Perched on the western shore of placid Lake Maggiore, the tiny resort town of Stresa is backed by the Alpine foothills of Monte Mottarone and boasts elegant hotels on a tree-lined promenade. Stroll through picturesque Piazza Cadorna in the town center, relax on the waterfront lidos, or take a ferry to the charming islands nearby.
Stresa has been a popular retreat for centuries and has drawn famous visitors, ranging from Charles Dickens to Ernest Hemingway to Clark Gable. Many people explore both the charming town and its nearby islands by joining a day trip from Milan.
The town’s crown jewels are undoubtedly the three tiny Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee) that sit just minutes away across Lake Maggiore. Isola Bella and Isola Madre boast extraordinary 17th-century palazzi that are decorated with unbelievable decadence and surrounded by formal terraced gardens. In contrast, Isola dei Pescatori is home to chapels, art galleries, souvenir shops, and fish restaurants with lake views.
Things to Know Before You Go
Be sure to set aside at least five hours to take in the islands and town. It takes about an hour on each island to see the sights and an additional hour to stroll through Stresa itself.
Restaurants in Stresa are clustered in the warren of cobblestone lanes in the historic center; they are usually open from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. for lunch and from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m. for dinner.
The town of Stresa is accessible to wheelchair users, but some of the sights on the islands have limited access. Confirm in advance.
Families enjoy the park at Villa Pallavicino, which is located along the lake, just outside the center of town, and is home to a small, kid-friendly zoo that includes llamas, zebras, flamingos, and toucans.
How to Get There
Stresa sits on the western shore of Lake Maggiore, over an hour northwest of Milan. You can take a train from the Milano Centrale station to Stresa, or you can join a Lake Maggiore tour that includes transportation. To reach the Borromean Islands, take one of the ferries that launch from Piazza Marconi on Stresa’s waterfront.
When to Get There
The best time to explore Stresa and other towns along Lake Maggiore is from spring through fall, as many local attractions close in the winter due to frigid temperatures and the biting winds that come off the lake.
Lake Maggiore and the Borromeo Dynasty
Stresa’s Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee) have been owned by the aristocratic Borromeo family since the 12th century. The Borromeo dynasty ruled over tracts of Lombardy for centuries, and the palaces and gardens dotting the islands were built as their private grounds. They also built another elaborate palace at Rocca Borromeo, on Maggiore’s southwestern shore. Archbishop Carlo Borromeo was canonized in 1610; an enormous bronze statue of him stands in the lakeside town of Angera.
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