Among all the municipalities of Lake Maggiore, Stresa is the most famous. In addition to the magnificent lake views and easy ferry access to the Borromean Islands, the city also has restaurants, galleries, cafes and hotels to cater to all tourists visiting Northern Italy.
A visit to Stresa is the ideal way to blend relaxation and culture in an enchanting setting that evokes the atmosphere of the belle époque. From Stresa it's easy reach the Borromean Islands, rich in artistic, historical and botanical suggestions
The city has a vibrant cultural scene all year round and is known for its musical events in the summer, called Musical Weeks.
Stresa attracts tourists from all over the world and has done so for centuries: think that in the past it was one of the destinations of Grand Tour and there were many intellectuals and artists who visited it including Goethe, Stendhal e Byron.
Also called "the Queen of Lake Maggiore", this town has a beautiful historic center, but its highlight is certainly the lungolago.
Overlooking the Borromean Gulf, Stresa offers an enviable view of the famous Borromean Islands and the Alps that form their background. Strolling along the lakefront, you can also admire the luxurious Art Nouveau villas built just a few steps from the water and surrounded by perfect, well-kept gardens.
From the port of the city you can embark for a tour of the lake or to visit the aforementioned Borromean Islands.
Returning to the city, however, I suggest you visit the Church of Sant'Ambrogio, the Villa Ducale (the oldest in the city) and the Park of Villa Pallavicino, which I will talk about in a little more.
Buy the hop-on hop-off ticket for the Borromean Islands - Hop on and off as many times as you want!
- How to get to Stresa
- 1 - Borromean Islands
- 1 - Isola Bella
- 2 - Isola Madre
- 3 - Island-fishermen
- 2 - Pallavicino Park
- 3 - Summit of Mottarone
- 4 - Try the lake fish and local cuisine
- 5 - Sail on the lake
- 6 - Historic Center and Lakeside
- 7 - Villa Ducale
- 8 - Alpinia Botanical Garden
- 9 – Alpyland
- 10 - Lake D'Orta
- Where to eat in Stresa
- Where sleeping in Stresa
How to get to Stresa
Lake Maggiore it is the second largest lake in Italy, and its surface belongs to three different provinces - Varese, Novara and Verbano-Cusio-Ossola -, as well as to Switzerland (precisely to the district of Locarno in the Canton of Ticino).
Stresa is located in the province of Verbano-Cusio-Ossola, along the western shore of the lake.
To understand better, here is the map:
How to reach us
By car: along the Autostrada dei Laghi towards Gravellona Toce, and then take the Carpugnino exit.
By train: there is the Milan-Sempione line which stops right in Stresa and the train timetables coincide with the boats.
1 - Borromean Islands
Since the dawn of time, Italian aristocrats have built some of the most beautiful villas in Italy along lakeside towns. One family in particular, the Borromeo of Milan, came to dominate the shores of Lake Maggiore.
The Borromeo family bought three rocky islands and, in the course of a generation, he transformed the coves into Baroque botanical masterpieces.
Le Borromean Islands they are certainly the most famous attraction of Lake Maggiore. Of these it is possible to visit theIsola Madre,Beautiful island andIsola dei Pescatori.
The main attraction of Lake Maggiore are the Borromean Islands and the jewel of the trio is theBeautiful island.
Take a ferry around the island and you will see how it is shaped like a boat, with a pyramid-shaped garden at the back and a large mansion overlooking the front.
Isola Bella was famous for its villa and gardens, and the Borromeo family organized lavish parties for famous people over the centuries, including Montesquieu, Napoleon and Josephine, the Prince of Wales and Ernest Hemingway.
TICKETS ISOLA BELLA
Between all three Islands, Isola Madre is the one that I personally liked the most. maybe because it was the first one I saw, it was morning, there was an ideal temperature and very few tourists, but for me it was really love at first sight.
While Isola Bella was built in the Baroque style, to fit perfectly into formal garden structures, Isola Madre was created in the English style, to show the plants in the natural landscape.
Isola Madre's 19 gardens are designed to feel intimate, with shady wisteria arches, 20-foot-high hedges, and winding paths.
TICKETS ISLAND MOTHER
Isola dei Pescatori
The latter is the only one with a real inhabited hamlet, the others are characterized by two large buildings surrounded by lush gardens.
THEIsola dei Pescatori it is the smallest and has always been inhabited by a handful of people historically addicted to fishing. Here you can stroll through the narrow alleys lined with restaurants and souvenir shops.
Isola dei Pescatori is perfect for stopping for lunch. Try the Imbarcadero restaurant where the tasting menu is truly a gem.
Buy the hop-on hop-off ticket to the Borromean Islands - you can hop on and off as many times as you want!
2 - Pallavicino Park
A few kilometers south of Stresa, on the road that runs along the lake, you will find another of the things to see in Stresa, especially if you are with children: the Parco di Villa Pallavicino.
The park is huge, about 30 hectares, with manicured lawns, rare plants, trees and a zoological park with more than 50 species of animals including zebras, kangaroos, llamas, fallow deer and many others.
Inside the park, you will also find a small animal “farm”, created especially for children, where you can get acquainted with llamas, goats and fallow deer left in complete freedom.
Inside the large garden among peacocks and other birds that roam undisturbed is the neoclassical villa, which dates back to 1855 and was commissioned by the statesman Ruggero Bonghi, but purchased by the Marquises Pallavicino a few years later.
The Villa is private and cannot be visited. In front of it stands out enormous and aristocratic a stupendous cedar of Lebanon.
PALLAVICINO PARK TICKETS
3 - Summit of Mottarone
The nice thing about spending a few days in Stresa is that you can go within minutes to the city, the lake and the mountains. in fact, behind it stands the massif of Mottarone: with its 1492 meters, is the highest peak of Mergozzolo, a mountain group that is part of the Cusiane Alps.
Although the cable car is currently closed and has become infamous for the accident last May (2021), climb to the top of the Mottarone is one of the must do things to have a truly exceptional panorama of Lake Maggiore.
From here, on clear days, you can see not only Lake Maggiore but also Lake Orta, the Alps and the Po Valley!
To climb up to its summit, you can use the car along a road that climbs through lush woods and villas with flower gardens and then walk a short distance.
At the top you will also find ski slopes on which in winter you can ski with a lake view and Alpyland (which I'll tell you about later).
4 - Try the lake fish and local cuisine
Among the things I recommend you try, well you are on the lake, so fish!
Try themixed appetizer of soaked lake fish. You will find at least 4 different types of fish: Perch, salmon trout, whitefish and bleak.
As first I liked the Garganelli del Pescatore, a short egg pasta topped with pieces of fish, cherry tomatoes and sauce.
On the second you will be spoiled for choice but try or the baked salmon trout or the Golden whitefish!
One of the typical sweets that you cannot miss are the daisies, small biscuits in the shape of a flower, sprinkled with icing sugar and a shortbread very melting butter based.
they are typical sweets of this area and the story tells that they were born a little by chance from the hands of a pastry chef and are "dedicated" to Queen Margherita to whom they were offered as a gift for her first communion, celebrated in 1857.
For cheese lovers (like me), one of those not to be missed is the Toma del Mottarone, a cheese made from raw cow's milk, yellow and soft paste and aged in the mountain pastures.
5 - Sail on the lake
La network of boats on Lake Maggiore it is the best way to move and admire the natural beauty in one of the most beautiful frames in Italy.
In addition to the scheduled boats that connect the main towns, there are also private companies that offer different tourist itineraries to meet the demands of tourists more and more.
The best views of many of the attractions along the shore of Lake Maggiore are from the water, so I recommend that you take at least one boat trip. Steamboats, hydrofoils (rapid runs) and ferries frequently connect the cities of the coast with each other.
From Stresa there are many offers for boat tours on the lake. In addition to the Borromean Islands, which are certainly the main attraction of Stresa:
Boat ride among the granite quarries of Lake Maggiore: Navigate on the Lake Maggiore and discover the huge quarries of pink and white granite that extend along its banks. You will also see the famous Borromean Islands and the beautiful villas of breathtaking locations.
Sunset cruise on Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands: Climb aboard your boat as sunset approaches, immersing yourself in the landscapes of the surrounding Lake Maggiore. Once you get out on the water, spend time with a group of friends and enjoy the stunning views while relaxing with an aperitif.
6 - Historic Center and Lakeside
Although not very large, the historic center of Stresa is “well worth a visit” as they say and it is a visit to do: everything to see is within walking distance of each other and you can visit everything simply by walking.
There are some goodies not to be missed such as the Parish church of Sant'Ambrogio, of neoclassical taste, which collects some seventeenth-century paintings inside.
Near the church you will find the famous Ducal Villa (which I'll tell you more about later) dating back to the end of the eighteenth century and built in the same style.
Not far away is the Congress Palace, a multifunctional center intended to accommodate conferences and which hosts the "Musical Weeks".
Il lakefront of Stresa, is where you will find most of the places for tourist life and nightlife and allows long and pleasant walks, admiring the islands and the mountains on one side, the beautiful palaces and villas on the other.
7 - Villa Ducale
Villa Ducale, also known as Casa Bolongaro, is an eighteenth-century villa and one of the oldest stately villas in Stresa.
In ancient times it was surrounded by a garden that reached the shores of the lake and after having belonged to the Bolongaro family, it was bequeathed to the abbot Antonio Rosmini who made it a cultural meeting place. Among the guests who have been here, there is also the famous Manzoni.
The Villa was later the favorite holiday resort of Princess Elizabeth of Saxony, wife of Ferdinando Duke of Genoa and second son of King Carlo Alberto.
In 1966 the International Center for Rosminian Studies was inaugurated in the Villa. In addition to a large library of over one hundred thousand volumes, it has study rooms and a conference room and it is possible to visit the park, the Historical Museum and Rosmini's room.
Halfway along the road that leads to the hill dedicated to him again, there is also the Monument to the Friendship between Manzoni and Rosmini, by the sculptor Pietro Canonica.
The villa can be visited for free.
8 - Alpinia Botanical Garden
Another point of interest on the slopes of Mottarone is the Alpinia Botanical Garden: in addition to being a breathtaking viewpoint, the garden is an oasis of tranquility where you can discover over a thousand species of plants and flowers from the Alps and the subalpine belt, but also from Japan, China and the Caucasus.
9 – Alpyland
Do you love pure adrenaline? TOllora you have to take a ride on Alpyland!
Unfortunately when I was there, in the days immediately following the tragedy of the cable car, the lift was closed, but I imagine how much fun it must be to "splash at the speed of light" on a sled on a 1.200 meter long rail, which boasts a view 360 ° over the Alps, the surrounding lands and seven lakes.
Curves, bumps and slope changes, it must be like riding a roller coaster.
But don't worry if you are afraid of too much speed: each sled has a manual brake system so you can adjust: go slower if you want to enjoy the view, or splash like a splinter if you like adrenaline!
10 - Lake D'Orta
When I told my dear friend Simon that I was going to Stresa, she replied immediately: "then you MUST also go to the Lake Orta!
A short drive from Stresa, Lake Orta is definitely a destination not to be missed.
The quaint medieval town of Orta San Giulio plummets along the steep, wooded coast to Piazza Motta, where you can (and should) take a boat to the small island of Isola San Giulio in the center of the lake.
Moss-covered stone buildings surround the XNUMXth-century Basilica of San Giulio, built by the saint who, according to local legend, chased the snakes off the island. Be sure to see the frescoes and beautifully carved marble pulpit, then follow the stone-paved Via del Silenzio between the island's old buildings.
On the wooded hill above Orta San Giulio is one of the nine Sacri Monti, mountain sanctuaries unique in this region and which have been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This is made up of 20 chapels that house terracotta statues depicting scenes from the life of St. Francis of Assisi.
Where to eat in Stresa
Eating in Stresa it means enjoying excellent dishes that are able to satisfy any type of palate.
The restaurants of Stresa are very famous and offer not only Piedmontese dishes but also lake fish dishes e dishes di meat, of cold cuts and above all gods mountain cheeses characteristic of this area of Lake Maggiore.
Here are three restaurants that I recommend and that I have personally tried.
Trattoria Lo Stornello Stresa: simple and informal restaurant in historic center of Stresaoffers Piedmontese cuisine e lake fish cuisine at fair prices.
Where sleeping in Stresa
The best thing to visit the Borromean Islands is to sleeping in Stresa: here there are many other beautiful things to do, such as the Pallavicino Park or climbing to the top of Mottarone.
The prices are not very cheap, but by looking you can find good accommodation at a fairly affordable cost and remaining very close to the center and the pier for the Borromean Islands.
I stayed atHotel la Locanda, a small family run hotel. The hotel is simple, welcoming and very clean and is located in an area where it is also easy to park for free on one of the adjacent streets. From here it is still easy to take the lakefront and walk 10 minutes to reach the center.
Another choice that I had evaluated (but had no availability, unfortunately) is thehotel Flora. This is a bit more high-end hotel than the Inn, offering lake views and a pool. One of the choices that combine comfort and good price in the area!
If you are looking for something much more chic then take a look atHotel Residence La Luna Nel Porto: it is located just 30 meters from the landing stage for the Borromean Islands and offers a private garden with terrace and lake view and modern customized suites.