Strolling along Stresa’s wide waterfront promenade is like stepping back in time to when wealthy aristocrats embarked on grand tours of continental Europe.
Extravagant hotels and luscious gardens line the picturesque lakefront. Don’t forget to have a seat on a bench and take in the view of Lake Maggiore and Isola Bella.
Wander the cobblestone streets and take in the lavish villas, and it’s easy to see why so many 19th century artists and writers flocked there.
Long before Stresa was a well-known resort town, it was a fishing hamlet. The first recorded mention of Stresa was in the 1st century AD. By the 14th century, Stresa’s population had grown enough to win it Borgo, or village, status and the right to hold a weekly market.
Tourism boomed in the 20th century when the Alp’s Simplon Pass opened, allowing merchants and visitors to reach Stresa easily. Additionally, a steam-powered ferry transported passengers the length of the lake, from Switzerland to Italy.
One of the first wealthy summer residents was the Duchess of Genoa, who bought what is now the Villa Ducale. Her daughter, Margherita, became Italy’s first queen.
Milanese hoi-polloi built extravagant villas in Stresa, attracting notable guests such as Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin and George Bernard Shaw. Stresa’s most famous visitor was Hemingway, who convalesced from a WWI wound at the grand Grand Hôtel des Illes Barromées, still one of the lavish hotels lining the lakefront. After he left, he set part of A Farewell to Arms in the historic hotel.Tweet