Saturday, July 28, 2012

Stresa Promenade: It's Blooming Beautiful!

I was cycling along the promenade to the office last week and it suddenly struck me just how full of colour our lakefront is. During the summer life is usually so hectic that unfortunately there isn't always time to take in all the wonderful gardens along the promenade. But straight away I mentally planned another morning trip, this time on foot, to take some photos to share with you all.

Stresa Lakefront Panorama
The promenade takes you from the ferry station in Stresa along to the ferry and cable car stations at Carciano (also known as Stresa Lido). The walk is on the flat and is approx 1.5km from one end to the other.

Departing from the Lido we'll start our walk from one of my favourite spots along the promenade with wonderful views of Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori from beneath the finger-like branches of the most photogenic tree (update: this is called a Sophora Japonica). We often like to stop here if we happen to be passing, as it is such a beautiful place to spend a quiet five minutes.

Our favourite spot! (The Sophora Japonica)
The Grand Hotel Bristol
Making your way up Via Gilberto Borromeo you reach the main road just opposite the Grand Hotel Bristol which, as we will see, is one of the large lakefront hotels with immaculate gardens and colourful window boxes on every balcony. You'll also come across the first of the monuments along the lakefront gardens: our monument to 9/11. It is a gleaming, satin steel representation of the stars and stripes as the twin towers and was designed by Italo-Albanian artist, Helidon Xhixha.

Stresa 9/11 Monument
Staying on the lakeside you'll pass the one of three lakeview bars, Daniel's Bar, before finding yourself opposite the five star Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées. Their park is simply stunning and you can go in and have a stroll around, even if you aren't staying at the hotel. Their website has an excellent section with information about the plants, trees and sculptures. Select Leisure then Walking Through The Park. I also adore the giant balls of red geraniums that sit atop the gate posts like huge pom poms.

Stresa Promenade
Stresa Promenade and the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromées
Carrying along through the green lawns, roses and hydrangeas you'll find the second of the monuments: the statue of King Umberto I (by Pietro Canonica) towers above a flower bed bursting with new guinea impatiens. King Umberto I used to come to Stresa to court his future wife, Princess Margherita. Behind the statue is a crescent shaped promontory that gives you great views back on the promenade.

King Umberto I 
Passing on to the the next crescent shaped promontory there is a lovely statue of an alpine soldier leading his mule. This is a monument to the Alpine Troops. The mule is the original part of the monument and is by Pietro Canonica. Shortly afterwards is the second war monument with the pedestal made of pink granite from Baveno. The imposing statue is by Ossola artist G. Oreste Pozzi and was inaugurated in 1923. Around the statue is a wonderfully shaded area where you can escape the summer heat and take a seat on one of the many lakeside benches.

The Alpine Troops Monument
Continuing our walk we come across the Hotel La Palma and Hotel Astoria. Both hotels are a riot of colour with pink geraniums trailing over the balcony rails, scarlet new guinea impatiens and blue hydrangea bushes. Palm trees add that Mediterranean feel and the lawns are a lush green and perfectly trimmed.

Hotel Astoria and Hotel La Palma
On the left you will pass our local free beach and the the Lido Blu bar and beach where you can rent sun loungers, beach towels and deck chairs. Opposite is the Regina Palace hotel, a grand building with beautiful gardens and lawns. We were lucky enough to be invited to their centenary celebrations a few years ago and I got to see the full extent of the back gardens too - just splendid!! I also love the big flower bed outside the front entrance and the large front lawns.

The Regina Palace Hotel
And here we reach the final lakefront bar, La Verbanella which also has live jazz evenings throughout the summer. Walking along the side of the children's playground and round behind the bar there is a little wooden bridge which gives you lovely views right back along the lakefront. The path here leads you past the widest part of the promenade with verdant trees and shrubs. You can take a break on one of the benches round the fountain or cross over the road to admire the Villa Ducale. You can have a walk in the gardens in front of the villa where there is a pond full of fish!

Stresa Promenade
Stresa Promenade Fountain and Villa Ducale in the Background
Here, strictly speaking we are at the end of the lakefront gardens, but Stresa town centre is also filled with colour. Local shopkeepers from Via Cavour have organised special flower beds made from traditional wooden fishing boats and the town council and tourist office maintain large flower beds through the town. Other shops, bars and restaurants also do their part and at some restaurants you feel like you're eating in a private garden. Take time to look up as you walk around the town and you'll see balconies lined with window boxes and a riot of colour above your head.

Stresa Centre Flowers
I hope you enjoy your stroll along the lakefront as much as I did (and always do!).The elegant hotels, the colourful displays of flowers, the lawns, the monuments, the views and a spot of people watching - let us know what you liked the most.

The End of Stresa Promenade
Ristorante Mamma Mia Garden 

Friday, July 20, 2012

Stresa Travel's Afternoon off to Macugnaga

This week Luca and I managed an afternoon off and decided to head up to the fresh air of Macugnaga. It is a favourite spot of ours if we only have a half day and feel the need to clear our minds!

View From Monte Moro
We left Stresa at around midday on Wednesday and after a short run up the superstrada we were soon at Piedimulera. This is a small town at the start of the Anzasca Valley whose name literally means "at the foot of the mule track", referring to the old route which was once the only way up the valley.

We've driven up this valley so many times, but it never ceases to take my breath away! The twisting and turning road allows you to get wonderful views down into the ravine, of the slopes packed with pine trees and of the craggy villages which look like they are literally hanging on to the hillsides. With the air-con off and the windows turned down, cool, fresh air filled the car and wide grins crossed our faces.

Luca in the cable car
Arriving in Macugnaga you reach the main square surrounded by the town hall, hotels and bars and the tourist office. As it was time for lunch we parked up and headed to our usual place for a sandwich: Bar Flizzi. A seat in the shade afforded wonderful views of Monte Rosa Massif and the Belvedere Glacier, and after a restorative panino we moved the car up to the cable car, car park.

Madonna della Neve
The ascent!
We haven't taken the Monte Moro cable car in years, at least not in full summer so on went the walking boots, sun hats and camera bags! A return ticket costs €17.00 for adults, €15.00 for overs 60's, €11.00 for children 4-14 years and €1 for under 4's. The first stage to Alpe Bill is quite a small cabin and we were lucky enough to have the cabin to ourselves so we could enjoy the views in all directions. At Alpe Bill we changed into a larger cabin and continued our ascent. We soon arrived at Monte Moro (approx 2800m) and headed out to explore.

I have never seen the area around the cable car station without snow and there is still some around even in July! We had a wander around and discovered crystal clear pools, granita-like snow and beautiful rock formations. Above ours heads the golden statue of the Madonna della Neve was gleaming in the sunlight and the more agile (not us, I'll admit!) can climb up to reach her and look down into Switzerland. I find it difficult to describe the views from Monte Moro without sounding clichéed, so hopefully the photos are speaking for themselves!

View from Monte Moro
During our ascent in the cable car we had spotted two walkers heading up the path below us at quite a lick! As we arrived at the cable car to make our descent they were greeted with jokey comments from the cable car staff asking what had kept them ... we discovered they had run up the whole way in around 1.5 hours!!! If I tell you that on the walk takes 4 hours and the height difference is around 1400m ...... well, you get the idea.

The Chiesa Vecchia and Alpinist Cemetery
Once back down in the town we headed to one of our favourite spots, the Chiesa Vecchia  which dates back to the 12th century and is surrounded by the alpinist's cemetery. Within the cemetery there are plaques and tombstomes remembering climbers who have lost their lives in the mountains surrounding Macugnaga. Alpinist Ettore Zapparoli is one of those remembered in the cemetery. Over the years he explored the east face of Monte Rosa many times but sadly went missing in 1951 whilst attempting one of its most dangerous peaks. His remains were discovered by a climber in 2007 and he was finally buried in the cemetery in Macugnaga in 2008.

In memory of Ettore Zapparoli
Near the church you will also see a large lime tree with a trunk measuring 8.3m in circumference! The tree is estimated to be 500 years old and was where the local population, the Walser, used to hold important town meetings. In fact, it is said to have been planted from seed by a lady who was one of the first Walser shepherds who populated the area. You'll notice, as you walk around the town, that the street names are in both Italian and Walser.

The lime tree
We continued our walk through the town with a sweet smell of pine trees following us on our way back to the main square. A quick stop to send a postcard to my nephew and share an ice-cream before we walked back to the car via the old part of the village. Here you will see the traditional Walser houses made out of interlocking wooden logs which I think are just beautiful. Especially when there's great displays of geraniums tumbling over the balconies.

Traditional Walser Houses
All good things come to an end, however, and it was time to head back down the valley to Stresa. Hopefully we'll be back up in Macugnaga soon to see some of our other favourite spots like the Belvedere Glacier or Lago delle Fate. 

If you don't have a car you can still reach Macugnaga with us every Saturday afternoon during the summer on our excursion. If you visit at the beginning of July you can also catch the San Bernardo Festival when local crafts and traditions are celebrated.

Have you been to Macugnaga? What did you do and what was your favourite part of your trip?

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Friday, July 13, 2012

Stresa Festival - A Summer of Concerts

Whilst I don't normally blog about events here, I thought the Stresa Festival deserved a special mention as it is an major part of the summer events programme and it is only a week away. The festival dates back to 1961 when it was known as the Settimane Musicali di Stresa, and the first concert was held in August 1962. Since then many famous performers, conductors and orchestras have performed at the the festival: Arthur Rubinstein, Yehudi Menuhin, Karl Böhm and the London Philharmonic Orchestra to name just a few.

We've been to several concerts over the years in some wonderful locations, but three that stick in my mind are the Goran Bregovic & Wedding and Funeral Band in 2010 (I've never seen the Congress Palace jumping like that!), the Full Fathom Four at the old church in Belgirate and Sarah Chang performing at the Stresa Congress Palace, both in 2007.

**updated July 2014**

For 2014 the concerts are, as ever, split into three sections. In ten days time from 24th - 27th July there are six open-air concerts under the title "Midsummer Jazz", then from 19th August to 6th September there is the main festival with concerts in the "Music on Move" and "Musical Meditations" sections. This year on 22nd August the Stresa Festival celebrates with their 1000th concert featuring conductor, Gianandrea Noseda, artistic director of the festival.

So why not come along and enjoy concerts in the Villa Palazzola park along Stresa lakefront (outdoors), at the Santa Caterina Herimtage, on the Borromean Islands, the old church in Belgirate or at the grand theatre in the Stresa Conference Centre.

For the full programme, ticket prices and official online box office go to the Stresa Festival website. Tickets range between €15 and €50.

Let us know your favourite moments from past festivals or whether you've already booked for this year.

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Friday, July 6, 2012

Stresa Travel: A Guide to Lake Maggiore Ferries

One of the things that our super front of house girls, Marta, Laura and Carla, have to explain the most is the mystery of ferry travel and the seemingly endless types of ticket!

At first glance it can be difficult to decide what is the best value ticket for what you would like to do.So I thought I'd try and tell it straight: a short definition of the three main ticket types and a few popular scenarios with the best value ticket. I hope that this goes some way to helping you negotiate the timetables and tickets.

(23/02/15 Updated prices for 2015)

Lake Maggiore Ferry
The three main ticket types
  1. Standard return tickets: these tickets are for travel to and from two points with no stops on the way (senza fermate intermedie). 
  2. Special return tickets: these allow you to travel between two points with stops on the way (con fermate intermedie)
  3. Rover Tickets (Libera Circolazione): these tickets allow you to travel between two points and all the stops in between, for one calendar day. The ticket expires when you get back off the ferry at your starting point. 
I would like to visit all three Borromean Islands in one day and I want to be flexible
In this case the ticket you're looking for is a Libera Circolazione or what we call a Rover Ticket. This type of ticket allows you to travel between Stresa, Isola Madre, Isola Pescatori and Isola Bella as much as you would like and in what order you would like all day. The ticket expires when you return to Stresa. With 2015 prices this costs €16.90 per adult, €13.60 for over 65's Monday to Friday (not public holidays) and €8.50 per child 4-11 years.

Stresa Ferry Station
I would like to visit all three Borromean Islands in one day and don't mind sticking to a set itinerary
If you're willing to be a little less flexible then you can save even more if you get one of our Super Saver Tickets! They are less flexible because you need to visit the islands in a set order. With 2015 prices this costs €13.90 per adult and €7.00 per child 4-11 years. So you save €3.00 per adult ... enough to treat yourself to an ice cream! There are also discounts for over 65's.

I would only like to visit Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori in one day
This is where you can make even more of a saving. The ferry company has a special ticket which enables you to visit Isola Pescatori and Isola Bella from Stresa for just €9.60 per adult and €5.20 per child 4-11 years.

I would only like to visit one place in one day
If you just want to visit one place, with no other stops on the way, then the best value option is a standard return ticket. For example, say you want to just visit Villa Taranto from Stresa. With 2015 prices a standard return ticket costs €12.40 per adult and €6.20 per child 4-11 years whereas a Rover Ticket as far as Villa Taranto costs €20.70 per adult and €10.40 per child 4-11 years.

Stresa Ferry Station
I'm 65 years or over and I would like to know if I get any discounts on the ferries
There is a discount for standard return tickets for people aged 65 and over, Monday to Friday (except public holidays). For 2015 there are discounts on Rover Tickets Monday to Friday (except public holidays.

We're a family and we would like to know if we get any discounts on the ferries
All children under 4 years travel free of charge as it is assumed they will not occupy a seat. There is also a special family ticket. If two adults buy a full fare Rover Ticket, then one or two children 4-11 years can travel with them for free. The whole family group must travel together at all times.

I would like to do the Lake Maggiore Express
You can read more about the Lake Maggiore Express here. We suggest the best route to be departing by train from Stresa and return by ferry. Despite what is written on some websites, there is no advantage to buying a ticket before you arrive in Stresa. You can buy it once you arrive in Stresa or even the same day you would like to travel. Just come along to our travel office when you've decided when you'd like to travel. With 201 prices this costs €34.00 per adult and €17.00 per child 4-12 years.

Lake Maggiore Ferries
I would like to do the Lake Maggiore Express and visit the Borromean Islands
This, without a doubt, is the best value two days out you can have on Lake Maggiore. On one day you can take the Lake Maggiore Express and on another day you have a Rover Ticket valid on the whole lake, so you can use it to visit the Borromean Islands. It is a special two-day Lake Maggiore Express ticket and must be used on two consecutive days. With 2015 prices this costs €44.00 per adult and €22.00 per child 4-12 years, total for the two days.

I've heard about Holiday Cards - what are they?
Holiday Cards are Rover Tickets that are valid for three or seven consecutive days on the whole of the lake. In our experience it is almost impossible to travel for three consecutive days and make this ticket worthwhile. Depending on what you would like to see, the seven day ticket might be the right option for you. With 2015 prices a three day card costs €65.00 per adult and €33.00 per child 4-11 years and a seven day card costs €83.00 per adult and €42.00 per child 4-11 years. 

Can I and should I buy any of the above tickets before I arrive in Stresa?
The simple answers are no and no! All the tickets above can be bought anytime after you arrive in Stresa, right up to the time of travel. Seats or specific ferries are not reserved, so you can even decide last minute and not be disappointed.

On the ferry!
What about the hydrofoil?
None of the above offers or tickets are for travel on the hydrofoils (marked in red on the ferry timetables). To travel on the hydrofoil you will need to book at our travel office in Stresa, or at the ferry station. There is a supplement that must be paid by everyone travelling, even free children.

**Please note that none of the above tickets include any entrance tickets or meals. They are purely transportation tickets**

Phew! It's quite a lot to get through but I've tried to keep each explanation short and to the point. To buy tickets or for any further questions about the ferries just come into our Travel Office on the lakefront opposite the ferry station car park. We speak English, French and German and we are official ticket agents for the Lake Maggiore Ferry Company.

To download full timetables and fare structures visit

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci