Friday, December 14, 2012

Stresa Travel: Stresa in the Snow!

It doesn't happen very often, but this morning we awoke to a perfect blanket of snow covering the town. I have to admit that I didn't believe Luca when he said it had snowed a lot during the night. He tends to be a bit like the boy who cried wolf when it comes to snow as he knows I get ever so slightly overexcited about it!

Anyway, after a quick breakfast, we got ourselves sorted and headed out to the office with a walk along the lakefront on the way. So here are some photos of Stresa in the snow:

Stresa Lakefront Promenade
Isola Bella
The Hotel La Palma Lakeside Pool
Hotel Regina Palace
Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées and Grand Hotel Bristol
View of Isola Bella from Stresa Lakefront Gardens
Stresa Lakefront Gardens
One of the magificent trees in Stresa Lakefront Gardens
View under the tree
Stresa Ferry Station and Taxi Boat Jetties
Stresa Town Hall and Christmas Tree
Piazza Cadorna with Snow (and no tables!)
I hope you've enjoyed our snapshot of a very wintery looking Stresa! I think by tomorrow it will all have melted :(

Viaggi Tomassucci

Friday, December 7, 2012

Stresa Travel Notes: Sant'Ambrogio Patron Saint Day

What with trade fairs and a trip back to the UK, it has been ages since I wrote a post. As today is our Patron Saint Day I thought it was an ideal occasion to get back to it. Whilst dinner bubbles away on the stove so I'm settled on the sofa and ready to tell you all about Stresa's Patron Saint Day.

Mosaic at the Sant'Ambrogio Basilica in Milan
Sant'Ambrogio (Saint Ambrose) is our Patron Saint and we share him with Milan, where he was bishop between 374 and his death in 397. He had never been baptised so in the space of a week he was baptised and ordained!

Sant'Ambrogio is also the Patron Saint of bees and beekeepers. Legend has it that when he was a baby a swarm of bees landed on his mouth whilst he was laying in his cradle, flying in and out of his mouth. When the swarm flew away they left a drop of honey. His father saw this and exclaimed "If my son survives this, he will be a great man!". You will often see bees or beehives in depictions of Sant'Ambrogio. One year we organised guides and excursions for a group of German beekeepers who came on holiday to Stresa because of Sant'Ambrogio. They visited local beekeepers and the Sant'Ambrogio Basilica in Milan.

Sant'Ambrogio's feast day is the 7th December and that is a public holiday for us in Stresa. It falls the day before the Feast of the Immaculate Conception so we get two holidays, on two consecutive days!

Stresa Parish Church Sant'Ambrogio Statue
So how do we celebrate our special Feast Day in Stresa? Being a religious festival, there is mass at 10.30 and this year we have started, what will hopefully prove to be, a new tradition. Priest Don Gianluca, has recently arrived in Stresa and today he organised a procession with the statue of Sant'Ambrogio in the town centre. After mass, the statue was carried out of the church and taken on a short procession along Via Cavour to the town hall and back to the church. The statue was preceded by the Don Gianluca, the priest of Carciano, Don Stefano and representatives from Stresa Rosminian College. It was followed by the mayor, Canio Di Milia, other local dignitaries and the congregation.

The procession in the centre of Stresa

The Sant'Ambrogio Procession
I really enjoy seeing these kinds of processions. Luca and I first saw one in Palermo on the 8th December for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception and it lasted all day. Whilst Stresa's is on a much smaller scale, it is a great new tradition for our Patron Saint Day. We caught the procession just as it was leaving the church and also took the opportunity to see the inside of the church with all the lights on! The church is often quite dark inside and it is only when it is fully illuminated that you can see its real beauty.

Stresa Parish Church
An old tradition is that of the bonfire on the beach. All over Italy bonfires are lit to celebrate Saint's Feast Days and Stresa is no exception. Ours is held on the beach on the lakefront opposite the Hotel Astoria. The local volunteer fire brigade are there to light the bonfire and make sure it stays under control and the civil protection association provide steaming cups of mulled wine and hot chocolate to help keep everyone warm. Unfortunately, today there was slightly too much wind and the fire chief decided it wasn't safe to light the fire. A second attempt will be made on Sunday (photos to follow on Sunday if we make it!)

I hope you've enjoyed a little taster of Sant'Ambrogio Day in Stresa. Does your town have a Saint Feast Day? How do you celebrate?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Stresa Travel Recipes: Squash Two Ways for Halloween

Halloween isn't really a big deal in Italy like it is in America, or even the UK where I grew up. Italian children are starting to trick or treat (dolcetto o scherzetto), but it hasn't reached nearly the same kind of popularity here. The only place in Italy I've ever seen it celebrated on a grand scale is Comacchio when we visited one October. The whole town was decorated, took part in special events and were dressed in Halloween costumes.

Instead, Italians have a public holiday on November 1st for All Saints Day (Ognissanti). November 2nd, All Souls Day or Day of the Dead (Commemorazione dei Defunti or Festa dei Morti), is traditionally when Italians go to the local cemetery to lay chrysanthemums on their family graves and tombs.

As with most Italian religious days, there is an associated cake/cookie. There are many regional variations of Ossi dei Morti (Bones of the Dead) cookies. This one is accompanied by a touching family story and this one is from the Academia Barilla.

For my Halloween recipes, however, I've decided to share two of my favourite recipes using squash. I love squash. I can't tell you how much Luca and I eat during the Autumn and Winter! Whether as gnocchi or risotto like I show here, roast, mashed or added in minestrone.

Squash Gnocchi

I've gone through various test stages with these gnocchi, trying different ways of cooking the squash and different quantities of flour and I've finally found the recipe that works for me. The squash I use is a squat, green kind of squash as that is what is readily available here.

Squash gnocchi ready for the pot!
Serves 2 people

400g squash, peeled, raw weight
250g flour plus extra for dredging the work surface
1 medium egg

Cut the squash into large chunks and then cook it until it is very soft. Personally I use a pressure cooker as it is super quick. Mash it and leave it to cool completely. I've found that the best way is to spread it on a plate and leave it uncovered to cool. This way all the steam can escape and it dries out the squash a bit so it isn't soggy. Next mix in the egg and the flour and combine until you have a soft dough.

Dredge your work surface with flour and divide the dough into smaller pieces. Roll each smaller piece into a sausage and cut the sausage into the individual gnocchi about the size of the top part of your thumb. Until needed for cooking I keep my gnocchi on paper plates lined with greaseproof paper and lightly dredge them with flour.

Cook the gnocchi in a large pot of boiling, salted water and remove them with a slotted spoon as soon as they start floating. Remove the floaters even if some haven't got there yet. The rest will follow on quickly!

You can serve these several ways but our favourites are with gorgonzola melted with a bit of cooking cream or with cherry tomatoes sautéed with a bit of garlic and topped with grated Parmesan  Let me know if you try them and what you like them served with!

Spiced Squash Risotto
Pretty bag of Carnaroli rice

The inspiration for this dish came from Jamie Oliver's Spicy Roasted Squash recipe from his first book, The Naked Chef. I liked the spice mix so decided to incorporate it in a risotto. Incidentally another one of his vegetable recipes that goes will in a risotto is the zucchini in padella from Jamie's Italy - especially if you throw in a few prawns at the end! Anyway here's the Spiced Squash Risotto recipe:

Serves 2 people

160g carnaroli rice
250 g squash, peeled raw weight, cut into 1cm cubes
Quarter of a white onion
Chicken stock, kept simmering
1 tsp butter
1 tsp olive oil
Herb/Spice mix : ground coriander, dried oregano, salt, black pepper, fennel seed, chilli flakes, garlic clove
Grated Parmesan

Grind the herb/spice mix in a pestle and mortar. Give them a good bash about!! For quantities it is up to your own particular taste but I tend to go heavier on the coriander and chilli flakes :)

Melt the oil and butter in a large, heavy bottomed, not stick frying pan. I try to cut down on fat so feel free to use a bit more than mentioned in the recipe! Fry the onion until it is soft and turning transparent then add the cubed squash and the spices. Give everything a good mix round and add the rice. Stir well to make sure the spices are evening distributed. Add a ladle of chicken stock and start stirring. As soon as the stock is absorbed, add another ladle. Keep stirring and adding stock a ladle at a time until the rice is cooked. Towards the end I add smaller and smaller amounts of stock so as not to overcook the rice. Add half of your grated Parmesan and stir in.

Divide between two bowls and sprinkle on the remaining Parmesan. As you can see from the photo I also garnished the dish with some slices of small salami which I dry fried or you could try a couple of rashers of crispy streaky bacon. Enjoy!

Spiced Squash Risotto before I grabbed my fork and got stuck in!
Let me know if you have a go at the recipes and how you get on. And if you're off out trick or treating or going to a Halloween party ......

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Friday, October 12, 2012

Autumn in Stresa: Activities, Events and Excursions

Although many tour operators finish their programmes in the Italian lakes towards the end of September, that doesn't mean that there isn't plenty to do for the independent traveller.

Here are some ideas on activities, events and excursions available to visitors to Stresa in Autumn (updated for 2015):

The Lake Maggiore Express
For 2015 the Lake Maggiore Express is still available everyday as the full round trip by train, Centovalley Railway and ferry  until Sunday 11th October. If you aren't visiting after this date you can still travel to Locarno return using just the train and Centovalley Railway as these operate all year round. You might even choose to stop off en route at Santa Maria Maggiore in the Vigezzo Valley. Contact us for timetables!

The Centovalley Railway
The Borromean Islands
For 2015 the Borromean Islands will be open everyday until Sunday 25th October so you can still visit the unique palaces and gardens on Isola Bella and Isola Madre as well as the pretty fishing village on Isola Pescatori. For up to date ferry timetables visit

Catching a ferry to the Borromean Islands
Mottarone Cable Car and Alpyland Alpine Coaster
The Stresa to Mottarone cable car is open all year round and the Alpyland Alpine Coaster (such fun!) is open until the end of October and then reopens in December for the winter (December to March, weekends only). **unfortunately the cable car is currently closed for renovations ... but Alpyland is open as usual!**

Taking a ride on the Mottarone Cable Car
Autumn is a lovely time to take a walk in the local area and enjoy the outdoors. With a little help from public transport you can enjoy the Chestnut Route or Montorfano and Mergozzo.

Walks: Montorfano and Mergozzo
Events and Foodie Festivals (will be updated again when exact dates are confirmed)
In Autumn there are a whole host of local festivals and events dedicated to food! There is an Autumn Festival in Stresa on Saturday 3rd October 2015. Stresa also hosts chestnut festivals on 4th and 11th October, a truffle festival on 25th-26th October (2015 tbc), a chocolate festival on 1st-2nd November (2015 tbc) and a Gorgonzola Festival in mid November (2015 tbc). But hop on a train, a bus or the Centovalley Railway and you can also enjoy the following:

2nd-4th October 2015 / Intra / Chocomoments / Bus or ferry
3rd-4th October 2015 / Arona / Roast chestnuts / Bus, train or ferry
4th October 2015 / Santa Maria Maggiore / 34th "Bruna" Cattle Show / Train + Centovalley Railway
9th-11th October 2015 / Intra / Polenta and stew / Bus or ferry
17th-18 October 2015 / Arona / Roast chestnuts / Bus, train or ferry
17th-18th October 2015 / Santa Maria Maggiore / Squash-Pumpkin Festval / Train + Centovalley Railway

And if you have a car, one of our favourites every year:

18th October 2015 / Nebbiuno / The Transumanza Festival (celebrating the livestock coming down from the summer pastures)

For more events and festivals visit the Lake District Tourist Board website

Cheeses on sale at the Nebbiuno Transumanza 2011
The Stresa Town Trail
Download our town trail and enjoy a stroll around the town centre and along the lakefront whilst learning more about Stresa's history.

Visit Milan and enjoy an Exhibition
Milan is just an hour away by train to either Central or Garibaldi stations. It's only a couple of stops on the metro to the Duomo (Cathedral), the Brera Gallery, the La Scala Museum and the shops! This Autumn/Winter there are also exhibitions of Chagall, Segantini and Van Gogh at the Palazzo Reale. Come and see us for train tickets or email us for times and ticket prices.

Milan Duomo
We hope that we have given you some inspiration on how to enjoy your visit to Stresa in the Autumn. Let us know if you visit this Autumn and what you enjoy the most!

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Autumn in Stresa: Foodies Paradise!

I always know that Autumn is here when you see signs along the lake for "Castagnata" (Roast Chestnuts). Local associations in every town or village share equipment and take it in turns to host the local castagnata over two or three weekends in October.

Strolling through the market to the Castagnata
Stresa is no excpetion and on Sunday 7th October Luca and I strolled along the lakefront to one of the two castagnate taking place.

This week it was the turn of Stresa's volunteer fire fighters. There was an artisan market too and as we strolled past the stalls a smoky chestnut and bbq aroma was in the air! Luca quickened his step so that I wouldn't be distracted by the handicraft stalls and local produce.

Everyone enjoying their sausage, polenta and roast chestnuts!
It was a warm and sunny Autumn day and the square was buzzing with activity. The trestle tables were already full and there was a good queue at the "Cassa" (cash desk). As with other local food festivals you choose what you'd like at the cassa and then take your tickets to the various food and drink stations.

Queuing up for roast chestnuts
We went for our usual of a sausage sandwich and a couple of bags of roast chestnuts and took a seat on the edge of the port. That's when I knew it was Autumn. We always sit in the same place and have the same food on the same weekend at the end of season every year. I think it's become a our tradition .... and I love it! The grilled sausage was juicy, the bread roll light and floury and the chestnuts roasted to perfection! The ducks and birds were loving it too, as there were plenty of crumbs and burnt bits of chestnut to be had. Our eyes are always bigger than our bellies so left over chestnuts went in with squash and rosemary to make a very yummy risotto last night!

Stresa's Volunteer Fire Fighters cooking up a storm!
As I said above, the event was run by Stresa's volunteer fire fighters as a fund-raising activity and proceeds go towards new equipment. The Stresa branch of volunteer fire fighters was founded in 1924 when volunteers used to hear about incidents via a loud siren that could be heard all across town. There are about 20 volunteers but at events such as Sunday everyone pulls together and retired members pitch in. They respond to approximately 400 incidents a year including fires, road traffic accidents, search and rescue and even getting rid of hornets nests! 

Roasting the chestnuts
Next weekend (October 14th) it will be the turn of Stresa's Alpine Troops Assocation and I hope to be sat in the same place with my sausage sandwich then too!

If you weren't/aren't able to be in Stresa for either of the castagnate then don't despair  There are more foodie events coming up: Stresa Chocolate Festival 3-4 November, Car Rally with local produce and artisan market 11 November and Stresa Gorgonzola Festival 18 November!

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Stresa: Ferragosto Grand Buffets!

Yesterday was the Ferragosto holiday in Italy. The name for the holiday comes from a festival that used to celebrate the Emperor Augustus and the church also uses this date to celebrate the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a time when Italians are on holiday and have deserted the cities and headed to the beach, the lakes or the mountains.

Stresa was buzzing with visitors yesterday and for those staying at the grand lakefront hotels, there was a special feast in store! On the lawns outside the hotels wonderful buffets are set up with such foodie delights as mini steak tartare with truffle, Catalan lobster salad, raviolini with Piemonte cheese and porcini mushrooms, salted seabass, fresh lasagne with saffron, Castelmagno cheese and sautéed vegetables... and the list goes on! The tables were adorned with ice and butter sculptures, carved fruits and vegetables and even a small rowing boat!!

Luca and I joined the many onlookers along the lakefront, just as the final preparations and finishing touches being made by attentive waiters and chefs. So this week is a photographic tour of the Ferragosto buffets!

First stop is the Regina Palace...

Final preparations at the Regina Palace
Such pretty starters at the Regina Palace

As the sun sets, diners take their seats at the Regina Palace
Meanwhile, next door at the Hotel Astoria...

Ice and butter sculptures at the Hotel Astoria
The full picture at the Hotel Astoria
Ice sculpture and refreshing melon at the Hotel Astoria
And the party's getting underway at the Hotel La Palma...

Popping the prosecco corks for the Hotel La Palma aperitivo
The Chef keeping an eye on proceedings at the Hotel La Palma
What foodie treats to choose next!
At the buffet!
And finally, further along the lakefront at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées...

Admiring the buffet display at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
Ferragosto buffet in the exquisite gardens of the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
I hope you've enjoyed the photos and have got a taste of Ferragosto celebrations at the grand hotels in Stresa. The atmosphere was wonderful, with diners and hotel staff alike enjoying the moment. Did you attend one of the dinners? Let us know what your favourite part of the evening was and what was your favourite dish!

If you're going to be visiting Stresa for Ferragosto and are not on half board at the large hotels you can still enjoy their gastronomic celebrations! Reservations are open to non hotel residents. Prices range from €70-€80 per head excluding drinks and details appear on their websites and Facebook pages a week or so in advance.

Links to the hotels pictured:

Hotel Astoria, Stresa

Links to hotels who also offer Ferragosto feasts:

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Stresa Travel: Dinner on Isola Pescatori

This week Luca and I celebrated 11 years together and to mark the occasion we decided to go to one of our favourite places for dinner: Isola Pescatori. There's nothing like the atmosphere of the island "after hours" as the sun goes down on a summer's evening.

Setting off from Stresa on the ferry
 We took the ferry from Stresa at 18.00 so that we could enjoy a stroll around the island and an aperitivo before dinner. Setting off from the port in Stresa at the end of a long working day felt like going on holiday for the evening! Knowing that for almost everyone else on the ferry it was the end of their sightseeing or working day made it more exciting :)

Luca enjoying the journey
As we pulled away and set out into the Borromean Bay we really got a chance to see Stresa in a way that we don't normally see it. The town really is nestled into a green haven of trees, plants and flowers. The grandeur of the lakefront hotels really stands out and it is great fun spotting the almost hidden villas on the hills behind the town.

Heading for Isola Bella
The ferry stopped at Isola Bella first and we couldn't believe the amount of people getting on the ferry! It must have been a very busy afternoon in the palace and gardens. We set off again and the next stop was ours: Isola Pescatori.

Arriving at Isola Bella
The island itself is inhabited all year round by about 50 residents and the traditional occupation of the islands, fishing, is still practiced by a couple of families. The winding lanes, island life and the tiny San Vittore church make it a charming place to visit.

Arriving at Isola Pescatori
Isola Pescatori is already a favourite place of mine for the aforementioned reasons, but in the evening it takes on a whole new persona. As the tourists depart for the day, the islanders reclaim their island and it becomes their playground. The "tail" of the island becomes a meeting place for new Mums with their babies, for friends to catch up on the day's gossip and for children to run and play. There's sunbathing in the late evening sun, diving off the jetties into the lake and a spot of fishing to be done.

A Fisherman's House
After a leisurely stroll around the island and a stop in the church we took a seat at the Miralago bar for an aperitivo. Their terrace extends over the lake and we watched the diving, swimming and fishing. As we were sat, the last ferry of the day called in and the ticket office was closed up for another day. Although the bar was closing so the owners could catch the ferry home, we paid, were told to stay as long as we liked and just to leave the glasses on the table when we'd finished.

At around 19.30 we decided that dinner was calling. There are many excellent restaurants on the island: Ristorante Verbano, Ristorante Italia and Casabella although we tend to go to the Ristorante Belvedere and that is where we dined on Tuesday.

The Ristorante Belvedere is run by Paco, the forth generation of the Garofoli family to do so. He is immensely proud of his family's restaurant and of being an islander.

The outside terrace is simply heavenly and our table looked out across the lake to Isola Madre, Pallanza and Laveno. The service and food was exceptional as always: we ate a starter of boccincini bite size pieces of three types of fish with julienne pickled vegetables and a delicious second course of perch with brown butter and almonds. For dessert Luca chose apple cake and I had a very naughty chocolate torte! This was all accompanied by a crisp, chilled bottle of Arneis.

Starter, Ristorante Belvedere
On the beach below we watched children taking their dogs for a swim, small boats coming and going and the fishermen going out to set their nets.

At the end of the evening we travelled back to terra firma and real life! Dropped by taxi boat on the beach opposite the Hotel Astoria we enjoyed a stroll along the lakefront to close up the office and head home.

Table with a view :)
We highly recommend an evening out on Isola Pescatori to everyone and it need not be as pricey or difficult to arrange as you might first think. The easiest way is if you are over there to visit during the daytime. Just pop in at the restaurants and ask to see their evening menu. Then you can gauge prices. From what I remember for the Ristorante Belvedere, starters were approximately €12, first courses €12-€15, second courses €18-€20 and desserts around €6. When you book the restaurant will arrange the transport to and from the island for you at no extra charge, either by their own boat or taxi boat.

Let us know if you've ventured over to Isola Pescatori for dinner and where and what you ate :)

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci