|Subject: Re: Northern Italy Questions|
I just did this Northern Italy ciruit in July, so perhaps my advice will be helpful to you. The international airport, Malpensa, is about 40 kilometers northwest of Milan, off the A-8 superhighway. It is actually quite close to the southern tip of Lago Maggiore.
In my opinion, of the four(?) lakes in the Lake District the most beautiful is Lago di Como. If possible spend a day in Bellaggio to get the best views of all of the arms of the the lake. There are plenty of ferries going up and down the lake, so you can do quite a bit of sightseeing from these boats, which will also allow you to get on and off to explore some of the villas, or someplace ancient and remote like the Abbey di Piona. Como the town, is quite touristy, but fun nevertheless.
I only spent one day in Lugano, but enjoyed hiking in the hills above the town and lake. It is of course beautiful, but not quite as spectacular as the other larger lakes, because the expansive vistas are harder to come by.
My favorite of the lakes, however, is the tiny Lago d'Orta. It is perfectly charming and picturesque, with a size that makes it easy to enjoy with a sweep of the eye. If you want to stay overnight, there are one or two nice places in the town of Orta S. Giulio. The town itself doesn't have a tremendous amount to offer in the winter, but you can relax, or take a ferry over to the minuscule Isola S. Giulio, or hire a boat to take you on a circuit of the entire lake.
Lastly, the Lago Maggiore should probably be your final stay, since it is easily connected with Malpensa through any number of roads leading to the A-8. I have only explored the less developed eastern side of Maggiore, which is different from Como by its less glitzy quality. I'm not sure there are too many choices for lodging on this side of the lake, but for sure on the western side, there are hotels, in Arona for example, where friends have always stayed on their last night before departure. I have not visited Stresa or Verbania but will be there this November. I will be happy to give you a report on return, but I also know that Marco de Angeli from Milan, has some very thorough travel guides to this whole area of Italy. I have a copy which he just sent to me, but because of their length, I would prefer to either e-mail it privately, or have Marco post it again as a separate document.