Thursday, May 31, 2012

Stresa Travel Excursions: The Three Lakes

Although we've visited Lake Lugano and Lake Como on days off over the years it is not since my repping days for a UK tour operator that I have been on our Three Lakes excursion. But this Tuesday I went! I was primarily on a photographic mission as we needed photos of all the locations on the tour, but it was also a great opportunity to experience what our clients do.

I could wax lyrical about what a fantastic day I had but I'll try to keep the post a reasonable length. Hopefully my selection of the 217 (yes ... 217) photos I took will speak for themselves.

Lugano, Piazza Riforma
From Stresa to Lake Lugano
I've travelled up to the north end of Lake Maggiore more times than I can imagine, but with our guide, Barbara's interesting nuggets of information along the way, it felt like the first time. I saw the towns and villages with a whole new perspective.

Myself and my fellow travellers learned about the Borsalino style hats made at the Panizza factory in Ghiffa, the miniature railway built for excavating earth at the Villa Taranto Gardens and the Villa Anelli which throws its doors open to the public in March, April and November for the flowering of its camellia collection. We passed beneath parts of the Cadorna Line, a series of WWI fortifications devised by Luigi Cadorna who was born in Pallanza. As we advanced further up the lake we drove past Cannero where the floating castles were built with stones stolen from other buildings and Cannobio where the church was created on the site of a miracle. We gazed up in wonder at the tiny hamlet of Carmine Superiore which can only be reached on foot.

And so we crossed the border and arrived in Switzerland were we came across the Brissago Islands and the town of Ascona which hosts an international jazz festival in June. Travelling through the tunnels around Locarno I was intrigued by the fact that under the road there are nuclear bunkers which are now used for storing wine and beer!

Lugano, Santa Maria degli Angeli Church
Lake Lugano
Our stop here was in the city of Lugano itself. A modern and bustling town with plenty to see. We had 1¾ hours to explore so I set off along the lakefront to see the Santa Maria degli Angeli church. As I entered my eyes were immediately drawn upwards to the enormous fresco of the Crucifixion and the Passion of Christ by Luini Bernardino which dominates this small church. I then took a stroll along the Via Nassa, window shopping in the likes of Versace, Cartier and Hermes. Turning left I headed up Via Pessina and found a wonderful deli where you can pick up some goodies for a picnic lunch later on in Villa Carlotta gardens. Coming back down towards the lakefront I stumbled upon the delightful Piazza Riforma where people were enjoying a drink outside at one of the many cafés. I carried on along the lakefront to the park which is immaculately kept and is home to the Villa Ciani where you can catch the latest exhibition.

Lugano, Parco Civico
Lake Lugano to Lake Como
Winding our way up and away from Lugano we travelled along the corniche and started our journey back towards Italy and Lake Como. Hidden beneath us in the limestone rock were a series of caves which I was fascinated to learn were once used as fridges. Down from the corniche we passed through beautifully picturesque villages which were literally hanging on to the craggy rocks along the lakeside. Cypress trees were standing upright like sharpened pencils and wisteria flowers tumbled over dry stone walls. We then arrived on Lake Como with views over the centre of the lake. I had my picnic ready so opted for the stop at Villa Carlotta which I've always wanted to visit.

Villa Carlotta
Villa Carlotta
I had about 1¼ hours here and after paying my €9 entry I had planned to head straight or one of the two designated picnic areas but was waylaid by the elegant, bright white villa which seemed to sparkle in the sunshine. Several photos later I finally ate my sandwiches and carried on around the park. The gardens are terraced up to the villa and there are lifts to aid less-abled visitors to reach the upper terraces and the villa which I thought was a great idea. I think I could have spent a good few hours exploring and will definitely go back, but it was absolutely worth the visit. As well as the green lawns, the roses, the cacti, the shrubs and trees, I was blown away by the views across the lake towards Bellagio.

Villa Carlotta
Villa Carlotta to Como City
After a short walk along the lakefront to meet the rest of the group we set all set off towards our last stop of the day, Como city. The villages along this stretch of Lake Como seem to merge into each other so as well as the lake views, there is always an interesting little church, a grand villa (including George Clooney's!) or a snapshot of Italian village life to see. As we reached Como city and the deepest part of the lake, we saw seaplanes taking off and landing in the bay.

Como City
In Como city we were dropped right by the Duomo which is so tall in such a small piazza I had to take three photos to join together! Inside the cathedral is quite gloomy but you can see further paintings by Luini Bernardino. Coming back outside into the bright sunlight take a walk down Via Vittorio Emanuele II to reach the pretty shady Piazza S. Fedele. Afterwards it was definitely time for a well-earned ice-cream! I got a very good one at a tiny gelateria opposite the ferry station. Como is also famous for it's silk and Barbara has great stories about the hungry silk worms!

Como Duomo
Full Circle back to Stresa
And so we came full circle back round to Lake Maggiore and Stresa. I have to confess to nodding off on the motorway, but awoke in time for views of Angera Castle and the grand villas that line the lakeside between Arona and Stresa.

Ok, so my post has become quite long, but there was so much to tell you about! Enjoy the photos and come with us to the Three Lakes next time you come to Stresa or Baveno! Big thank-yous to Barbara and also our driver, Claudio.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Stresa Foodie and Artisan Market

I always love browsing at a food market - especially when it is small artisan producers. So I couldn't miss a stroll around the special market today in Stresa. Being Pentecoste (Whitsun) there was a fairly bustling crowd with many people having a look around between boat trips to the Borromean Islands.

There were between 30-40 stalls divided between food and crafts. In the food section the perfume from the strawberry stall really caught my attention and then I was drawn to the Ligurian produce stall. I came away with some olive taggiasche (a type of olives from Liguria which have a wonderful flavour) and some super looking anchovies in olive oil. 

Further along there was a throng at the stall selling all kinds of sauces and condiments. He was also offering tastings of Bagna Càuda which, having having a pungent anchovy and garlic flavour is not to everyone's taste but I urge you to try it if you see it on the menu - absolutely fantastic!

After cakes and wine there was a wonderfully aromatic salami stall. Another of my weaknesses but I managed to resist despite the sign suggesting bread, salami and a good glass of wine.....

And so from food to crafts. I had a quick browse at the antiques stall but my favourites in this section where selling artisan stained glass and leather. I did make a purchase at the leather stall but not wanting to ruin a birthday present I'll keep that one under my hat ;)

So next time you see a foodie and crafts market advertised on our website, Twitter or Facebook come along and taste something new!

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Stresa Travel Recipes: Margheritine di Stresa

For our second recipe I thought I'd go for something local: Margheritine di Stresa. They remind me of Scottish shortbread only much softer so they really melt in your mouth. Mmmmm!

So how did they come about? In the mid 1800's Princess Elisabetta of Saxony (Duchess of Genoa) and her daughter, Margherita used to come and stay at the Villa Ducale in Stresa. Local pastry chef, Pietro Antonio Bolongaro created these indulgent biscuits as a gift to Margherita and named them in her honour. She approved, production grew and other pastry chefs in Stresa began to make the Margheritine di Stresa. And what became of Margherita? Well, she went on to marry her first cousin, Umberto, who became King Umberto I in 1878 and Margherita was his Queen consort.

Villa Ducale, Stresa
You will find these yummy biscuits in bars, cafés and bakers all over town. They make a great gift to take home, but if you fancy having a go at making your own then here's the recipe:

350g flour (I used 00)
150g potato starch
150g icing sugar (confectioners sugar) plus extra for dredging
300g butter
10 egg yolks, hard boiled
Lemon zest, grated

(NB these quantities make 50 Margheritine - I scaled it down to one fifth and made 10 Margheritine)


Squash the hard boiled egg yolks through a sieve with the back of a spoon and mix well with the butter and icing sugar. It makes a kind of wet paste.

Sieve and mix together the flour, potato starch and then add the vanilla and grated lemon zest.

Mixing the butter/sugar/egg yolk and combining the dry ingredients
Mix the butter/sugar/egg yolk into the dry ingredients to form a kind of dough.

Leave the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes in the fridge. Part way through the resting time heat the oven to 180°C (350°F).

Making the dough, ready for the oven and fresh from the oven
Turn out on to a floured board and roll out to about 1cm thickness. Cut small rounds about 4cm diameter and place on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment. Make a dimple in each biscuit with your thumb (characteristic of Margheritine). Bake for 15 minutes.

Cool completely on a wire rack and then dredge with more icing sugar. Enjoy!

The finished product!
They didn't turn out quite as melty as the ones you get in the cake shops but they're still pretty tasty and Luca has decided they taste better after a couple of days! Next time I might try a different ratio of flour to potato starch.

(If you're wondering what to do with the unused hard boiled egg whites then I did find this recipe online - I haven't tested it, but looks good! Cookies made with hard boiled egg white)

Let me know if you give them a try and how you get on.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Stresa on a Shoestring

Well......almost. Stresa has never really been known as a budget destination, but with a few tips from us you'll find that you can still experience Stresa to the full without going over budget.

(11/02/13 Updated prices for 2013)

Two Full Days Out for €42
This has to be one of the best offers available for sightseeing from Stresa. For €42 (€21 children 4-12 years) you can travel on the Lake Maggiore Express round trip one day and then you have unlimited use of the lake ferries on the second day.

This is a saving of at least €3.90 if you were to use your day on the ferries to visit the Borromean Islands.

This ticket must be used on two consecutive days and is available from our travel office.

The Lake Maggiore Express (photo courtesy of SSIF)
One Day Borromean Islands Entrance Ticket
If you choose to visit both Isola Madre and Isola Bella on the same day make sure you buy a special one day entrance ticket for €18.00.

This is a saving of €6.00 (separate entrance tickets cost a total of €24.00)

The ticket must be used to visit both islands on the same day and is available from our travel office.

Don't forget if you are a member of the RHS you can enter the Borromean Islands for free!

The Borromean Palace, Isola Madre
The Borromean Islands Super Saver Ferry Ticket
We've discovered a way to save on the price of a Rover Ticket and are proud to introduce our Borromean Islands Super Saver Ticket which saves you money around the Borromean Bay. Use our special ticket by travelling to your furthest destination first and working your way back to Stresa, stopping off where you like en route. Download the details here.

This is a saving of at least €3.00 on a standard Rover Ticket (over 65's receive an even greater discount Monday to Friday)

Island hopping with the Super Saver Ferry Ticket
Walking is free and you can enjoy a leisurely 2km stroll along the lakefront promenade and gardens with spectacular views that cost you nothing! Download our town trail and take wander around Stresa centre or if you like rambling try the chestnut walk both ways to Belgirate.

View from Lakefront Promenade
Dining out on a Budget 
Let's start with the first meal of the day: breakfast. If you don't have breakfast included at your hotel, join the locals at a nearby bar. Italians tend to stand at the bar for their espresso (also known as just caffè) or cappuccino and brioche (croissant) but why not take a seat to enjoy yours with a spot of people watching? Daniel's Bar and La Verbanella offer breakfast with a lake view, whilst the likes of Caffè Torino and Bar Embassy are convenient for the centre of town.

For lunch why not take a picnic? At the Carrefour supermarket right in the centre of town you can stock up on picnic goodies and cold drinks. They cannot make sandwiches for you but at Salumeria Bianchetti next to the town hall Stefano and his parents will make you up a super sandwich with freshly sliced ham, salami, cheese - whatever takes your fancy. New for 2013, there is also a sandwich shop called Cicinnin on the road up between the Hotel Milan Speranza and Au Lac. You buy sandwiches by the 10cm length (known as a Cicinnin). Fillings change daily and are always something a bit different. Vegetarian option and drinks also available!

Pizza and a Beer
Pizza is the obvious budget choice for dinner and they range between €6-€8. Try the house wine which is usually very drinkable and great value for money. If you don't fancy pizza then order just a primo (first course of pasta or risotto) and for dessert you can pop to a gelateria and sample one of the many amazing flavours of ice cream on offer. Our favourite is L'Angolo del Gelato in Piazza Cadorna (and now also near the town hall) - it's real artisan gelato. Luca is in gelato heaven with their tiramisu and marrons glacés flavours!

Where to Stay
With last minute offers and late deals on the many online booking engines, finding a hotel room to suit your budget shouldn't prove too difficult. You can often find great deals at the big four stars along the lakefront. However, for some hotels that continually offer reasonable rates you can try the Hotel Elena in Piazza Cadorna or Hotel Italie Suisse which also has lake views. For self catering my friends and family always enjoy Casa Riale in Piazza Cadorna. A full list of hotels, residences and B&B accommodation can be downloaded here.

Let us know if you come across any tips for budget travel in Stresa and if you have any questions about any of the above sightseeing offers then drop us a line!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Stresa Walks: The Chestnut Route

In our spare time, Luca and I love to go walking (well maybe it's more like rambling). Some of our preferred walks are further afield at Alpe Devero and Macugnaga, but there are some great walks around Stresa that don't require you to have your own transport.

We often only have a Sunday afternoon to spare, so on these occasions the Chestnut route between Stresa and Belgirate is a firm favourite. We pack a couple of sandwiches and a bottle of water and off we go!

Luca the explorer!
You can do the walk in either direction, or both if you have the time, but we tend to go from Stresa to Belgirate and catch the train back.

Basic Walk Information
  • Height difference: 171m
  • Time approx: 2½ hours
  • Difficulty: T (Tourist)
  • Walk number: L2 on Tourist Office map
Walk Description

You depart Stresa along Via de Vit (access from Piazza Cadorna) and Via Manzoni, which basically takes you along the rear perimeter wall of the Villa Pallavicino (listen out for the animal noises!). After you have gone 280m along Via Manzoni you will come to a junction by a little pink chapel. Turn left and you will see a cobbled path and a wooden sign saying "Sentiero dei Castagni". Take the cobbled path.

You will shortly arrive in the hamlet of Passera where you will find a tiny church and a handy park bench to have a picnic lunch!

The tiny church in Passera dates back to
1675 and is dedicated to the Presentation of the 
Blessed Virgin Mary.

Carry on past the tiny church and you will find the path that takes you into the woods which are full of chestnut trees (marked L2 and with red/white striped markers painted on rocks and trees). You will exit the woods in the hamlet of Brisino. Follow the road towards the S. Albino cemetery. Continue along the path which goes along the right hand wall of the cemetery which takes you to Falchetti.

On the Chestnut Route
In Falchetti you cross the road and enter the woods once again where the path leads you to meet up with a cobbled road. There are signs pointing you in the direction of Belgirate.

The path is very well marked and you will find yourself coming into Belgirate by the beautiful Old Church "Chiesa Vecchia"

The "Chiesa Vecchia" in Belgirate is Romanesque and 
it still has it's original 11th century bell tower. The portico
dates back to the 16th century and the terrace area
in front of the church has wonderful views across Lake

Follow the lanes down to the centre of Belgirate where you will see the train station, ferry station and several bars for well-earned refreshments!

View walking down into Belgirate
I've given the walk time of  2½ hours which allows for a leisurely pace and plenty of photo stops!

Practical Information

At the time of writing (updated July 2014, valid until 13th June 2015) there are trains back from Belgirate to Stresa everyday as follows:

13.09 Belgirate - Stresa 13.15
15.09 Belgirate - Stresa 15.15
17.09 Belgirate - Stresa 17.15
19.09 Belgirate - Stresa 19.15

The fare is currently €1.90 per person. If you can't get a ticket at Belgirate station make sure you find the "capotreno" or train conductor / ticket man when you board the train and inform him you need a ticket. 

You can pick up a walking map from the Tourist Office in Stresa (next to the ferry station). It has the Chestnut Route and many other walks around Stresa and Mottarone marked on.

The Stresa Tourist Office Walking Map
Have you been on any of the walks around Stresa? Let us know which one you preferred.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stresa Travel Recipes: Torta di Pane

For my first recipe post I thought I'd share one of Luca's favourite cakes, torta di pane (bread cake). In these times of crisis and "make do and mend" it is a great way to use up stale bread and bits and bobs you've got sitting around in your food cupboard. It is a dense, quite heavy cake.

Below is a recipe that was given to me by my friend Cristina, and is in itself a combination of two recipes, further tweaked by me! Feel free to make substitutions - instead of walnuts you could try sultanas, cherries or other dried fruit. I think you could probably substitute the amaretti biscuits for another type of macaroon - although the almond flavour of amaretti does enhance the cake.

"Secrets of Cooking" Local Cook Book
I don't think this kind of cake has its origins in Piemonte but I did find a very similar recipe to mine in a cookbook of local recipes I picked up at the Fabbrica di Carta book fair a couple of years ago.

250g stale bread (I use rye bread)
250ml / 1 cup milk
2 medium eggs
80g / 3/8 cup caster (superfine/baker's) sugar
6 teaspoons cocoa powder (I use unsweetened)
50g / 1/4 cup butter, melted
100g amaretti biscuits
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Few drops vanilla essence
40g / 1/4 cup walnut halves

Where I can I've tried to find equivalent measurements in US cups.

First of all heat your oven to 180°C / 350°F and line your baking tin with baking paper. My tin to yield 12 pieces is 20x15cm oblong tin.

Break the stale bread into small cubes and place in a large bowl. Pour over the milk. The bread will not be swimming in milk - quite the contrary. But it will begin to soak in.

Soaking the bread, Crushing the walnuts and amaretti, Whizzing up the bread

In the meantime you can get your other ingredients ready. Melt the butter and set aside. Whizz the walnuts and amaretti in a food processor until they are like course breadcrumbs. Set aside.

Put the milk-soaked bread in the food processor and whizz until well broken down and you have a moist breadcrumb mix. You will find it easier to add the bread to the food processor a bit at a time.

Add all the other ingredients to the food processor and mix until well combined. The mixture will be fairly dense.

Combining all the ingredients, Ready for the oven, Baked and cooling

Put the mix into your prepared tin, level out with a spatula and bake for 35-40 minutes. Cool on a wire rack and cut into 12 squares. If you can't wait for it to cool, Luca advises you try it when it's still warm!

The finished product!
Let me know if you have a go at the recipe and how any substitutions go!

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci