Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Isola Pescatori - Museum: A History of the Fishermen

It's too long since I've written so it's time to get back on track. And what better way to do it than with something new to visit on Isola Pescatori, the fishermen's island.

Over last winter five of the islanders (some of them being among the five remaining fishermen) cleared out the old island school house, which closed in 1982, and created a little museum. Months of plastering, renovating the old stone floor, fixing the windows and creating a homely atmosphere. The artefacts and photos tell the story of the Isola Pescatori fishermen who used to number 60.

Entrance to the Museum
The little museum occupies the the ground floor room of the old school house and there are tags on all the artifacts with explanations in Italian and English. You may well even get to meet one of the island fishermen as, when they can, they are at the museum to greet visitors.


This photo shows a model of the traditional Lake Maggiore fishing boats which, before the advent of motorboat engines, used to be man-powered. This meant that sometimes the fishermen were away from the island for up to a week at a time, allowing them to travel far and wide around the lake.

This photos shows the big cauldron which was used to boil the cotton or hemp fishing nets with chestnut shells in oder to dye them. You'll also find the equipment used to make misultin, a kind of dried fish which you can sample at some of the island restaurants. It's pretty strong and salty but really delicious!

All in all it's a cute little museum, filled with all sorts fishing whatnots and interesting notes about life as a fisherman on Isola Pescatori. A local museum, founded by local people ... and we hope they continue and extend to the upstairs!

Saturday, May 30, 2015

Stresa: What's New for 2015!

The 2015 season has been under way since about Easter but as Stresa starts to get busier in June I thought I'd let you know about some of the things that are new this summer:

Cookery Lesson
This year we are proud to introduce our cookery lesson at a lovely family run restaurant with great views over the lake. Lorenzo and Patrizia will take you through the preparation of a three course meal including pasta making and Patrizia's famous tiramisu which you can then enjoy overlooking the Borromean Bay and beyond. Full details and online booking on our website

View from the restaurant
Michele and Greg making pasta!
Visit the Alpine Gardens by Bus
With the cable car closed this year for renovations, the local council and bus company have set up a bus service to and from Stresa and the Alpine Gardens at Alpino. The journey time is between 25-35 minutes and the bus operates as follows:

The Alpine Gardens
From 25/05/15 - 11/06/15 and 14/09/15 - 30/09/15
Stresa to Alpino
11.00 (Monday to Saturday)
14.00 (Saturday only)
14.45 (Monday to Friday)

Alpino to Stresa
15.22 ((Saturday only)
15.52 (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday only)
17.02 (Tuesdy and Friday only)
18.12 (Monday to Saturday)

From 12/06/15 - 13/09/15
Stresa to Alpino
09.00 (Monday to Saturday)
10.00 (Every day)
12.00 (Monday to Saturday)
14.00 (Every day)

Alpino to Stresa
11.52 (Every day)
12.38 (Monday to Saturday)
14.38 (Monday to Saturday)
15.52 (Every day)
18.52 (Every day)

More to see in the Borromean Palace
It's all about art in the Borromean palace on Isola Bella this year. The picture gallery is now included in the entrance price and is quite interesting to have a walk through. The walls are literally covered with 130 framed paintings. You also pass through the throne room.

In the Great Room you will also find a special exhibition entitled "The Grand Tour and Paintings and Views of the Borromean Islands: from Gaspar Van Wittel to Luigi Ashton". This is a fascinating collection of paintings and drawings of the islands on show for this summer.

The picture gallery
You can now download a Borromean Islands app for iPhone and Android. The app contains free photo galleries of Isola Bella, Isola Madre and the Rocca d'Angera. You can also plan your visit in advance by downloading the audio guide (€2.99 in app purchase).

Designer Isola Bella
After visiting the palace and gardens on Isola Bella you can stroll down Isola Bella's very own designer lane "Vicolo del Fornello" where you'll find such brands as Alessi, Herno, Via Vela 14, Italian Indipendent, Coolturalbag, Di Luca, Capricci, Acqua di Stresa and Bagutta.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Lake Maggiore: What's in Flower and When

As Stresa and Lake Maggiore are famous for their gardens, a question we often receive by email is "what will be in flower when we come to visit?". As all gardeners know, flowering times are not an exact science, however I thought I'd write a quick guide as to what you might expect to see in bloom at various time during the season here on Lake Maggiore.

It almost goes without saying that spring and summer will be the best times to see most varieties in flower, but I can assure you that the gardens here are spectacular at any time during the season.

During these months you can expect a magificent display of camellia, not only in the vistibale gardens but also along the lakefront promenade and in gardens of hotels (the Grand Borromées has 180 Camellia!), private residences and villas. There is an exhibition of camellia at the Villa Giulia in Pallanza at the end of March (28-29 March 2015).

March and April are also a good time for magnolia trees which you will find in Villa Taranto and also along the lakefront promenade.

Magnolia tree, Stresa lakefront
April is the time for spring bulbs to flower and at Villa Taranto you can't miss the tulip week (12-25 April 2015) where they have the most amazing display of 20,000 bulbs in 65 varieties.

Tulip Week, Villa Taranto
In April and May another plant that is abundant around the lake, the azalea, will be in flower. There are particularly good displays of azalea in the "Valletta" at Villa Taranto and on Isola Madre.

Some of our other favourites at Villa Taranto in April and May are the cornus florida (flowering dogwood) and the davidia involucrata (handkerchief tree).

Davidia Involucrata (Handkerchief Tree), Villa Taranto
Between these months the rhododendrons will be in flower on the Borromean Islands, at Villa Pallavicino and at Villa Taranto. There are also rhododendrons along our lakefront promenade and at the Grand Borromées.

During late spring and early summer, the  large mophead flowers of hydrangeas appear along Stresa lakefront and in the gardens at the Grand Borromées.

Hydrangea on Stresa promenade
Mid June-Autumn
At Villa Taranto during the summer months and through until autumn you'll find the giant water lilies in flower in the greenhouses. Their enourmous leaves can support up to 10kg!

There are also (smaller) water lilies in the pools on Isola Bella and Isola Madre.

Water Lilies, Isola Madre
Villa Taranto is home to 1700 dahlia plants which bloom from July to the end of October.

In the auumn you can enjoy the golden and red colours of the acer trees at Villa Taranto.

Acers at Villa Taranto
This is just a small selection of the plants and flowers you will see on your visit to Stresa and Lake Maggiore. Balconies drip with geraniums, flower beds at the hotels are packed with impatiens and begonias, roses and wisteria all add colour to our beautiful gardens!

What are your favourite flowers on Lake Maggiore?

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

An Afternoon Ferry Ride and Stroll to Suna

I had a half day by myself to spare last Saturday and it was such a gorgeous day that I wanted to get out on the lake on the ferry. At this time of year there isn't anywhere very far you can go so I decided to take the ferry to Pallanza and then have a walk along the front to Suna.

Suna is one of the towns and villages that make up Verbania, our province capital. It's shocking, but in the 9 years I've lived in Stresa and worked at Tomassucci I have never properly set foot in Suna. I've just driven through or hopped in and out of the car when we've been delivering tickets to the hotel there.

Anyway, I jumped on the ferry at Stresa and enjoyed the journey around the Borromean Bay, sailing past Isola Bella, Isola Pescatori, Baveno and Isola Madre before arriving in Pallanza.

Boarding the ferry in Stresa
Calling at Isola Bella ...
... and Isola Pescatori
Not forgetting Baveno!
In Pallanza you can have a wander around but I turned left out of the ferry station and started my stroll along the lakeside to Suna.

I had the top deck of the ferry to myself as we neared Pallanza
Approaching Pallanza
It is an easy and pleasant walk along between Pallanza and Suna and the path is almost at the level of the lake, rather than being a promenade. You'll pass by an elegant and grand orange coloured building which is the Institute for the Study of Ecosystems as well as rowing and fishing boats pulled up onto the shore. 

The lakeside path Pallanza to Suna
The Institute for the Study of Ecosystems
Fishing boats on the shore
If there's a game of tennis at the local tennis club you can sit and watch, or see rowers going out on the lake from the rowing club. If it's warm enough, bring your bathers and relax at either of the two beach areas between Pallanza and Suna or spend some time at the lakeside swimming pool

One of the two beaches - and some October sunbathers!
I continued on into the centre of Suna and decided to stop for a drink at one of the bars. I picked a small bar, just next to the bank, ordered a drink and got engrossed in my book and a spot of people watching. Afterwards I went for a walk around the narrow lanes and back down to the lakeside past the church. I found Suna to be a very pretty place, full of locals enjoying a lazy Saturday afternoon in the sun.

Suna lake front
Having a drink at one of the bars
Pretty lake front houses
The church
So after a relaxing hour or so in Suna I ambled back along the lake side path to Pallanza to catch the ferry home to Stresa. I had a really enjoyable afternoon out and if you find yourselves with a half day to spare and you are not sure what to do, I would recommend it.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Practical Information
There are no ferries to Suna itself, you will need to catch the ferry to Pallanza and take the lake side path as I did. There are ferries between Stresa and Pallanza all year round, although they are obviously much more frequent between April and October. You can download the latest timetables on our website.

For 2014 the cost of a normal return ticket Stresa to Pallanza (no intermediate stops allowed) is €10 per person. There are discounts Monday to Friday for pver 65's.

The Walk is 1.4km (just under a mile) each way.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Stresa Travel Notes: Summer Sagra Season

Yesterday was Luca's birthday and we went to the sagra in Vedasco for a birthday dinner with friends before watching the fireworks across the lake in Pallanza.

So I thought I'd write a post about sagre in general and let you know about some of the main summer ones in and around Stresa. I'll also include a glossary of the most common foods found at our local sagre.

Look out for signs around town!
A sagra is a kind of outdoor party with food, drink and music. Sometimes they are themed around a particular food (here on the lake that is often fish), but can also be a general mix of grilled meat, sausages, polenta etc. In wine producing areas you may also find sagre devoted to the local wine. 

The Alpini Troops Fish Sagra in Stresa
A lot of the sagre here are run as fund-raising events for various local associations or clubs so, by taking part, you know you are also giving something back to the community.

Lunch at the Alpini Troops Party in Stresa
I often find it a shame that so few tourists come to the sagre. They often do lunch as well as evening events so next time you see one pop in. Have a look at the glossary below as I know they aren't always geared up with translations of the menu.

Music from the Alpini Troops Band
So if you decide to visit a sagra how do they work? Firstly you need to find the cassa where you will see the menu displayed. Tell the guy at the cassa what you'd like (including drinks) and pay. You will be given some kind of record of your order. Sometimes it is a printed sheet with your items ticked and totalled up, sometimes it is different coloured tickets with the items you've chosen pre-printed on. Either way, head to the "kitchen" area and the bar, hand over your tickets and collect your food and drinks. If you forget something or want to have something else after you can always go back to the cassa and order more! We tend to do this, preferring to wait and see if we have room for cheese and dessert!!

The Festa Fonti in Baveno - we loved the 80's disco night!!
The Chestnut Sagra in Stresa
Seating is usually on long trestle tables and benches, so just find a spot and enjoy!

Sagre in and around Stresa that we enjoy
These are some of the summer sagre that we enjoy going to in and around Stresa and their approximate dates:

The Toma Cheese Sagra in Nebbiuno - mid-May
The Alpini Troops Fish Sagra in Stresa - first week of June
The Alpini Troops Party in Stresa - second week of June
The Festa Fonti in Baveno - each weekend end July/first half of August
The Vedasco August Sagra - each weekend second half of August
Taste of the Lake "Sapori di Lago" Fish Sagra in Baveno - last two weekends of August
The Chestnut Sagra (Castagnata) - beginning of October

Salsiccia - sausage
Salamino - another type of sausage, usually fatter and sometimes grilled butterflied
Bracciola - pork chop
Fritto Misto - mixed fried fish
Calamari fritti - fried squid rings
Brasato - braised meat stew, often served with polenta
Spezzatino - stew, often served with polenta
Patatine fritte - fries
Castagne or caldarroste - roast chestnuts
Toma - a type of cheese. Each area has their own Toma. In Stresa you will find Mottarone, Valsesia, Crodo and other local Toma cheeses

Friday, August 1, 2014

Isola Pescatori: A Local Artist's House, Studio & Secret Garden

**Updated 30/03/2015 with opening dates/tour times**

Yesterday afternoon Luca and I were fortunate enough to have a couple of hours to go to Isola Pescatori and visit the newly opened gallery of local island artist, Andrea Ruffoni (1925-1990). The visit is guided and free and really is a must see for any visitor to Isola Pescatori.

The ferry arriving on Isola Pescatori
The gallery is in an island house which makes it a unique experience. The average visitor (myself included!) doesn't normally get to visit an island house and it is so much bigger than you think it will be. With such narrow lanes and higgledy piggledy buildings, you can't imagine what is inside. The rooms are light and airy with amazing views over the lake and down the lane that runs though the centre of the island. You will see Isola Pescatori from a whole different perspective!

View from the front balcony
Your guide is Monica, whose family are from Isola Bella. She has lived in England for 30 years but always loves coming back to "her islands". She remembers Andrea Ruffoni from when she was growing up and is the perfect local guide to show you around the gallery. It was a wonderful tour with just the right amount of information and explanations about the artwork and the artist. Monica has her favourite spots in the house and is keen to surprise you with her favourite views of the island.

Entering the house/gallery you immediately climb a spiral staircase and in the first room Monica gives a short introduction about Andrea Ruffoni and how he lived and worked.

At the age of 30 he travelled extensively in Europe to study modern art, including an extended stay in Vienna, and it was on one of these trips that he met his wife. They were on a train and both noticed that they were each reading a copy of the catalogue from the same art exhibition. Returning to live permanently on Isola Pescatori, Andrea set up his studio in 1976. His first works were in plexiglass, black lacquered plaster (which gives it the look of ebony) and drift wood from the lake. He then started using rubbish, mianly discarded plastic bottles, which he melted onto metal mesh and used concrete, sand, ashes and burning to create the effects you see in many of the artwork hanging in the gallery. In many of his works he tried to reflect the mark we are leaving on the earth.


Your tour continues throughout the house with the chance to step out onto the balconies and see snapshots of the island: across the tiled rooftops, looking down on the narrow lanes, or watching the hustle and bustle of the boats coming and going below.

The gate to the secret garden
Monica then takes you next door to visit the artist's simple but beautiful home before taking you further down the lane to the island's secret garden. Now, I must have walked past this gate a thousand times and never imagined what was behind. It isn't fancy, it isn't ornate and there are no exotic plants, but it is the most wonderful little green oasis on Isola Pescatori. It was once the vegetable garden belonging to the artist's parents when they had a bar/café on the ground floor of the gallery building. In his will, Andrea insisted that the garden must remain and garden and never be built on. Along with his artwork, I think this was an outstanding legacy to leave to the island and its visitors.

I urge you to go and visit the Andrea Ruffoni Gallery and Museum - it is a unique experience and Monica is a fabulous guide. The tours are free and take place every day (except Monday) from 1st June until 2nd October 2016. Tours are limited to eight people at a time, first come, first served every hour 11.00-17.00.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Rocca d'Angera - Angera's Castle

Another long gap between posts I'm afraid, but thankfully that means it has been a busy May and June! A visit from my parents last week gave me the opportunity to take a day off and go exploring with them. So we fired up their hire car and did a bit of a south lake tour, taking in the Rocca d'Angera Castle and the bucket lift in Laveno.

A view of the Rocca d'Angera Castle from the medieval garden
The main entrance of the Rocca d'Angera
As I've already written about the bucket lift, I thought I'd share my thoughts about the Rooca d'Angera. I'm sure it gets a a lot fewer visitors than the other Borromean attractions, Isola Bella and Isola Madre, but this means we pretty much had the palce to ourselves and I think it is well worth a visit.

Apart from being in a super position above Angera, with views from the tower over the south part of Lake Maggiore, I really enjoyed the rooms in the main part of the castle, the automata collection and the small medieval kitchen garden.

The courtyard and cafe before entering the castle
The entrance and cafe
As you enter the main castle complex on the right is an enormous press and wooden barrels from the old wine cellar. You can then walk round the courtyard to visit the doll and toy museum where I'm sure you'll trigger more than one childhood memory!

You then enter the main castle rooms: the "ceremonies room" and the "pomp room". Both rooms are simply furnished and have wonderful frescoes and paintings. For me, they are the kind of rooms I expect to see in a 16th and 17th century castle. Past the "ceremonies room" you will find a small room full of a very colourful collection of over 300 pieces of Majolica. Carrying on to the next room there is a fascinating collection of automata. There is a video screen showing several of them working and I defy you not to have a little snigger when they get to the "weeing lady"!!

The "ceremonies room"
The "pomp room"
Coming back out into the courtyard you can begin your climb to the upper terrace and then the top of the tower. The climb is done in stages, starting in the brightly frescoed "justice room". The frescoes here date back to the 13th century and were made by a painter known only as the "Angera Master". Take the wooden staircase at the end of the room and begin your climb. My tip on your way up is to take time to look out from the small windows for wonderfully framed snapshots across the lake.

The "justice room" (and my Mum and Dad!)
Carry on up from room to room and you will reach a large roofed terrace which already gives you great 270° views, but keep going to reach the top of the tower where you will get full 360° panoramic views over south Lake Maggiore.

Looking north towards Meina and Lesa
Looking south towards Arona and beyond to Sesto Calende
After visiting the castle we strolled down into the gardens which are nothing like the ones on the Borromean Islands. Instead there are grape vines, herbs and fruit trees. Nonetheless I found them enchanting and we had a pleasant stroll around, smelling the herbs and trying to guess what some of the fruit trees were!

After our leisurely visit we decided to have some lunch at the little cafe. A sandwich and a drink hit the spot and the outside seating area had great views across the lake.

The cafe seating is just out of shot to the right!
Have you been to the Rocca d'Angera? What did you think?

Practical Information

Entrance to the Rocca costs € 8.50 for adults and € 5.50 for children 6-15 years. If you will visit the Rocca, Isola Bella and Isola Madre during your holiday you can buy a joint entrance ticket for all three atrractions. This costs € 22.00 for adults and € 11.50 for children. The two islands must be visited on the same day but you can visit the Rocca on any other day until the end of the season!

Driving to the Rocca is the easiest option, but if you don't have a car then here's how to get there with public transport:

Stresa to Angera
2014 there is a daily hydrofoil from Stresa at 10.27, arriving Angera at 10.45. On Saturdays and Sundays there is a ferry from Stresa at 11.45, arriving Angera at 12.03.

Angera to Stresa
2014 there is a daily ferry from Angera at 13.20, arriving Stresa at 14.20. On Saturdays and Sundays there is a ferry from Angera at 14.34, arriving Stresa at 14.55. There is also a daily ferry from Angera at 15.34, arriving Stresa at 15.55.

Please note that the Rocca is 1.4km from the ferry station in Angera with the last part being uphill.