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Stresa - Charming Italian Town

Updated on June 9, 2015

Stresa on Lake Maggiore

I visited Stresa last July and absolutely loved it. Stresa is deffinately the most beautiful town on the Lake Maggiore - one of the largest lakes in Italy.

Stresa is stunning and its surrounding area, offers a variety of landscapes from pleasant lakeside promenades to rolling country side, from majestic snow capped mountains to a colourful small town cafe scene.

Watch video about Stresa

Stresa is a great place to base your holiday in Italy on Lake Maggiore; a high standard of accommodation from B&Bs to 5 star hotels.

With unique island attractions, woodland walks with panoramic lake views, botanical gardens, churches, markets and much more you can be sure that when staying in Stresa you will have no trouble finding something to do!

About Stresa

Stresa is a small town of about 5,000 inhabitants on the shores of the Lago (Lake) Maggiore and situated on the road and rail routes to the Simplon pass in the region of Piedmont in Italy.

Since the early 20th century, the main source of income has been the tourist trade.

Like other locations on Lago Maggiore, it benefits from spectacular views as well as areas of historical and architectural interest.

5 things you shouldn't miss!

From grand villas and palaces to idyllic gardens and unique islands, there are a wealth of attractions to visit in and around Stresa. But there are top 5 things you shouldn't miss:

  1. Borromean Islands: Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola Pescatori
  2. Stresa - Mottarone Cable Car
  3. Villa Pallavicino
  4. Villa Taranto Gardens
  5. Borromeo Castle

Borromean Islands

They are Isola Bella, Isola Pescatori and Isola Madre, known together as Isole Borromee (Borromean Islands)

Their name derives from the Borromeo family, which started acquiring them in the earlier sixteenth century (Isola Madre) and still owns some of them (Isola Madre, Bella, San Giovanni) today.

Magnificent, magnetic and magical, they are recognized throughout the world for their beauty.

Isola Bella

Isola Bella, named for Isabella, countess Borromeo, was originally a largely barren rock; after first improvements and buildings, opened by count Carlo III between 1629 and 1652, his son Vitaliano the 6th built an attractive summer palace, bringing in vast quantities of soil in order to build up a system of ten terraces for the garden. The unfinished building displays paintings by Lombard artists and Flemish tapestries.

Isola Bella is the most well known of the Borromean Islands. Lying offshore from Stresa it is just a 10 minute boat ride away.

In 1670 Count Vitalino Borromeo began construction of his monumental baroque palace and the planning of the majestic scenic gardens that have since brought such fame to the island and that still today are constant reminders of the splendor of that era. The residence contains priceless works of art, tapestries, furniture and sculpture. The gardens are overflowing with countless varieties of rare plants and flowers and ornate tiers of terraces; they are a classic and breathtaking example of an Italian garden from that time. Isola Bella has restaurants and shops to enjoy during your visit.

Isola Bella is stunning!

The mansion has many extravagantly decorated rooms but most impressive is the large garden behind the mansion. Many beautiful fountains, flowers and even white peacocks reside there. Napoleon has chosen this place for vacation in the past and important treaties have been signed here.

Isola Bella

Isola Bella
Isola Bella

Isola Bella Gardens

Isola Bella Gardens
Isola Bella Gardens

White peacock

White peacock
White peacock

Borromeo Palace

Borromeo Palace
Borromeo Palace

Practical Info

The palace and gardens of Isola Bella are open from the 28th March to 18th October 2009 from 09.00 - 17.30 (last entry). Tickets for the Palace and Gardens cost e12 for adults, e5 for children (6-15). Children under 6 years and RHS members are free.

Isola Madre

Isola Madre is the largest of the Borromee islands and the one with the most enchanting atmosphere. Here, living freely among gardens filled with rare plants and flowers you will find exotic white peacocks and several varieties of parrots and pheasants. It is a magical world, especially so in the spring with the blooming of the azalea, camellia and rhododendron gardens. Since 1978 the 16th century palace has been open to the public. Browse through the reconstructed rooms, marvel at the collections of family costumes, dolls and porcelain and don't miss the display of puppet theatres from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Outside the entrance to the villa is the largest example of a Kashmir Cypress in Europe; it is over 200 years old. Unfortunately, in 2006 a freak storm uprooted the Kashmir Cypress and it sustained significant damage. An outstanding effort was made to replant the tree using a crane flown in by helicopter and constructed on the island. The Kashmir Cypress is now back in place and is producing new leaves but it will take a few years to see if it has fully survived.

Mother's Island - Isola Madre

Mother's Island - Isola Madre
Mother's Island - Isola Madre

Church on Isola Madre

Church on Isola Madre
Church on Isola Madre

Blue peacock

Blue peacock
Blue peacock

Me in Isola Madre

Me in Isola Madre
Me in Isola Madre

Practical Info

The villa and gardens of Isola Madre are open from the 28th March to 18th October 2009 from 09.00 - 17.30 (last entry). Tickets cost e10 for adults, e5 for children (6-15). Children under 6 years and RHS members are free.

Isola Pescatori

Isola Pescatori (full name Isola Superiore dei Pescatori) is a complete contrast to Isola Bella and Isola Madre but it is equally as captivating. Its narrow cobbled streets, pretty harbour and charming houses make it an enchanting place to visit.

Isola dei Pescatori or Isola Superiore is the only inhabited island in the archipelago. It has a fishing village, which in 1971 had a population of 208.

The church on the island is definitely worth a visit as it dates back to the 11th century (although it has seen much restoration since then). The church is dedicated to San Vittore and has a Romanesque apse dedicated to the martyr San Gandolfo.

Isola Pescatori - the island of the fishermen certainly takes its name from the main occupation of its inhabitants. Rustic treasures and simple pleasures await here as you wander among the charmingly quaint houses, and explore the narrow alleyways.

Isola Superiore dei Pescatori

Isola Superiore dei Pescatori
Isola Superiore dei Pescatori

View of the Alps from Isola Pescatori

View of the Alps from Isola Pescatori
View of the Alps from Isola Pescatori

Practical Info

Isola Pescatori is a village and therefore there is no entry fee.

Stresa - Mottarone Cable Car

The Stresa to Mottarone Cable Car takes 20 minutes to get to the top of Mount Mottarone (1,491m2 / 4,892 ft2). Mount Mottarone is considered a "natural balcony" from which there are 360° panoramic views across the Po Valley to the Alps. From the summit which is a 15 minute walk from the cable car station you can see seven lakes: Lake Maggiore, Lake Orta, Lake Mergozzo, Lake Varese, Lake Comabbio, Lake Monate and Lake Biandronno.

Tourism around Mount Mottarone really took off in the early 1900s when the area was opened up for skiing. Thus in 1910 the river which ran down the now Via Roma was covered over to make way for the Stresa to Mottarone railway. This electric rack and pinion railway was inaugurated in 1911 with its route starting from the ferry station square, continuing up Via Roma to Stresa railway station, stopping in Vedasco before reaching Mottarone. The journey used to take 1 hour. Ski runs were created, a bob sleigh run was opened and one of Italy's first ski jumps was built in 1935.

7 years after the closure of the railway in 1963, the current cable car started running.

The cable car can accommodate 40 passengers per car and has a mid station at Alpino where you can alight to visit the Alpine Gardens. The gardens cover an area of approximately 40,000m2 (431,000 ft2) with a wonderfully appointed viewpoint over the Borromean Islands and Lake Maggiore. The gardens were created in 1934 and specialise in Alpine and sub-Alpine species.

Cable car

Cable car
Cable car

Alpine Gardens

Alpine Gardens
Alpine Gardens

Above Stresa

Above Stresa
Above Stresa

Practical Info

The cable car runs every 20 minutes everyday during the summer from 09.30 to 17.40 (last descent) with an hour break for lunch. Always check the time of the last descent. This is always signposted at the Mottarone station near where you get off the cable car.

Villa Pallavicino

Villa Pallavicino is located on the outskirts of Stresa and dates back to the 19th century when it was built for the politician Ruggero Borghi. It was extended just a year after its construction and then passed into the ownership of the Duke of Villombrosa before finally being purchased by Marquis Ludovico Pallavicino of Genova.

Marquis Pallavicino extended the grounds and gave the villa the look it still has today. The zoological park was opened to the public in 1954 and both the villa and park are still owned by the Pallavicino family.

As you enter the park you will pass a splendid series of archways created with cypress trees, as well as wonderful magnolia trees. In the natural amphitheatre which surrounds the villa there is a magnificent Lebanon Cedar and all round the lawns are Rhododendrons, camellias and azaleas. In the old greenhouses the gardeners cultivate numerous exotic species of plants.

The zoological park is situated in the gardens and as well as zebras, llamas, wallabies, prairie dogs, parrots, toucans and much more you can stand just a few steps from beautiful deer.

Villa Pallavicino

Villa Pallavicino
Villa Pallavicino

Pallavicino Garden

Pallavicino Garden
Pallavicino Garden

Peacock in Pallavicino Park

Peacock in Pallavicino Park
Peacock in Pallavicino Park

Practical Info

The Pallavicino Park is open from the 16th March to 19th October 2008. Tickets cost e9 for adults, e6 for children (4-13).

There is a little tourist train that runs daily 16th March - September 2008 from the ferry station car park through the centre of Stresa to the park.

Villa Taranto Gardens

The gardens at Villa Taranto were created by Scotsman, Captain Neil McEarcharn who bought the estate in 1931. He wished to transform the estate into an English style garden to remind him of home.

He spent nine years making his dream a reality, which included the difficult job of acclimatising many of the more exotic species collected from round the world.

Captain Neil McEarcharn was keen to ensure that all his hard work would continue beyond his lifetime and so he generously presented the gardens to the Italian State.

Since 1952 the gardens have been open to the public from April through to October, with more than 150,00 visitors a year. As well as holidaymakers there are groups of scholars and garden lovers that come from all over the world to view the gardens.

The most significant achievements have been the "Valetta" (little valley), the terraced gardens and waterfalls, the water lily and lotus pools, the ornamental fountains and the irrigation system which draws water directly from the lake.

Every year from 25th April to 1st May there is the tulip week when thousands of tulip bulbs are in bloom. One in five entrance tickets has a special stamp on the back and the lucky owner receives a free plant cultivated in the gardens.

Villa Taranto, Verbania

Villa Taranto, Verbania
Villa Taranto, Verbania

Tulip in bloom

Tulip in bloom
Tulip in bloom

Amazonian waterlilies

Amazonian waterlilies
Amazonian waterlilies

Practical Info

Villa Taranto Gardens are open everyday from 19th March to 2nd November 2008 from 08.30 - 18.30 (October 08.30 - 17.00).

Tickets cost e8.50 for adults and e5.50 for children (6-14).

The Rocca Borromeo, Angera

The Rocca Borromeo or Borromeo Castle is a rare example of a medieval fortified building that has been completely conserved.

The 14th and 15th century Castle Tower has wonderful views around the lower part of the lake and although they are slightly damaged from the damp, there are some beautiful frescoes in the "Sala della Giustizia" which depict the former owner, Ottone Visconti's victory over Napo Torriani in 1277.

Also of note is the 17th century grape press used for wine production.

The Rocca is also home to a doll's museum which fills 12 rooms in the Viscontea and Borromea wing. There are over 1000 examples of dolls, toys, books and board games and it is one of the biggest and best collections of its kind in Europe. Showing their history, there are dolls made from wood, wax, papier-mâché, porcelain, cloth and plastic.

The Rocca was originally purchased by the Borromeo family for 12,800 lire and soon became their official residence. Ownership was contested by the Sforza family, but in 1449 it officially became property of the Borromeo family.

Borromeo Castle

Borromeo Castle
Borromeo Castle

Sala della Giustizia

Sala della Giustizia
Sala della Giustizia

Practical Info

The Rocca Borromeo is open from the 15th March to 19th October 2008 from 09.00 - 17.30 (last entry). Tickets cost e7.50 for adults, e4.50 for children (6-15). Children under 6 years are free.

Stresa

Stresa
Stresa

Ciao !!!

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    • despinadesign profile image

      despinadesign 6 years ago

      Wonderful!

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

    • TonyPayne profile image

      Tony Payne 8 years ago from Southampton, UK

      Beautiful lens, great photos, 5*****. My grandmother went to Lake Maggiore in the early 1950s and I used to have a lot of postcards from there, but sadly my collection vanished during a house move years ago. I had hundreds of postcards from all over the world.

    • AlisonMeacham profile image

      AlisonMeacham 8 years ago

      This is an excellent lensYou have been Blessed by a Squid Angel

    • delia-delia profile image

      Delia 8 years ago

      This DEFINITLY will be a place I go to see when we go to Italy...thanks for sharing...5*