Stresa is a small town (population 5,000) on the south side of the Borromean Bay, a western arm of Lake Maggiore in Piedmont, Northern Italy. The Borromean Islands (Isole Borromee) are a group of three small islands, Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori (also called Isola Superiore) and Isola Madre, and two islets in the Borromean Bay and together totalling just 20 ha in area. They are very picturesque, especially the ornate palaces and gardens of Isola Bella and Isola Madre.
The town centre and main ferry dock are at the southeastern end of the town. At the northwestern end is Carciano, with a lido, secondary ferry dock and the cable car station. Isola Bella is just off shore from Carciano, and Isola Superiore dei Pescatori a little further to the northwest. Isola Madre is half way across the Borromean Bay to Verbania.
S.A.F. runs the Alibus from both terminals of Malpensa Airport through Stresa, terminating at Verbania, seasonally Apr-Oct. Services are 2–3 hours apart. You must book by 11am the previous day (by 11am Sa for Monday trips). Buy tickets on board, cash only. €12.
Follow the directions for the A26 Genova - Gravellona Toce motorway. Take the A26 motorway towards Gravellona Toce. Keep in the direction of Gravellona Toce until the Carpugnino exit. In Carpugnino follow the signs for Stresa.
From Milan by car: Take A8 towards Laghi - Sesto Calende - Varese. Take the A26 towards Gravellona Toce. The closest exit to Stresa is Carpugnino (panoramic road) while the simplest exit is Baveno-Stresa (it stretches about 5 km).
Navigazione Laghi provides ferry services around Lake Maggiore, from Arona in the south to Locarno at the northern end in Switzerland. The most frequent services are around the Borromean Bay, between Verbania, Baveno, the Borromean Islands and Stresa; a few of these stop at Carciano, as well as the main dock.
There are two taxi ranks, one at the railway station and the other at the ferry terminal. Bicycles can be rented and the roads are developed if you have a car.
Navigazione Laghi provides ferry services between the main ferry dock, Isola Bella, Isola dei Pescatori and Isola Madre, with some services stopping at Carciano also. There are also water taxis that operate from both the main dock and the lido – these are particularly useful after ferry hours, for example, if going or returning from dinner at a restaurant on Isola dei Pescatori or Isola Bella.
- Alpine Garden (Giardino Botanico Alpinia). Alpine and subalpine plants in 4 hectares part way up Mount Mottarone. Not the most impressive garden, but has good views. Can be reached by car. Can also be reached by the cable car. The toilet is of the squat type. €4.
- Isola Bella. Late Mar – late Oct 9am–5:30pm last entrance. Consists of a four-story Lombard Baroque palace and an Italianate garden. Palace, painting gallery & garden, adult €15, child 6–15 €8.50. Same day ticket for this & Isola Madre, adult €20.50, child €10.
- Isola dei Pescatori or Isola Superiore. The village has charming houses and narrow streets. Its permanent population of 50 people is occupied in fishing and tourism. The Church of San Vittore still has its original apse with a lancet window dating from the 11th century. There are numerous restaurants, specialising in fish dishes. It's not a private island, so there's no entry fees or opening hours.
- Isola Madre. Late Mar – late Oct 9am–5:30pm last entrance. Palazzo (grand residence) and a botanical garden that is less formal than that of Isola Bella. Palace & garden, adult €12, child 6–15 €6.50. Same day ticket for this & Isola Bella, adult €20.50, child €10.
- [formerly dead link] Parco della Villa Pallavicino, Via Sempione Sud, 8 (10 minute walk southeast from the ferry, or take the little train Mar–Sep, €4 return, €2.50 one way). Daily mid-Mar – 31 Oct 9am–6pm. Gardens and zoological park in 20 hectares. Near the entrance there is a series of archways of cypress trees. Around the park there are magnolias, rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, a great Lebanon cedar, and exotic plants in the greenhouses. Has a cafe. The villa is not open to the public. Adult €9.50.
- [formerly dead link] Umbrella Museum (Museo dell'Ombrello e del Parasole), Via Golf Panorama 2, Gignese (can take bus from Stresa). Tu-Su Apr–Sep 10am-noon, 3–5pm. Exhibits 150 parasols and umbrellas, showing changes from the 19th century to the present. Also shows the history of the umbrella makers of the Gignese area. €2.50.
- Mottarone Cable Car, 8 Lido Square (Piazzale Lido, 8), Carciano. A return ride offers fantastic views, and a one-way ride and hike or bike back down to Stresa is even better. Mountain bikes can be rented at the Stresa cable car station if you don't have one. Temporarily closed in May 2021 following an accident.
- 1 Carrefour, Via Roma 11. Supermarket.
- 2 Outdoor market, Piazza Capucci. F till 1pm.
- Alchimissa food spirits and wine, Via Mazzini, 10, ☏ . Wine shop.
- La Cambusa, Via Cavour, 27, ☏ . Wine shop.
- Tastevin Piazza Cadorna, ☏ . Wine shop.
In addition to restaurants in the town, there are about a dozen on Isola dei Pescatori open for lunch or dinner and specialising in fish dishes.
- L'Angolo del Gelato. An ice cream bar on the square in the centre of Stresa. It makes great ice cream in many flavours.
- Torino. A great restaurant located on the central square. It makes a great schnitzel with french fries.
In addition to accommodation in the town, there are two hotels and a few B&Bs on Isola dei Pescatori.
- Hotel Boston, Viale Duchessa di Genova, 13, ☏ . A few steps from the old town centre, beaches, the railway station and Congress Hall.
- Holiday apartment Rede Stresa, Sempione Nord St. Luxury holiday apartment with splendid view of Lake Maggiore and the Borromeo Islands.
- 1 Hotel Della Torre, Via Sempione Nord, 45 - 28838 Stresa (VB), ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Three star hotel with swimming pool, restaurant, near the pier where you can embark on the ferries which take you to the Borremean Islands.
- Hotel la Palma, Corso Umberto I, 33. Four star hotel on the lakeside road not far from the railway station and the town centre.
Stresa is a small town where risk of violent crime is virtually non-existent, however there are several small cons to beware of:
- Friend Post. A rising problem in many Italian cities, shops that sell postcards will also claim to sell stamps, these however are not real stamps, but rather stickers belonging to a private company named Friend Post. Their service is inferior to the standard Italian Post, with many records of cards not being delivered.
- Lake Pirates. Tickets for ferries to the islands and other destinations on the lake are sold INSIDE the ferry terminal. Many unofficial people roam the streets outside the terminal wearing sailor hats and trying to lure tourists into paying a higher price to take a small lake taxi to the islands (often lying about the ferry being more expensive and making more stops). There is even a small outhouse-sized brick building just to the left of the ferry terminal that is manned by people performing this scam.
- Arona – the southernmost ferry terminal on the lake
- Baveno – a town very close by to the northwest
- Verbania – the city on the northern side of the Borromean Bay