Sunday, July 14, 2013

Stresa Travel Notes: The Alpine Gardens - An Unsung Hero!

***Update April 2015: Unfortunately the cable car has been closed since October 2014 as it must undergo an extensive refit required by Italian law. A potential reopening date is yet to be established***

I read a pretty bad review of the Alpine Gardens online recently and they come 9 out of 10 on the Tripadvisor list of things to do in Stresa. I guess it all depends on what people are expecting, but I have decided to dedicate a blog post to the gardens and hopefully persuade you that they are worth a visit.

The gardens are a very easy 450m walk from the Alpino cable car station and entrance is just €3.

Map of the Alpine Gardens
When you enter the gardens there are large beds and rockeries beautifully laid out with various plants and flowers and a pretty little cottage. 

Large flower beds and rockeries
We headed straight for the path that winds its way up above the entrance and cottage to the belvedere viewpoint. There are several benches along the edge of the viewpoint where you can enjoy the peace and quiet and the vast panoramas over Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands. I could sit here for hours!

The Belvedere Path

The Belvedere Viewpoint
Following the path round through the trees and lawns you enter the marshy area where you cross the wooden bridge over the pond to join the woodland path. On previous visits we have seen dragonflies darting around the pond in the marshy area. 

The Marshy Area
The woodland path takes you down below the belvedere and through the cool, shady trees before climbing back up towards the cottage. Just before you reach the cottage you'll find a collection of rhododendrons and it is here we spotted two familiar faces making their way up to the viewpoint: our guide, Barbara, and her twin sister Sylvia! After waves and hellos they continued their hunt for a flower they had seen on the Simplon Pass.

The Woodland Path
We returned to the start of our route around the gardens and took some time to walk among the flower beds and look closer at some of the plants and flowers:

Feeling very relaxed after a peaceful walk around the gardens we strolled along to the cable car station where there is a little bar. For us, a drink and an ice-lolly, but they also serve sandwiches, salads and plates of cold cuts and cheeses.

The Alpine Gardens maybe be simple, but they are beautiful, tranquil and offer a wonderful, fresh respite on a hot summer day as well as a fantastic view! So, for the cost of an ice-cream, you can pass a very pleasant 45-60 minutes on your way up to Mottarone.

You cannot take picnics into the gardens but there are plenty of grassy spots to eat your sandwiches near the cable car station and at the top of Mottarone. 

Have you been to the Alpine Gardens? What did you think?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Stresa Travel Notes: Mottarone - show-stopping views and more!

***Update Feb 2015: Unfortunately the cable car has been closed since October 2014 as it must undergo an extensive refit required by Italian law. A potential reopening date is yet to be established***

Enjoying the fresh air and view at Mottarone
Last Sunday, with an afternoon to spare, we watched the opening laps and tyre drama at Silverstone then set off up to Mottarone. Only having a short time and wanting to be flexible we decided to drive up, but if you don't have a car you can take the cable car.

The cable car arriving at Mottarone
The cable car takes 20 minutes from Stresa Lido to Mottarone, with a change half way at Alpino (where you can visit the Alpine Gardens). The cable car journey is just amazing with the views across Lake Maggiore and beyond literally opening up before you. A return ticket, including the chairlift right to the summit costs €18.00, but if you pop and and see us at our travel office we'll give you a €0.50 discount ;)

Taking the chairlift to the summit
The car journey takes about 40 minutes and takes you through the village of Vezzo before you join the winding road up to the Mottarone cable car station. With the car windows open the scent of pine trees filled the car as we passed through the woodland scenery. As part of the top part of Mottarone is owned by the Borromeo family the last part of the road coming from Stresa side is a toll road. The toll for a car is €7.00 (keep hold of the ticket as they collect it from you on the way down).

The woodland walk to the summit
The final climb to the summit
Once we had parked near the Mottarone cable car station, and after a quick look at the cable cars coming up, we set off on foot to the summit (you can also take the chairlift as the last part is fairly steep). The road winds gently up through the woods until you reach the foot of the "peak" of Mottarone. From the top, on a clear day you can see Mount Rosa and several lakes including Maggiore, Mergozzo, Orta and Varese. You can also see Malpensa airport in the distance!

Mountain panorama
Enjoying the view of Lake Maggiore
But Mottarone is more than "just" the amazing views. For walkers there are several routes around the upper slops of Mottarone as well as a walk all the way back down to Stresa. You can enjoy a sunbathe and a picnic or even a ride on Alpyland Alpine Coaster (the latter comes highly recommended from me!!). There are also several bars and restaurants where you can savour typical mountain food on the sun terraces.

Restaurant sun terrace
Ready, set, go!!! Alpyland
So what did Luca and I do? Well we only had a short time so we enjoyed the fresh air and the views, watched happily screaming people zip down on Alpyland, had an ice-cream and bought some devine goat's cheese from an impromptu stall.. We also planned some future walks for the next time we decide to take a trip up Mottarone.

Mountain restaurant nestled in the woodland
Making a day of it - sunbathing and picnics on Mottarone
Have you been up Mottarone? Did you do one of the walks or experience the thrills and spills of Alpyland?