Sunday, June 9, 2013

Stresa Travel Recipes: Isola Pescatori Lemon Cake

Or at least this is the nearest I've been able to find, short of bugging restaurateurs for their family recipes!

There has been a glut of lovely, untreated lemons at the market the last few weeks so I embarked on a mission to make our favourite dessert from Isola Pescatori: Lemon Cake.

Beautiful lemons from Stresa market
The following recipe drew me in with the beautiful photos on the blog post where I found it. I'm no good at photographing food so take a look at the original post here to get your mouth watering! The recipe comes from the queen of cooking, Nigella Lawson (How To Be A Domestic Goddess).

The finished cake ... with a few slices missing!
However, it is the closest I have found to the cake we enjoy at the Belvedere on Isola Pescatori whenever we go. Luca is in raptures about it and we've enjoyed a small slice for "merenda" every afternoon in the office for the past couple of weeks! It is super moist and lemony and keeps very well in an airtight tub. The lastest caked I made last Sunday and the last two slices were still just as good today!

So, here's the recipe and my pitiful photos!

Lemon Syrup Cake


100g icing sugar (confectioners sugar)
2 eggs
2tsp baking powder
175g sugar
175g plain flour
125g butter
Pinch of salt
4tbsp milk
Juice of half a lemon
Zest of 1 lemon


  • Line a 2lb/900g loaf tin 
  • Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F
  • Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest.
  • Beat in the eggs one at a time.
  • Sieve in the flour, baking powder and salt. Mix in the milk.
  • Pour the mixture into the lined loaf tin and bake for 40-45 mins until a skewer comes out clean
  • 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time dissolve the icing sugar in the lemon juice in a pan over a low heat until dissolved and the syrup is clear
  • Take the cake out of the oven and leave in the tin. Whilst it is still hot skewer the cake with holes all over. Spoon the syrup all over the cake so it runs into the holes.
  • Cool the cake in the tin on a wire rack.
  • Enjoy!

Let me know if you try the cake and how it comes out. Have you tried the lemon cake on Isola Pescatori?

Sarah, Viaggi Tomassucci

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Stresa Travel Notes: Don't Forget Isola Madre!

The Borromean Islands are, without a doubt, our most visited attraction from Stresa. However, not as many people make it to Isola Madre and I think that is a great shame. Isola Bella is the like the famous big sister that gets photographed, filmed and written about the most. Don't get me wrong, Isola Bella is a unique place to visit and the gardens are breathtaking, but in this post I'm going to champion the sometimes overlooked little sister, Isola Madre.

Watching the other boats as we sailed across the Borroman Bay
Last weekend with a few hours to spare on Sunday afternoon Luca and I set off on the ferry at 15.30 and enjoyed the leisurely sail around the Borromean Bay to Isola Madre. The boat stopped off en route at Isola Bella and Isola Pescatori where we enjoyed watching the comings and goings of the private taxi boats.

Approaching Isola Madre
The journey time to Isola Madre took a very enjoyable 35 minutes and as you come in to dock you look up at the charmingly rustic but large villa.

First close-up view from the ferry of the villa and gardens
Once off the ferry the entrance is just up the steps and you enter along "Africa Avenue" which is the sunniest and warmest part of the island. The gravel path leads you along the lakeside past large camellia bushes which flower from as early as January.

Africa Avenue
Close up of tree along Africa Avenue
Just around the corner we saw some beautiful, delicate flowers (photo below). I think it is a type of iris but if anyone knows precisely please let me know!

The beautiful blue iris!
Poppies and view across the lake
Next you'll find yourself passing the bottom of a long flight of steps with a wisteria covered pergola before arriving at the restored boathouse. From here you get lovely views across to Pallanza and Laveno.

Pink daisies by the boathouse
Turning left you reach the "Hunchback's Field" which is dominated by giant Himalayan rhododendrons. You then enter the main avenue that leads from the villa straight down to the lake. This spring there has been a special art installation by artist, Velasco Vitali. I'll be honest. Most of the pieces didn't inspire me but the metal sculptures of dogs along this main avenue and on the "Gynerium Lawn" are fun and each one is really full of character!

Curious dog watching out over the lake!
The Gynerium Lawn and some relaxing canines!!
Next you'll find "Parrot Square" and much of Isola Madre's wildlife! We saw a very beautiful blue peacock reclining on the lawn and then having a strut around! There are also white peacocks, parrots, and pheasants.

The blue peacock strutting his stuff!
Detail of the peacock's beautiful tail feathers
Walking further up the main avenue you arrive at the villa and the crowning glory of Isola Madre: the Kashmir Cypress. The tree originates from Asia and the example here is the biggest in Europe. Its green-blue foliage cascades down over the lawn in front of the villa.

The villa
The villa window detail
The villa door detail
In June 2006 the island was hit by a tornado which uprooted the Kashmir Cypress completely. After a super-human effort and lots of care and attention from the gardeners the tree was replanted. It has special supports and this year, for the first time since the tragedy struck, there is new growth and foliage.

The Kashmir Cypress (photo by Luca)
The villa itself is less imposing than the grand palace on Isola Bella and I just love it! It feels like a real house with its rooms filled with furniture and ornaments. There is an amazing collection of puppets and puppet theatres and then my favourite room of all: the garden room. The trompe d'oeil frescoes of plants and flowers trailing down a wrought iron pergola bring the outside in and are just beautiful. Unfortunately no photos are allowed in the villa so you will have to come and see it for yourselves!

The water-lily pool
Back out in the garden you'll find the Capella Sepolcrale and waterlily pool. There is a cafe with shaded seating for refreshments too.

The lawns outside the villa
Once we exited the gardens we walked past the La Piratera bar/restaurant and Luca enjoyed a very good ice cream! The path lead us back along to the ferry station and back we sailed across the bay to Stresa.

The ferry home
All in all a very relaxing few hours and an island that shouldn't be missed! Here's how to get there:

If you are just planning to visit Isola Madre the return ferry costs €10.00 return (€8.00 for over 65's Monday to Friday). If you are planning to combine it with other visits on the same day have a look at our guide to the ferries and you can see the different ticket options.

Entrance costs €11.00 per person and if you combine it with a visit to Isola Bella on the same day you can get a joint ticket for both islands for €18.50. RHS members enter for free.

Have you visited Isola Madre? What did you enjoy the most?