"" Writer's Wanderings: 18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Stresa, Italy

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

18 Days Through Europe in an Audi - Stresa, Italy

[Summer, 2004]

Stresa is a beautiful little resort town on the shores of Lake Maggiore. In the distance you can see the snow capped mountains of Switzerland. Cobblestone streets invite you to investigate their boutiques, shops, cafes, and restaurants. Bright flowers hang from second floor windows and railings in striking contrast to the antiqued coloring of the old buildings. Hydrangea bushes proliferate in the park along the lakefront. In July the bushes are full of blue and pink blooming globes. But in June, the hydrangeas are just beginning to show color and are upstaged by the profusion of rose bushes with flowers the size of soft balls.
Across from Stresa lie three small islands, Isola Bella, Isola del Pescatori, and Isola Madre. We opted to visit the first two. Finding a water taxi a little more convenient than the public ferry, we arranged the times we wanted to travel to each island. We left for Isola Bella, enjoying the panoramic view of Stresa from the boat. Upon arriving at Isola Bella, we went straight to the ticket office of the Borromeo Palace to beat the buses full of tourists we knew were arriving in the parking lot in Stresa. We opted for the audio tour and plugged our headsets into the audio player. There was more information supplied than we wanted but someone who is a real history buff would enjoy the details.

The palace is impressive and took about an hour to tour. The music room was the historic meeting place between Mussolini and the French and British in an attempt to scare the Germans out of the war. That was just before Mussolini joined Hitler. The most unusual rooms are downstairs in what is called the grotto. Walls are covered in small stones and there is a shell/underwater motif throughout. It was the place to go before air conditioning was invented since it stays cool throughout the hot summer days.

The Baroque terraced gardens are home to a flock of white peacocks that strut among the visitors. Gardeners work daily to keep up the sculptured greenery and the flowers that bloom profusely April through October. We skipped seeing Isola Madre but I understand the botanical gardens there are beautiful and contain a wide variety of plant life.

Our water taxi picked us up at the appointed time and took us to Isola del Pescatori for lunch. We found a restaurant overlooking the small beach area and enjoyed a plate of freshly caught lake fish. Isola del Pescatori is the smallest of the islands and is still home to some fishermen. It is a quaint walk through narrow alleyways filled with little shops and small restaurants. Colorful flowers and fishnets adorn the outside walls. You feel as though you are walking through an old master’s painting of Italy.

Back again at our car, we drove a short distance to the cable car, Funivia, where we boarded for a ride up to the top of Mt. Mottarone. The scenes from the cable car are breathtaking on a clear day. Once we reached the top we climbed to the summit and enjoyed the view of the snow capped mountains of Switzerland. Below we could see the islands we had visited in the morning surrounded by the blue waters of Lake Maggiore.

A little cafĂ© with an outdoor patio looked like an inviting spot to stop for a cappuccino. No one makes cappuccino like the Italians. Business was slow and the proprietor spent time talking to us about what the winters were like—cold and snowy—which explains the ski resort on the other side of the mountain.

After a wonderful pasta dinner with wild mushrooms, we found some ice cream, gelato, and strolled around the waterfront park again, this time lingering long enough to watch the sunset turn the sky and the lake to various shades of deep purple.

Stresa is the kind of place that invites you to linger and relax but we had 16 more days and lots of places to see. We were ready to begin some serious sightseeing.

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