For however fanciful and fantastic the Isola Bella may be, and is, it still is beautiful.
(C. Dickens, 1844)

 

Charles Dickens was only one of many famous people who enjoyed some time spent in Stresa along hystory. Also Stendhal and Flaubert were commonly walking on Stresa's beach, and Erneshemingwayt Hemingway wrote his masterpiece A Farewell to Arms here. Lord Byron as well as an infinite list of European kings and queens chose Stresa as halting place during their Grstresa conferenceand Tours. Stresa hosted a number of international conferences, from the unsuccessfull meeting between Italy, France and United Kingdom in 1935, when the European countries had to face Hitler's machinated assassination of the Austrian Cancellor Dolfuss, to the European Community Conference in 1958 when the first common laws for agricultural development and a common agricultural policy were signed between European States.

But Stresa's hystory is much older: its first appearance on historical documents was just before the end of the first millennium, when it was a small community of fishermen and peasants. From the Renaissance, the Borromeo family, part of the Milanese aristocracy, ruled the region and added the magnificent buildings that have made Stresa famous. Throughoilesut the 16th and 17th centuries, the Borromeos commissioned palaces to be built on the islands Bella and Madre. Stresa passed into Austrian hands in 1719, before isola bellacoming under the rule of the House of Savoy in 1748, unified in the Italian Kingdom in 1861. The town began to achieve its renown as a tourist destination at the beginning of the 19th century, when glamorous villas were built by Italian and European noble families. In 1906 the opening of the Simplon Tunnel heralded the start of widespread international travel. Trains on the London-Paris-Milan line began to call at Stresa station, and travellers and writers from all over Europe came to sing the praises of Stresa and Lake Maggiore, spreading their fame far and wide and enticing an ever larger number of people to visit.

From Stresa it is easy to reach the three Borromean Islands, which are steeped in artistic, historical and botanical appeal. On the islands of Bella and Madre there are sumptuous palaces and rare plant gardens where peacocks, parrots and pheasis pescatoriants roam wild against an exotic backdrop reminiscent of faraway lands. In contrast, the Isola dei Pescatori is famous for the charming simplicity of its old fishing village, which is considered one of the most picturesque spots on Lake Maggiore. As well as being a fine example of a mid-nineteenth century palace, Villa Pallavicino boasts a zoo in its huge park. In Stresa itself, the elegant and attractive waterfront offers unforgettable views of the Gulf of Borromeo. Walks along the shore offer the perfect opportunity to take in both the Art Nouveau hotels on the shore and the three Borromean Islands. The view is equally superb from the summit of Mount Mottarone (1491m), which dominates Stresa and offers a unique panoramic outlook.

The appeal of Lake Maggiore is not confined to Stresa; in fact, the town is the perfect starting point for unforgettable boat trips on the lake or drives along its shores. Close by to the north is the tranquil tourist town of Verbania-Pallanza. Its main attraction, Villa Taranto, is world-famous for its magnificent gardens of rare flosancarlonewers and plants. Further up the shores of the lake lies the village of Cannero Riviera, which enjoys a sheltered location and consequently a particularly mild climate in which lemons and oranges can be grown. There is a series of evocative fortifications on the three Castelli di Cannero islets, which form a small archipelago opposite the village. From here it is also only a short distance to Cannobio - the last Italian town before the Swiss border. This beautiful and ancient little town, nestled between the mountains and the lake, today has one of the most beautiful lidos on the lake. To the south lies the tourist and commercial hub of Arona. The copper statue dedicated to the town's patron saint, Charles Borromeo, is among the tallest in Europe at 35 m. Opposite Arona, on a rocky outcrop on the eastern shore of Lake Maggiore, sits the Rocca d'Angera, a fully preserved medieval fortress that houses the original Doll and Toy Museum. St. Catherine's Hermitage clings precariously to sheer cliffs on the opposite shore to Stresa, above one of the deepest areas of Lake Maggiore.