Perched on a rocky ledge above Lago Maggiore , is the beautiful Monastery of Santa Caterina del Sasso. The Monastery is only a short distance from Milan, Italy (1.5 hr) and Lugano, Switzerland (1 hr). It is the perfect little place to visit if you are in the area.
During the winter months the Monastery is only open on weekends, but during the peak-season it opens daily.
There are about 300 steps leading down to the church. Be prepared with proper shoes, as the stairway leading down is quite rocky, but easily doable. Although, I would not recommend taking a stroller down the steps.
You can access the Monastery by a public/private boat, which run during the tourist season. (Spring/ Summer/early Fall months). It can also be accessed by car.
Almost directly across from the church is Isola Bella making a visit to this Monastery the perfect side-trip from Stresa. I like to think of Lake Maggiore as a secret gem. Not near as many tourist flock to Lake Maggiore, compared to Lake Como, which makes the area quite desirable. There are plenty of day hikes and gorgeous little villages to visit. During the tourist season there are car and people ferries running on the lake daily.
If you are not up for the hike down from the parking lot to the Monastery, an elevator has been recently installed for easy access. The ride down is very affordable at 1 euro, per person. The visit to the Monastery is free.
The surrounding area has plenty of open space to run around. There are hiking maps posted through-out the park which indicates hiking trails around the mountain. There is also a small cafe and plenty of picnic tables to enjoy an afternoon snack.
The frescos inside the church are well preserved, most do not date back until the 14th century but are still impressive.
A Short history behind the Monastery: A small church was built in the 13th century by a local merchant to give thanks for being saved during a rough storm, where he was clinging to the rocky cliffs. In the 14th century Augustinian monks came to live in the church and built the convent.
I would recommend to add this Monastery to your list of sites to visit around Lake Maggiore, the history and the views are well worth it.