The Best of Italy's Lakes
14/07/2020 · By Katie Shaw
Italy's landscapes are truly spectacular; endless glittering coastline, ancient cities, rural regions filled with vineyards and olive groves, and of course, the lakes.Read more
The small and pretty town of Stresa, today one of the most popular resorts on the shores of Lake Maggiore in Piedmont, northern Italy, originated as a tiny fishing hamlet first mentioned in records in 998AD. By the fourteenth century Stresa's population had grown sufficiently for it to be officially recognised as a village and gained the right to hold a weekly market; a tradition still upheld in the town each Friday morning.
Stresa's idyllic location on Lake Maggiore overlooking the island Isola Bella and providing magnificent views of the lake's surrounding hills had already secured the town's popularity with European aristocracy as a holiday retreat, but the opening of the Simplon Pass between Brig, Switzerland and Piedmont in 1806 boosted Stresa's tourism further still. Consequently many beautiful villas and grand hotels were constructed at the beginning of the nineteenth century and by the twentieth the now well-established resort was welcoming prestigious guests such as George Bernard Shaw, Ernest Hemingway, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and Princess Margaret.
Today, although a highly popular Italian resort, Stresa remains small enough to explore on foot, rewarding visitors with medieval buildings, opulent and historic villas, public gardens and several museums. During the summer, the Stresa to Mottarone cable car ascends to the summit of Mount Mottarone from which unparalleled panoramic views across the Po Valley to the Alps are obtained.
Established in 1940 by Captain Neil McEarcharn, Villa Tarantino's large, landscaped gardens lovingly recreate the style of an English garden and features beautifully maintained lawns, flower gardens - including the spectacular Dahlia Garden which showcases over three hundred species, a water-lily pond, waterfalls, fountains and sculptures.
Held in Piazza Capucci each Friday morning Stresa's colourful market is the perfect place in which to buy delicious local produce including salami, smoked meats and sausages, fresh blueberries, raspberries and blackberries, honey, jams and cheese.
Built in 1770 by a rich tobacco merchant, Villa Ducale has a rich history. Bequeathed to the philosopher Antonio Rosminiin 1848 the villa later became the preferred holiday residence of the Duchess of Genova whose daughter, Margherita, became the first Queen of Italy. Today the restored villa is notable for its beautiful architecture and décor, its library of more than 100,000 books and its extensive Italian gardens which feature exotic plants and flowers.
An enjoyable ten-minute boat ride from Stresa, the small lake island of Isola Bella is entirely occupied by the magnificent castle-like palace and stunning terraced gardens created by the wealthy Borromeo family in the seventeenth century.