation!) 

The smells of flowers in the botanical gardens can feel calming and healing. The power of scent is so powerful, that it can also trigger our memories from long ago. We might smell something we haven’t in a while, which can take us back to an exact moment in our lives.

We aren’t the only ones who have this sense of smell! Humans may smell with their noses, but plants can too. However, they do so with their entire being! All plant cells, from their leaves to roots, have the ability to smell. How fascinating is that?

Embrace Nature and Tranquility in Travel

The Brissago Islands on Lake Maggiore provide a getaway that feels intimate, secret, and peaceful. The remote feeling you get when exploring the botanical gardens transports you to a sense of calm meditation as you bask in mother nature. Whether you’re planning to take a solo journey, couples getaway, or group friends trip, make sure to add the Brissago Islands to your  Switzerland travel list! For more travel inspiration, follow my Instagram for posts about all of my favorite places in Switzerland and beyond!

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