In 1918, 19-year old Ernest Miller Hemingway, an American Red Cross Volunteer, was injured while driving an ambulance in Italy. In September of that same year he was given a 10 day pass from the hospital in Milan. He spent 7 of those 10 days in Stresa, staying in room 106 (now the Hemingway room) at the Grand Hotel Des Illes Broomees, and visiting various sites around town including a trip to Isola dei Pescatori on Lake Maggiore and a cable car ride to the top of Mt. Mottarone. Much of this trip was later fictionalized in his book: A Farewell to Arms.
Two hotels down from the Grand Hotel Des Illes Broommes, I arrive at my hotel: The Grand Hotel Bristol. It may not be the hotel that Hemingway stayed at, but as I disembark the bus, it still takes my breath away. It is located right on the lakeside of Stresa and offers a bar, restaurant, garden with outdoor (stunning) swimming pool, health club and even an indoor swimming pool. At the reception desk, I am handed an electronic key card and am told to go up to the third floor. The hotel gods must love me, I think to myself as I enter the room to find ceiling to floor windows that show off the lake and the mountains that encircle it.
I am instantly saddened by the fact that I only have two meager days to fully enjoy the view and spend the next couple of minutes sitting on the chair provided on my balcony to better acquaint myself with Stresa. It’s the end of the Monograms trip and after 4 days in Venice, we arrive in Stresa to de-stress (get it?) and relax. Aperitivos are served with prosecco wine and we are given time to catch up on emails and explore. I wander outside the hotel and dip my feet into the pool, unfortunately it is too cold to go swimming. Dinner is served at the hotel and it is buffet style; the food and wine is endless. I enjoy another successful Italian dinner and momentarily worry about the amount I must have gained from all this Italian deliciousness.
The next morning we board a water taxi to Isola Bella, a palace that was founded by Vitaliano Borromeo. He dedicated the palace and the garden to his wife, Isabella. In fact, the first name of the island was Island Isabella, but it later shortened and changed to Isola Bella, which translates to: her island. The first and ground floor, also known as the noble floor, were subsequently transformed into a museum in 1958. Although open to the public, the 14th generation of the family still lives on Isola Bella during the summer months. The owners of the palace are the Prince and Princess Borromeo who take care of the property, not the state.
The island itself is only three kilometers long. Just outside the palace lies the island’s most beautiful feature: Italian style gardens. The gardens are rich in flowers and trees, which have been brought from every corner of the world. At the end lies an amphitheater which was used by the family to watch plays, often carried out with marionettes. At the top of the gardens stands a unicorn, a symbol used by the Borromeo family to signify power. During the summer time, when the family is here, traveler’s may also see the blue and red flag raised. The flag means that the family is on the island.
After shooting what seemed like hundreds of photos in the gardens, I make my way back to the water taxi only to be met by a pleasant surprise. The son of the Prince and Princess, the Count Borromeo, is visiting the island and would be pleased to meet with us. Him and his wife step out from behind their body guard to greet us and answer a couple of questions. During our Q&A, the Countess Borromeo lets out an interesting secret, she is the only one allowed to have a dog within the palace gardens. So, if you happen to see a woman walking a dog within the gardens, now you know who she is!
My stomach starts to rumble as we walk back into town. Our conversation with the Count and Countess proved fruitful but now it was time to try another Italian favorite: the calzone. I stop a local on the street and ask where I could find: the best calzone in Stresa. He points me in the direction of a local restaurant called Osteria Degli Amici on Via Bolongaro Anna Maria 31. Service is quick and before long I am presented with a behemoth. Our table falls silent as our waiter places the calzone in front of me. Are you going to be able to eat that? one of the girls asks.
Before long the calzone disappears. But there is no time to rest. From town, a friend and I walk to the cable car to embark on our voyage up Mt. Mottarone, where travelers can enjoy 360 degree panoramic views across the Po Valley to the Alps. The trip is 20 minutes and costs EUR$20. The last cable car down is at 5:40 pm and I recommend that travelers avoid missing the cable car. If missed, the only option is a 60 euro (and up!) taxi ride down to Stresa. The summit is a 15 minute walk from the cable car station and the view is so gorgeous that it is beyond words.
For travelers looking to spend a couple of days in Stresa, I would highly recommend a picnic (with a bottle of wine) at the summit or even an overnight stay at Hotel Eden. Mottarone is the perfect spot for adventure junkies who love to trek, mountain bike and/or free climb. The owner of Hotel Eden is the former mayor of Stresa who not only speaks English but can help you book all your adventure needs.
After a stressful trip down the mountain in a taxi, which was a black Mercedes Benz, we finally arrive at our hotel. The beauty of Mottarone made us lose track of time and we missed the last cable car down. We spent the next hour sitting in Hotel Eden while Mr. Bertoletti (the former mayor of Stresa) fed us and shared stories about his rich family tree (apparently his grandfather was Winston Churchill’s butler!) We arrive in the nick of time and board another water taxi to the Isola dei Pescatori to enjoy a final meal at Albergo Verbano, the perfect place for our last supper. The food is excellent but the atmosphere is even better. White table clothes drape over the tables while brightly colored flowers sit perfectly at the center. The night ends with the owner showing us the rooms upstairs. She opens the door to the hotel’s broad terrace overlooking the water. I could get used to this I think to myself as I watch the moon’s reflection flicker on the water. Then it was over.
I sit on my balcony and quietly watch the mountains, outlined by the moon light as I sip my last glass of Italian red wine. I had never heard of Stresa before, but in a couple of short days it captured my heart. I guess this is how Hemingway felt when he sat and watched the same moonlight scene so many years ago.
My trip to Italy was provided by Monograms but the opinions and views expressed in the above article are my own. Visit their website for more information on tours in Italy
A self-proclaimed travel fanatic, Yvonne Ivanescu has embarked on a number of unforgettable adventures across the globe. In 2012 Yvonne launched Under the Yew Tree, a website about travel, green living, food and fashion in South America. She will also be launching her own travel safety book in 2014. For more South American travel tips and safety tips, visit Under the Yew Tree or follow her on Twitter and Facebook.