Stresa guide


Stresa is a classic Grand Tour resort town and perfect base for exploring Italy's Lago Maggiore (Lake Maggiore)—especially the Borromean Islands

Stresa, Lago Maggiore
Stresa, seen from Monte Mottarone. (Photo by Mbdortmund)

Stresa is the perfect base for exploring Maggiore. It is centrally located on the lake—within 90 minutes' drive or ferry ride from most sights—plus it is packed with hotels, which helps keeps prices down and room availability wide open.

That said, Stresa itself is fairly unexciting. It's a pretty enough resort town. The handful of streets in its center are pocketed with restaurants. Its shores are lined by large and stately (and, for the most part, large and dull) hotels.

Stresa itself really has only four things going for it:

  1. The ferry dock for the boats over to the Borromean Islands, by far the top sights on Lake Maggiore
  2. A fairly major summer music festival (
  3. A cable car up to Monte Mottarone with nice little hikes back down (see below)
  4. Hemingway memories

The Borromean Islands

  • Isola BellaIsola Bella - "The Beautiful Island," a terraced pyramid of gardens around a whimsical little pleasure palace packed with paintings, tapestries, elaborately decorated rooms, and World War II memories... » more
  • Isola MadreIsola Madre - "The Mother Island," a lovely botanic gardens strutting with peacocks and other exotic birds around an historic villa with quirky collections... » more
  • Isola Superiore dei PescatoriIsola Superiore - More poetically called Isola dei Pescatori ("The Isle of the Fishermen"), the lived-in island has a pair of hotels (Hotel Verbano is the best) and some restaurants and souvenir shops... » more

A cable car ride up to the Mottarone plateau

The view over Lake Maggiore from Monte Mottarone
The view over Lake Maggiore from Monte Mottarone. (Photo by Mbdortmund)
At the north end of Stresa, at Piazzale Lido 8, is a funivia (cable car), which glides up the steep lakeside hills, pauses at an Alpine garden, and ends up 20 minutes later at Mottarone, a 4,920-foot plateau high above the lake. (tel. +39-0323-30-295;

To get back to the lakeside, you can (a) ride the cable car back down, (b) hike, or (c) plan ahead by renting a mountain bike from the station at the bottom, take it up with you to help explore, and then simply coast back down.

A trail on Monte Mottarone, Lake Maggiore
A trail on Monte Mottarone, Lake Maggiore. (Photo by Mbdortmund)
Best advice: The ferries back from the Borromean Islands stop at Stresa's "Mottarone Funivia" stop before chugging down to the main dock, so hop off here, check out the high Alpine plateau, then take the fast descent by bike.

Back by the lakeside, return the bike and stroll back into town in a pleasant 20 minutes along a lakeside path: stunning lake views to one side; to the other a procession of villas and mini-palaces—some stately, some crumbling, some weirdly festooned with modern sculptures.

Hemingway and Lake Maggiore

Hemingway, the ambulance driver
Hemingway on crutches
Hemingway wooing a nurse
Ernest Hemingway set several important parts of A Farewell to Arms here on Lake Maggiore, and in Stresa in particular.

The hero of the novel is a young American ambulance driver who is wounded fighting for the Italian army in World War I.

He falls in love with his nurse, then after several more adventures—including inadvertently deserting while escaping the Germans—he reunites with his love in Stresa.

Before fleeing by boat to Locarno on the Swiss end of the lake, the lovers shack up in the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, where Hemingway himself often stayed—and, if you have about $1,500 a night to burn, you, too, can stay in the perfectly preserved Hemingway Suite. (Rooms for mere mortals start around $250 online.)

By the way, those black and white pictures to the right aren't stills from the movie version of A Farewell to Arms.

Those are pictures of a very young Papa himself. See, Hemingway was an American who volunteered to fight in World War I as an ambulance driver. He was wounded in Italy, where he met a nurse and fell in love…

Well, at least he followed the maxim to "write what you know."

Tips & links


Tourist info Stresa:
Piazza Marconi 16 (ferry dock)
tel. +39-0323-31-308 and

Also useful:

Tours of Lake Maggiore

One-day tour (from
Lake Maggiore Day Trip from Milan

Recommended hotels in Stresa
How to get to Stresa

If you don't have a rental car, the easiest way is by train (1–3 per hour; 52–90 min. from Milan on the line to Sempione). Note that the fastest trains leave from Milan's central station, but there is more frequent (and only slightly slower) service from Milan's Porta Garibaldi station.

How to get to Stresa by boat: If you are already on the lake, Stresa is a major stop in the Lake Maggiore ferry system (—though in winter this is reduced to just local ferries (one that only crosses between Arona and Angera; another that only tools around the central lake between Stresa, the islands, and Verbania/Intra, etc.) but doesn't connect these localized lake regions.

How to get to Stresa by bus: Stresa is connected by S.A.F. (tel. +39-0323-552-172, to other towns on the western shore of Lake Maggiore roughly twice per hour, including Verbania-Pallanza (20 min.) and Arona (25 min.). There's also twice daily service from Milan's Lampugnato stop on Metro line 1 (80 min.), and two buses daily from Omegna on nearby Lake Orta (30 min.).

How to get to Stresa from the Milan Malpensa airport: Stresa is just a one-hour bus ride from the Milan-Malpensa airport ( with the S.A.F. Alibus (tel. +39-0323-552-172,—though the bus only runs once every two hours, and only between late April and September. Off-season, you can take the Malpensa Express train ( to Busto Arsizio and catch a Stresa-bound train or bus from there.

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