Stresa – I enjoy, therefore I am! High density of Grandhotels, strollers from all the countries of Europe, posh villas and the view onto the gorgeous Borromean islands. The presence of the special does not escape even the cursory view. No matter if I ferry across the lake to the islands, take the cable car up to Monte Mottoarone to enjoy the view from above or visit the ruins in the garden of Villa Pallavicino – all of this I don’t have to do. To be able to enjoy Stresa, it suffices to just be there and look. Stresa is the place where it is enough to let one’s eyes wonder, because they encounter the beautiful lake, mountains and islands, all ever refreshed and enticing under the play in the sky.
Lake Maggiore – Exotic feeling around the corner
Today travellers prefer destinations far away from their home, preferably with fancy activities. Stresa, the small town at Lake Maggiore has nothing fancy or exotic for the modern traveller. Nothing that is undiscovered, because already Lord Byron and Gustave Flaubert wrote about the place. Already to our parents and grandparents the second largest lake in Italy meant paradise. A paradise around the corner. The lake could easily be reached by car and remained always strangely beautiful, enclosed between high mountains. It is a place that does not need hyperactivity or any activity, a place to be without having to be active.
Stresa adds a patina made of architecture and memories-turned-into-gardens, result of a glamour, that cannot fade, because it has been lived for centuries. The Borromean islands have seen glittering parties sind the 15th century.
At the beginning of tourism
Noble patricians and Lombardian entrepreneurs succumbed to Stresa’s, or as it was called in 998 Strixia’s, charms very early. Thanks to the street across Simplon pass built by Napoleon, the Simplon tunnel and the railway, tourism pioneered at Lake Maggiore. Early tourism was for the well-off and for the artists of the Belle Époque. Writers and poets such as Stendhal, Flaubert, Dumas and Byron visited Stresa and enthused about the place.
The three Borromean islands Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori are neatly located in the Borromean Gulf like treasure chests and can be reached from Stresa and Verbania Pallanza by boat. The Borromean owners of the islands, especially Carlo III. established a barocke palace, exotic gardens and a fishing village on the islands.
Luxury Grandhotels in Stresa
In the second half of the 19th century the imaginative brothers Omarini decided to build a hotel in Stresa. They travelled across the continent learning the hotel business from the best hotels in Europe. The construction of the Grandhotel Des Iles Borromées lasted from 1859 to 1863. It was erected directly on the shore. When tourism started to develop quality categories for hotels did not yet exist. Back then Grandhotels were luxery hotels, meaning that they had running water, telephone and a palatial architecture.
The Grandhotel Des Iles Borromées ows its prominance to the literary immortalisation by one guest, who recovered from his battlefield injuries in Stresa. Having returned to Stresa in 1948 he made the place a location in his novel Farewell to arms: Ernest Hemingway. In 2013 the hotel celebrates its 150th birthday. Don’t miss the interesting exhibition (room left of entrance) with many historic photos.
Monte Mottarone and Borromean islands – what to do in Stresa
Walk up Monte Mottarone (1.491 m) or take the cable car to get spectacular views onto the nearby lakes (Maggiore, Orta, Mergozzo, Varese) and mountain tops (Monte Rosa, Monviso and more peaks in Swiss Valais), if you are liked by the weather 😉 Hikers up Mottarone can expect fragrant alpine meadows, old elm trees, chestnuttrees and restaurants at the summit, the alpine skier 21 pists (only in winter).
The three Borromean islands are owned by the Borromean family who have shaped them over generations. The baroque palace on Isola Bella presents original furniture, paintings and frescos. All is surrounded by a splendid Italian garden and phantasy-shaped terraces and freely roaming white peacocks.
On the largest of the islands, Isola Madre, visitors find a magnificent renaissance palace and one of the oldest gardens in Italy. The smallest island Isola (Superiore) dei pescatori impresses with its quaint village and tangle alleys. Some of the shops are interesting (old maps and fotos). Restaurants offer fresh fish.
Stresa with children – Villa Pallavicino
Entertain your kids by visiting park and zoo of Villa Pallavicino. March through October children can marvel at more than 40 species while their parents relax with lake view in the shade of gigantic magnolia trees. Or visit restaurant, bar and playground.
Sport and Activities at Lake Maggiore
Those spending more time at Lake Maggiore find excellent conditions for diverse activities:
- Free climbing (Mottarone, Montorfano, Premia, Agaro)
- Canooing in the Ossola valleys
- Horseback riding in Vigezzo Valley
- Golf (Brovello Carpugnigno, Gignese, Premeno, Verbania)
- Swimming (Mergozzo Lake)
For swimming in summer I recommend Mergozzo lake, one of the cleanest lakes in Italy. Motor boats are not allowed here. More and detailed information about all activities you find the ebook by Distretto dei laghi (en).
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