Step back in time
For most of the 19th century, Stresa was an exclusive Italian holiday destination for the aristocracy and the wealthy. When the Simplon Tunnel opened in 1906, the town became a popular calling point for trains across Europe, attracting thousands of tourists to the shores of Lake Maggiore every year.
Famous visitors include the American author and journalist Ernest Hemingway, who took inspiration from the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees for his novel, Farewell to Arms.
Today, relics of the town’s former opulence are still visible in the Art Nouveau-style hotels and grand villas that line the water’s edge. The splendid Villa Pallavicino, which is just a short walk from the town, is well worth a visit to meander through the ornamental gardens and spot rare wildlife in the zoo park.
Stresa has a number of pleasant pebble beaches with swimming areas – perfect for a relaxing day in the sun during your holidays to Italy. The La Baia Rosa has a public swimming pool and beach, and you can choose to pay a small fee to use the sunloungers, parasols and changing facilities. There’s also a snack bar and some restaurants nearby where you can go for refreshments.
Ferries run to and from Stresa throughout the day, allowing tourists to visit other lakeside towns across the bay, including the beautiful town of Pallanza with its pretty parks and historic buildings.
One of the most visited attractions – the Borromean Islands – can also be accessed by a hop-on hop-off boat tour from Stresa. While, the picture-perfect Isola Bella is particularly special with its lavish palace and gardens.
Day trips and excursions
Holidaymakers looking to indulge in some retail therapy can head to the large shopping centres in Gravellona Toce, or even venture to Europe’s fashion capital, Milan.
Just over an hour’s journey by train from Stresa station, this famous city of style is home to some of Europe’s most chic shopping streets. Even if you’re not treating yourself to a designer label, this iconic city is well worth a look.
Nature-lovers are also spoilt for choice in Stresa. The town’s famous cable car transports passengers to the summit of Monte Mottarone, where you’ll have access to various walking paths with fantastic views of Lake Maggiore and its smaller sister, Lake Orta.
If you fancy a change of scenery, Lake Orta is also a popular day trip from Stresa and offers a quieter waterfront scene with unspoilt landscapes and sleepy towns to explore.
A varied nightlife
To soak up the evening atmosphere in Stresa, the promenade is the place to be. Not only is there an array of lakeside restaurants, bars and cafes to choose from, but there’s also entertainment during the summer, including open air concerts and firework displays.
For one of the best vantage points in the town, the Sky Bar in Hotel La Palma offers superb panoramic views across the lake and a relaxed atmosphere where you can enjoy a cocktail or two. For live music, the popular lakefront establishment, Verbanella, hosts blues and jazz nights a couple of times a week.
If you prefer a more low-key evening, grab an ice cream and go for a leisurely stroll through the town. Down the backstreets and piazzas, you’ll find a selection of more casual restaurants and bars.