Considered by everyone as “the pearl of Verbano”, that is, the most prestigious and charming tourist location of Lake Maggiore, this “small strip of land” (precisely strixia, mentioned in a document of the year 998) has been knowledgeably transformed from an initial settlement of farmers to a favourite holiday spot, initially for aristocratic nobles, British tourists and then wealthy middle-class of the Lombardy entrepreneurs.
The Napoleonic road of the early nineteenth century, the Simplon Pass and the railway line were undoubtedly decisive factors in the explosion of tourism in the town, but we must not forget that its fame began to spread thanks to the enthusiastic descriptions of famous travellers such as Stendhal, Chateaubriand, Dumas, Dickens and Lord Byron.
Moreover, given its panoramic and picturesque location opposite the Borromean Islands, from the mid-nineteenth century until the early twentieth century, Stresa assumes this distinctive and elegant aspect with its hotels and luxurious scenographic residences typical of the Art Deco period. From the lake shore, climbing up along the hilly slopes of the Mottarone, a gentle and “aristocratic” mountain of Stresa, you can see lush green parks, formal Italian-style gardens and beautiful villas with loggias, balconies, porches, galleries, staircases, terraces and panoramic towers, summer residences “of high society.” The real heart of the town, even more than the centre of Piazza Cadorna (a really pleasant “living room” with lovely shops, cafes and restaurants), is definitely the beautiful lakefront: walking along the elegant avenue through lush multicoloured gardens and flower beds, on one side flanked by the exceptional panorama of the Borromean Gulf and on the other by the rich scenery of the nineteenth century villas and luxurious hotels. Cited and praised by many famous writers: Hemingway describes the high area of Lake Maggiore in “A Farewell to Arms”, Piero Chiara finds Verbano a great source of inspiration, Dickens declares his love to Isola Bella, today Stresa hosts two major literary contests dedicated to fiction, essay-writing and poetry: the Stresa Fiction Prize, with new works of fiction or essay-writing and one of the greatest national literary awards, the Guido Gozzano International Poetry Prize, hosted by Villa Carlotta in Belgirate.
Its extraordinary beauty captures internationally famous singers such as Ray Charles, B.B. King and Miriam Makeba who are among the exceptional interpreters of the event Lake Maggiore Jazz Festival. The event “Stresa and Lake Maggiore Musical Festival”, with its unforgettable nights of notes in suggestive settings, among which the Hermitage of Santa Caterina of the Rock, the gardens of Isola Madre and the Tapestry Hall of the Borromean Palace of Isola Bella.
The largest of the Borromean Islands, it rises in the middle of the gulf and presents a magnificent Renaissance palace surrounded by an amazing garden among the oldest and most important in Italy. Evoked by Flaubert as “paradise on earth”, the island is fascinating for the collected and serene atmosphere that surrounds a surreal environment of thousands of colours and scents. The island is spread over five terraces hosting an amazing botanical garden with over 150 varieties of camellias, a majestic Kashmir cypress, characteristic subtropical plants and flowers, unique and special ones such as soap, wax , iron, anise, coffee plants, and the handkerchief tree of Tibet, an authentic natural wonder. The charm of such exceptionally beautiful nature is further accentuated by the presence of exotic animals such as white peacocks, pheasants and all kinds of colourful parrots.
The Islet of the Malghera
Also called Love Island or Lovers’ Island, this small rock that emerges from the water in the short stretch of the lake that separates Isola Bella from Isola dei Pescatori, is covered with bushes and vegetation, but also has a small beach ideal for undisturbed sunbathing.
Isola Bella is undoubtedly the most famous of the Borromean Islands. The great baroque palace is a real museum: the original furniture, paintings and frescoes of the 16th – 19th centuries, Flemish tapestries of silk and gold, unique sculptures and antique weapons. The Italian gardens that are divided in ten terraces, the Nymphaea, the exedra, the grottos, the allegorical and mythological statues, the obelisks, the fountains and the valuable tree species such as cedar, orange and lemon trees, magnolias, laurels, camellias, azaleas, rhododendrons and a variety of conifers which make the island unique and magic. The scenographic research culminates in the large hemicycle that closes the overlapping terraces, called, in fact, “Theatre” for the effective spectacular effect; to dominate the scene is the statue of the Unicorn, a figure of ancient mythology. White peacocks contribute to the enchanting charm of the place, roaming free in the velvety lawns.