by Karen Warrendorf and Steve Mattina
A playground for the rich and famous, Lake Maggiore in northern Italy is a truly stunning place to visit. On the south side of the snow-capped Alps, Lake Maggiore (meaning “major” or “large”) is the second largest lake in Italy. Since the climate is mild year-round, the area is filled with Mediterranean vegetation and provides ideal conditions for running. In November 2018, we had the good fortune to travel to Lake Maggiore for the Sportway Lake Maggiore Marathon. We flew to Milan Malpensa Airport and with an easy drive of less than an hour, we arrived in Stresa.
Stresa is the lake’s leading resort area and is definitely one of the top places to visit for vacationers. Stresa boasts magnificent views across the lake and over to the Borromean Islands. There are galleries, restaurants, cafés, piazzas and an abundance of cultural and musical events year-round. The delightful lakeside promenade is perfect for an afternoon stroll or a shakeout run, with well-kept gardens and monuments lining the way. We stayed at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromees, an Art Nouveau hotel on the main lakefront, ideally located to explore the centre of Stresa with only a five-minute walk to the ferry terminal.
The Sportway Lake Maggiore Marathon offers race distances of 10K, half marathon, 33K and the marathon. Since we were heading to Athens the following week to run the Athens Authentic Marathon, we decided to run the half marathon. With the course entirely along the Piedmont side of Lake Maggiore, the full marathon is flat and fast and considered to be one of the most panoramic races in Europe. If carb-loading is part of your routine before a marathon, you’ve come to the right place! Let’s face it, you can’t go wrong in Italy: the food is fresh, local and fantastic. With your race kit, the marathon offers discounts at local restaurants in Stresa and Verbania.
All events of the Lake Maggiore Marathon start in Verbania Pallanza at the lakeside near the city hall. The half and full marathon start together with the half finishing in Stresa and the full finishing back in Verbania. Race morning began with a quick breakfast in our hotel overlooking the lake before heading out for the short walk to join fellow runners to catch the ferry (free with a race number) to the start line. The 15-minute boat trip to the start was spectacular, prompting a flurry of photo activity, a welcome distraction from pre-race nerves. The ferry arrives almost directly at the race start and a well-organized team is there to help load participant gear bags onto trucks for transport to the finish.
As advertised, the race course doesn’t disappoint with beautiful views along the way. Since we were both wearing our Running Room Canada gear, we received many cheers before arriving at the finish line back in Stresa. This event gets our highest recommendation, without a doubt. Fantastico!
Karen Warrendorf and Steve Mattina are avid distance runners who have run over 60 marathons around the world in the past 18 years.