It seems like everyone on my Facebook feed was visiting Italy this past summer. There are so many fantastic destinations within this country – you could easily go on multiple trips to see much of the country.
This past summer, we skipped the major tourist destinations in Italy and instead headed on an Adventures by Disney Italy Switzerland adventure to the Alps. Our first destination was Stresa, Italy, a Lake Maggiore destination that I was previously unfamiliar with. While we spent four nights in Stresa, I wish we had more time there.
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Best Places to Go in Stresa Italy – Lake Maggiore
Stresa is located along the western shores of Lake Maggiore in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. It’s about an hour away from the Switzerland border. The nearest international airport is Milan Malpensa Airport.
It was under the control of the Borromeo family and was also famously visited by Ernest Hemingway. A Hemingway suite is offered at the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees to celebrate the time he spend at the hotel writing.
This small lakefront town is very walkable, especially if your hotel is nearby. The area offers a number of lodging options, including some absolutely beautiful, sprawling resorts. Lake Como, the popular vacation destination known as the summer home of George Clooney, is about 45-60 minutes away – perfect for a day trip. (You can book a tour here).
The downtown area of Stresa is relatively small. It’s mostly a pedestrian walking area with shops and restaurants. These are mostly independent shops selling fragrances, gifts, and gourmet products (including wine). There’s also a pharmacy if you have forgotten an essential, or get sick on your vacation, as well as a bank if you need to exchange currency.
The beautiful, large Lake Maggiore (which is the second largest Italian lake and the largest Southern Switzerland lake) offers three small islands that can be toured by guests. There are several different hop-on, hop-off tours that can take you to these three islands.
While our trip had a private boat for our large group, this is a well-reviewed trip that you can book in advance. It includes transportation to two or three of the islands but doesn’t have a guide.
Isola Bella means beautiful island in Italy, and it truly is. Located off the Stresa shore in Lake Maggiore, Isola Bella is most known for the gorgeous Palazzo Borromeo located on part of the island. This island has hosted a music festival and many fashion shoots over the years.
Once you disembark the boat on Isola Bella, it’s a quick walk to the entrance of the Palazzo. You’ll purchase tickets and then can enter the palace. While we had our guide with us, you can also do this as a self-guided trip.
We walked through all of the open rooms, including the grotto, where guests used to go to cool down in the hot weather. But, despite the beauty of the palace, the stunning Italian gardens are the true highlight here. Featuring trees, flowers, fountains, and statues, the gardens are also home to gorgeous white peacocks. If you are lucky, you’ll see one open its feathers while you are there.
Beyond the palace, there are some other things on the island, including small shops and restaurants. It’s worth taking the time to walk around after touring the palace.
Isola del Pescatori
Isola dei Pescatori, Fisherman’s Island, is another quaint place to explore. It’s a smaller island, but there are also some small shops and restaurants along the cobblestone streets. Be sure to try some of their popular lake fish – which includes pike and perch.
During our trip, we had lunch at Ristorante La Pescheria, where I had a lake fish appetizer and entree. We enjoyed dining on the patio, although the weather was a little unsettled.
Looking for some adventure? Mottarone offers an adventure park, hiking trails, and other outdoor activities. It’s no longer accessible by cable car but can be reached by driving.
The park of Villa Pallavicino is located along the shores of Lake Maggiore in Stresa. It is a beautiful location offering gardens, flowers, plants, a restaurant, a bar, a shop, and a small children’s zoo. It is a bit of a walk from the main downtown area but is still walkable. The zoo is especially recommended for those with younger kids, while adults may prefer exploring the gardens.
Eating in Stresa
There aren’t any chain restaurants in Stresa, but there are delicious cafes and restaurants offering some great meals. As a Northern Italian destination, expect to find more seafood and risotto dishes on the menus than in Southern Italian destinations. But many restaurants still offer pasta and pizza.
On our first day, our hotel recommended that we visit Mamma Mia, a beautiful restaurant located right in the center of town. Reservations are recommended. Mamma Mia has both traditional dishes and pizza/pasta. I’d recommend sitting outside so you can enjoy the Stresa ambiance. My kids also loved K2 Gelateria for gelato.
Shopping in Stresa
Stresa offers some cute, quaint shops. Expect to find some standard souvenirs, watches, jewelry, fragrances, and gelato. During our trip, we also stopped at the La Cambusa Wine Shop, located right in town. This shop offers a huge selection of Italian wines, as well as gourmet food items like balsamic vinegar and olive oil.
Getting to Stresa
If you are flying to the town of Stresa from an international destination, the closest airport is the Milan Malpensa Airport. It’s about an hour to Stresa from the airport. We found the Milan airport to be well-run and very convenient to fly through. If you don’t have a rental car, you can book a transfer here. There is also a train station in Stresa if you are traveling from another European destination.
Where to Stay in Stresa Italy
During our trip to Stresa, Italy, we spent four nights at the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromee. This gorgeous, historic hotel offers rooms with stunning views of Lake Maggiore, along with a world-class spa.
The hotel has a fantastic breakfast, with both indoor and outdoor seating. We loved getting breakfast each morning and sitting outside across from Lake Maggiore.
Our favorite amenity at the hotel is the pools in the park area. It was pretty warm in Stresa, so it was nice to relax at the outdoor pool. The spa is also a great amenity – it includes an indoor pool, cold/warm plunge pools, a music pool, therapeutic showers, saunas, and a snow room.
You can book the Grand Hotel Des Iles Borromee here.
Frequently Asked Questions
We found it to be very walkable. You may need a vehicle if you are staying a longer distance away from the town center.
Like the rest of Italy, Stresa uses the Euro. Nearby Switzerland, however, uses the Swiss Franc rather than the Euro.
If you have US plugs, you’ll need a travel adaptor. We like this one, which is available on Amazon. Keep in mind there’s also a different voltage in Europe.