Stresa and the Borromean Islands

Stresa and the surrounding area is one of our favorite places in Northern Italy. The city of Stresa is set on beautiful Lake Maggiore with views of the nearby Borromean Islands. The area is only an hour train ride from Milan, which makes it convenient to visit if flying in or out of Milan.


When you arrive in Stresa I would advise purchasing your tickets to the islands first. Then spend the morning exploring Stresa.

When we visit the Borromean Islands we have always chartered a boat. The boats and their skippers are near the ferry station in Stresa, but no worries finding them, they will find you. The skippers, with their hats, will be hanging around the parking lot waiting to sell tickets on their boats. They have a fixed price and are reliable. We have used their services many times. For more information, you can check it out here.

Take a short stroll through the town of Stresa and fall in love with how quaint it is. The shops dotted along the cobblestone streets sell beautifully hand painted pottery, Italian leather bags, and other local goodies. During the tourist season, there is a small tourist “train” that drives through the town, which is a nice way to see some of the surrounding area and the Grand hotels.

When the stores close for lunchtime head over to the Isola dei Pescatori. This island is dotted with fantastic little restaurants.

After lunch, take the boat to Isola Bella and explore the Palace and gardens. The guides on the boats will give you a drop-off/pick-up location with flexible times. (every half hour, etc.)

In spring and summer months, Stresa is bustling with tourists. In fall and winter, the tourists are gone and the beautiful town is downright sleepy. We have visited every season and our favorite is the springtime. Remember, during the winter months many of the shops have closed on the islands and you can not tour the gardens of the palace.

One of our favorite places is the gardens of Isola Bella where white peacocks roam. Make sure you also tour the Borromeo Palace, it is furnished throughout with fascinating artifacts and history.

If you are in the area for longer than a day, here are a few other recommendations:

  • Take a 20-minute cable car ride up on The Cable Car Motorone. From the top, you have breathtaking views of the Alps and the lake.
  • The Lago Maggiore Express train is a gorgeous way to explore more of the surrounding area and see parts of Switzerland too.
  • On the outskirts of Stresa is Villa Pallavicino. This Villa is set on 37 acres of land with animals and plants throughout. You can enjoy a train ride through the park or a leisurely walk.


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