To escape the heat of Rome … and got only one and a half pleasant days, before Stresa also climbed into the 30s.
Stresa is the principal Lago Maggiore resort town along the Italian coastline of Italy’s 2nd largest lake. (Lago Garda, to the east, is the largest.) There is a string of lakes running north-south in a row above Milan, the three largest are Garda, Maggiore, and Como. Locarno, in Switzerland, is at the northern end of the lake.
(Clicking on photos enlarges them.)
Stresa is known to Hemingway fans as part of the setting for A Farewell to Arms; it is the lake Frederic Henry and Catherine Barkley row across to escape to Switzerland. (We took a ferry down from Locarno to Stresa — with a few stops along the way — and it took more than four hours, so rowing would probably take four days, not overnight; but hey, it’s a novel.) During Hemingway’s recovery from wounds at a hospital in nearby Milan, he visited Stresa and stayed at the luxurious Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées, seen below.
We did not stay in this hotel, which ought to go without saying. We, instead, spent the week in a perfectly fine and comfortable hotel directly across the street from the lake and the ferry pier: Hotel Milan Au Lac. This is it, and our room was above the M in Milan.
The waters off Stresa are characterized by the four main “Borromeo” islands: Isola Bella, Isola Madre, Isola dei Pescatori, and Isolino San Giovanni. Isola Pescatori (Fisherman’s island) is also known as Isola Superiore. I had never heard the name Borromeo before coming to Stresa, but the family dominates the entire area, and in fact, owned the area around Stresa and all the island (I think they still own the islands) since the 16th century.
The end of the island seen in this view is dominated by the massive gardens of the palazzo.
Stresa is a beautiful little lake town. It exists primarily in service of tourism, and essentially closes down in winter months. It is a fine place to relax, slow down, enjoy clean air and water (and escape the chaos of Rome), and gorge on scenery. The Borromeo palazzo on Isola Bella is one of the gaudiest, most luxurious, over-the-top displays of wealth (it pays to be a Catholic Archbishop in Italy) I have ever seen. (Although Popes grab most of the wealth.)
Restaurants in Stresa are typical of restaurants anywhere in Italy, except for the fresh fish dishes. One exception is Il Vicoletto. It is worth seeking out. We had the best meal of any during our week in Stresa, including a fine but massively overpriced lunch in Locarno, Swiss prices. A surprise finding in Il Vicoletto was a grappa that was smooth and actually did not taste at all like moonshine. This one:
And visit Cristina Ferri’s amazing porcelain / ceramic shop, where we blew the budget and bought this lovely one-of-a-kind, handmade mirror.
Finally, sunset from our balcony, our last night in Stresa.