Stresa on Lake Maggiore is a beautiful place in northern Italy. It is situated an hour away from Milan Malpensa airport. We stayed at the Hotel Speranza au Lac, which is located in the centre of Stresa overlooking the lake. Although it is in the heart of things and right by transport links to the islands it is still peaceful.
Our room was immaculately clean and comfortable – we kept the cost down by not stipulating a lake view. The shower was over the bath and there wasn’t a grab rail. However, I suspect that some of the rooms were more accessible as I saw a couple of guests with walking sticks and one in a wheelchair. There were a couple of comfortable lounges to relax in and a swimming pool. In fact all you need for a relaxing stay.
The buffet breakfast was excellent. We ate out in the evening at local establishments such as Osteria Degli Amici and Taverna Pappagallo, but actually the evening meals in the hotel were really good value. For only 30 Euros there was a choice of six starters with six mains and a fantastic desert trolley! I would say that the service was friendly, respectful and efficient.
The town of Stresa was attractive with little cobbled streets and pretty piazzas. There were plenty of shops selling gifts, leather goods and silk scarves. However, I found that the most useful accessory for me was the umbrella I bought- we had had lots of rain!
Not to be missed is the Borromean Islands hop-on hop-off ferry tour from Stresa. We bought our one-day pass from the tourist office opposite the hotel. The ticket also gave us admission to the palaces and gardens. We visited Isola Madre, Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori with views of dramatic mountain peaks on the way.
The 17th century palace, the home of the Borromeo family is on Isola Bella and is surrounded by an Italianate garden. The family had a passion for art and botanical science.
Isola Madre is the largest of the three islands. The palace is treasure trove of Venetian furniture, china and tapestries. Of particular interest are the marionette theatres, which have been kept in beautiful condition. The gardens are an absolute delight with rare and exotic plants, ponds and boulevards.
Isola dei Pescatori, translated means fisherman’s island, has picturesque streets. Local fishermen provide fresh fish for the restaurants and there is a wealth of gift and craft shops. All three islands are unsuitable for wheelchair users due to steps and uneven surfaces.
There is a cable car to the Giardino Botanico Alpina, which specialises in alpine plants but it was closed for maintenance whilst we were there.We did however; walk along the esplanade to the grounds of Villa Pallavicino where there is a zoological garden with wild animals, landscaped gardens and peacocks.For those that do not want to walk for half a mile there is a land train. We stopped in the little cafe, which used to be the coach house.
We took a boat trip to Arona. It was a pleasant ride, which took is to this pretty town. However, there seemed to be only one boat back to Stresa at 4.30pm. The shops were closed, the museum was closed and the ancient church was occupied by a funeral, which went on all afternoon. Fortunately there were cafes open for gelato and Aperol spritz!
From Stresa railway station we took a train to Milan to get a brief glimpse of the main sites. We visited Sforza Castle with its museums and art galleries before walking to the Piazza del Duomo in the heart of the city. On a fine day with more time we could have enjoyed this beautiful city with its fine architecture, monuments and masterpieces, but this will be a future pleasure.
All in all Stresa is a beautiful place for a holiday, but like our own lake district be prepared for rain!