I open up about the people and places that keep me coming back to my Italian hometown of Feriolo, Lago Maggiore.
While I live full time in Manhattan, I come back time and time again to my Italian hometown of Feriolo on the wonderful and lesser known Lake Maggiore. This is where my mother and her family grew up. I’ve always loved this small little lakeside village. It’s a tightly knit community that has it’s own spirit and many characters nestled into the corner of Lago Maggiore, right between Baveno and Suna. I decided to take my readers on a tour of my little hidden town and share some of the simple, can’t miss experiences and interactions that keep me coming back.
About Feriolo…A Brief History and Its Prime Location
Feriolo is a jewel nestled into a corner of Lake Maggiore. It’s location makes it a more intimate village than the surrounding straighter and less tucked in villages. What Feriolo is most famous for is the tragedy of 1897. During construction, a landslide hit part of the village, causing it to sink into the lake. The remains of the houses that were destroyed can still be found in the lake in front of Feriolo. In fact, many divers peruse the waters in search of archaelogical finds. Today it’s a small fishing village with lots of character and a prime position for people staying in Lake Maggiore. From this point you can reach the area of Baveno, Stresa, and Arona on one side, and Pallanza, Intra, and Cannobio on the other.
With only one hotel and one Bed and Breakfast in the tiny village, needless to say that Feriolo is rich in locals (and a lot of campers from the camping sites next door) and not hotel guests (although in recent years it’s become more and more popular), making Feriolo a more local experience than it’s neighboring towns.
What to Do: The Beach or il Böcc
Feriolo has one of the prettiest beach areas on the lake, it’s small but perfect with views of every part of the lake and the Isole Borromee in the distance. The beach is called il Böcc, also known as ‘the hole’ in the Feriolo dialect. It’s called il Böcc because the beach is located at the bottom of stone steps and is like a hole dug out in the village. Depending on how much it rains during the season, on rare occasions the level of the lake may even completely submerge the beach.
Do they speak Italian in Feriolo?
Everyone speaks Italian, but if you find yourself hearing a language you are not familiar with, don’t be alarmed. It’s just dialetto, or a dialect people from Feriolo speak. Many villages throughout Italy have their own dialect making each town unique in it’s own way.
What to Do: La Festa del Böcc
The best time to visit Feriolo is the last 2 weeks in July when the locals throw the annual Festa del Böcc, or festival of the hole. Part of the beach is covered with a wooden dance floor and stage. Festa del Böcc happens for 9 nights during the course of the last 2 weeks of July. During those 9 nights, musical bands perform old school Italian music, the people of Feriolo get behind the grill and make local dishes such as salame, galletti, pesce, homemade cakes, and more, and people from neighboring towns gather to dance, drink, and sing in this lively festival. It’s an occasion you won’t want to miss. The festival opening is usually marked by la corsa d’estate, or the summer run, a 6.5 km (4-mile) run or 2.5 km (1.5-mile) mini-run. Winners get a trophy and a few other prizes. As a teenager I remember running in the mini-run and getting lost half way through the run…I ended up running 3.5 km instead of 2.5 km, I was devastated because I could have gotten a place in the top 3!
Where to Eat: Caffè del Principato
Over the years this place has changed many owners and had many names. Most recently it’s been a cafe with stunning views of the docks and il Böcc. This is the most scenic bar to enjoy breakfast with the lake and mountains in the background, the swans and ducks swimming below, and the occasional boat going by in the distance. It opens it bright and early at 7AM and serves both breakfast, lunch, and aperitivo. It’s open year round.
Where to Grab Coffee: Bar Gallo
Now, this may not be the prettiest of spots. Unlike Cafe Principato or La Terrazza, Bar Gallo is on the Feriolo main street at the top. It’s called Bar Gallo, which means Bar Rooster. You will see all the rooster motifs in the bar and that’s because the owners last name is in fact – Gallo. It used to be used by all the older Feriolo people, including my grandparents, as a hang out spot to play cards all day when the Circolo closed. Today it has a few slot machines remaining in the back lounge area as well as deck of cards. But sadly, the elderly are no longer there to play cards…Times have changed. But one thing hasn’t, and that’s the fact that Fabio who runs the show at Bar Gallo, makes a mad good coffee. And having a conversation with him is always a good time as well. Stop in and say hi and have, what I think, is one of the best coffees in Feriolo honestly. No view, but worth the trip on an early morning when you’re in a rush.
A Guide to Isola Bella, Lago Maggiore
Where to Eat: Vistaqua
When I was a kid this was owned by one of my friends parents and was a bar where the locals would go to get breakfast and play cards in the afternoon. Playing cards around Lago Maggiore is like a competitive sport or job, you’ll see people playing them everywhere and for money, especially in each town’s Circolo or public club. Today it’s owned by Rachelli and has been turned into a wonderful luxury restaurant called Vistaqua, or water view, for both lunch and dinner.
What to See: Church of San Carlo
At the center of Feriolo is the church of San Carlo. I remember spending my childhood with my brother working as altar boys (and girls) on Sunday for Don Giuseppe (Father Giuseppe) to earn a Euro or two for ice cream. Many weddings are held in the church, which has beautiful frescoes, statues, and stained glass windows. At the bottom of the stone staircases is a quadrant with a line that marks the highest level the lake reached back in 1868, while another one marks the flood of 1993. Yes, it reached all the way till the church at one time! The view from the church is wonderful from below. You have the old dock where the ferry used to stop to take you to different villages, today it no longer operates to Feriolo. A statue of a mule, the symbol of Feriolo, stands there now.
Where to Eat: La Vecchia Scogliera
Further down you pass another restaurant on the water and in a small grass area called La Vecchia Scogliera, or the old cliff. Here you can find really good and fresh fish. Before it was La Vecchia Scogliera, it used to be a pizzeria. As a kid, I remember running to this restaurant to grab a picture with Italian celebrity Daniele Bossari while he was having lunch here one summer (picture can be found at the bottom of this article!) A huge tree sits in this grass area and has been there since I can remember. As a kid, my friends and I used to climb into it and hide at the top. We’d scare passersby by yelling stuff at them and spooking them out as they walked by. The old people weren’t so happy and we got in trouble several times…!
What to Do: Walk
The most famous and scenic thing to do in Feriolo is just walk. Walk down our famous lakeside promenade from the boat restaurant located on the docks (another place to eat) till the camping located at the end of the village. The walk is one of the most famous in the area because of it’s calming splendor and old charm vibe that many other village’s have succumbed to a little bit due to tourism. It’s definitely one of the quieter villages on Lago Maggiore.
Where to Eat: Pane E Vino
Translates to Bread and Wine. It’s a simple aperitivo spot. Come here for a pre-lunch or pre-dinner apertivo. A glass of wine and a ton of cheeses and meats and breads. That’s really all the place has to offer and it’s all it needs to offer. It is sometimes compared to the best aperitivo in all of Lago Maggiore, La Casera, in Intra – that’s how good it is. They really take care of their selection of cheeses and meats here. Everything is chosen with reason and they give you enough that you make be questioning whether lunch or dinner is even necessary!
Shop Handmade Italian Shoes at Rose’s Roses in Milano
Where to Eat: La Terrazza Mirafiori
My last, and one of my favorite stops is La Terrazza & Mirafiori Restaurant. It’s owned by a good friend of ours, Luca, another great person to stop by for a riveting conversation. He spends half of his year working at La Terrazza Mirafiori and the other half travelling the world in exotic and tropical destinations. He has a number of stories to tell, is super friendly, and is always up for conversation. His restaurant is always packed and serves great local Italian dishes and pizza. In the mornings it’s quieter, but for lunch and dinner it’s some of the best service and food you can get. In my opinion, he has the best brioche in Feriolo. His latest concoction though is a killer panino or ‘sandwich’ you just have to try. He calls it a panino, but in reality it’s a mix of cured meats, cheeses, and veggies, however you’d like, made with his light pizza dough bread. Now I know what you’re thinking, pizza dough bread? That sounds heavy…I promise you it is super light!! His pizza dough is some of the best in the area. For dessert, grab a coffee with a fior di latte gelato scoop in it, you won’t regret it!
What to Do: Sporting Feriolo
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About a 5-10 minute walk from the main beach, Il Bocc, of Feriolo is the Sporting Club Feriolo. Here you can rent paddle boards, canoes, kayaks, paddle boats, and more. You can also choose to lounge on one of the many lounge chairs on the grass and go for a swim and snack a little at the Sporting Clubs beach bar. It’s a chill area with a bit of everything for everyone. They even throw some fun parties and events in the summer time that are awesome for those looking for a cooler more bumping scene!
Where to Hang (& Of Course Eat): Bar Trattoria 400
This place was once il circolo, or the public club where my grandparent used to come to play cards all day and young people used to come play billiards and ping ball machines. Now it’s been turned into a restaurant called Bar Trattoria 400. It still serves food during the day and serves as a hang out area, but it’s mostly known for it’s dinner. The food here is excellent. My mom and I ate here last winter and had some amazing pizza and a dessert made with pizza dough and filled with Nutella. They even wrote our names with Nutella! How thoughtful. Highly recommend you grab dinner here one night if you want a taste of the more local ambiance, I assure you you will find one if not more locals eating next to you.
Where to Eat: Fiore Di Latte Pizzeria
There’s no shortage of pizzerias in Feriolo. You can go for classic pizzas at La Terrazza Mirafiori, local pizza at Bar Trattoria 400 below, or fancier upscale pizza at the renowned Fiore Di Latte Pizzeria Feriolo. The original location was in Mergozzo, but it became so famous that the locale wasn’t able to handle the demand. That’s why they opened their second location in Feriolo where they have a lot more indoor and outdoor seating. The pizzas here are unique, they are what we call Italian “fantasy” pizzas – or pizze a fantasia. So not your typical pizzas, which is why Italians love them as a change up to your everyday pizza. Think pizzas with pesto, anchovies, zucchini, asparagus, shrimp, tuna, eggplant, octopus and the list goes on…Pasquale brings his global and Southern flavors to the table in unique ways that will tingle your palettes if you’re looking for something different. Just remember to make a reservation because the place is booked every night, specifically on weekends.
What to Do: Rent A Boat At Il Cantiere del Verbano
Just a 5 minute walk from Il Bocc beach is Il Cantiere del Verbano. Here you can rent boats for a half day or a full day with and without a boating license for just 90 – 200 euro depending on the size of the boat, number of people, and experience level. It’s so much fun and totally worth doing! You can take the boats to the Isole Borromeo, or Borromean Islands, anchor at one of the public moorings infront of Isola Madre and go for a swim, go to Santa Caterina del Sasso to see the cathedral in the rocks, and loop around Intra and Pallanza’s stunning old villas. This and so much more. Don’t forget to pack some prosciuttos and formaggi (cheeses) for the boat ride.
Discover Lago Maggiore from a Stand up Paddleboard
Where to Eat: Il Batello, Molo 54
There’s an old steamboat stationed in Feriolo’s bay that hasn’t moved in years. It’s called Molo 54 and it’s a restaurant where you can eat inside and enjoy a romantic dinner on the water. It was recently purchased and revamped by a family friend of ours who also owns a couple of beautiful hotels in the area and Vistaqua restaurant. The food is probably the most expensive in Feriolo, but it is such a unique experience, it’s worth it. And for American prices, it’s not that expensive. Their primary specialty is fish so anything with fish and their desserts are a must. You can choose to eat on the boat, at the tip of the boat outside (need to reserve that special spot!), on the side of the boat bar stool style, or they even have lounge chairs on the lakeside promenade where you can grab an aperitivo on the water.
What to Do: Abandoned Castle and Tower of Feriolo
For those looking for a short hike of 1.5mi or 2.5km, behind Feriolo is a path that leads up the mountains and to the abandoned 12th and 13th century Castle of Feriolo and its towers. It was used to protect against attacks and was able to communicate with the towers on the Isola San Giovanni and in Mergozzo. It was also used by the Napoleonic Army and First World War. The hike is along the old Feriolo mule track. A few elements of it still remain and its the perfect morning hike and place for a picnic away from the crowds. As a kid, my friends and I had a cake baking competition, hiked our way to the top of the castle and tower, and enjoyed our cakes at the picnic tables there while playing cards and silly games. For the full hike path and how to get there, see here.
Beyond being a place with a sentimental value for me, I have to say that Feriolo is one of the few places where I can truly relax. The pace here is slow, but it’s slow in other places as well. What makes it so relaxing is the way of life here. The people and thier interesting characters, how laid back they are, the silence of the lake at sunset, and the distance from the touristy villages of Stresa and Pallanza. Feriolo is one of those hidden gems that will remain hidden and only open to a select few who can either rent or find a spot at one of the two hotels. For the rest, I recommend you stop by to experience one of the few villages that still retains its local charm in Italy.
Childhood Throwbacks and Vintage Pics…My mom, little brother, and I, some friends, and my grandparents
>> Next: Stay on Lago Maggiore at Grand Hotel Majestic
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