Like some glorious, glittery jewel on the shores of Lake Maggiore, Stresa is a faded Fabergé egg of a town, all white-wedding-cake hotels, big neon-blue swimming pools and gently crumbling palazzos. It’s a wonderful place for a holiday: not edgy, not cool, but beautiful and languid, all set up for lazy days in the blazing Italian sunshine. The Alps rise to the north, jagged and sharp, in direct contrast to the smoothly rippled lake; Milan is only 50km away, but who can be bothered to go when it’s all so lovely where you are?  

Super Sex by Morphine
Pickled lake fish
Osteria al Boeuc, Orta San Giulia

Stresa is a true holiday resort, set up for rich tourists and coach parties; but wander away from the waterfront, and the town’s charming backstreets and little lanes welcome you with open arms. Ice creams and pastries set your teeth tingling with a sweet sugar rush. Restaurants open up their terraces so tourists can sit and be seen, statement bags clutched tight, Gucci sunglasses glittering. Climb up the steep streets behind the town and you’re in a wilder place, a mountain zone overlooking the ‘other’ lake – Lake Orta – smaller and just as lovely, flooded with tourists in the mornings, quiet and sleepy in the evenings.

Swim in the lake, read your book, go and eat a big bowl of pasta; repeat. The perfect recipe for a sleepy, regenerating holiday, Italian style. La dolce vita has never been quite so dolce.


We recommend… 


Skybar, Hotel la Palma, Stresa
This was gorgeous. A stupidly expensive place, but the incredible views over Lake Maggiore and the chilled vibe are worth the price of a mocktail (€10). There’s lakefront seating if you can nab it early enough, and when the sun sets on another perfect lake day, it’s the perfect Instagram shot. The cocktails are bloody good, too.

Gigi , Stresa
Gloriously old-fashioned bar and pasticceria with a lovely neon-lit facade and tables on the street. Delicious cakes and coffee in the morning, lovely Aperol spritzes in the evening. The interior is a wonderful symphony of marble and wood.

LOV, Stresa
Our favourite chillout spot – mini golf, a tiny beach, retro sun loungers, a decent bar, simple food… all set under shady trees and with amazing views over the lake. The mini golf is in bad nick but we didn’t mind too much – the Aperol spritzes and paninis were just fine.

If dinner is out of your budget, sneak into the bar and have an Ernest Hemingway cocktail
just for the hell of it.

The breathtaking views back across the Simplon Pass; just one of the routes to get to Italy from Switzerland 

The breathtaking views back across the Simplon Pass; just one of the routes to get to Italy from Switzerland 



Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, Stresa
This is one for that very special occasion. I mean, really special. Like, eye-wateringly special. The food is incredible, as you’d expect from a 5-star hotel, the service is perfect, the place is spectacular. Dress up and just… revel in it. If dinner is out of your budget, sneak into the bar and have an Ernest Hemingway cocktail just for the hell of it. (Hemingway stayed in the hotel and set part of A Farewell To Arms there).

Osteria degli Amici, Stresa
Head away from the lakefront and you’ll end up in this rather lovely osteria. It’s a firm tourist favourite but the food is great – with much of it centred around fish from the lake – as well as a smashing pizza menu. It’s nice to eat out on the terrace under the grapevines if you can.

Osteria al Boeuc, Orta San Giulia
Lots of wines to try here, and then some delicious platters of cheese and meat to soak up some of the alcohol. Really lovely little spot in a side street heading up the hill from Orta’s lakefront.

Anelli coffee wine + food, Belgirate
Cute little deli also serving BIG Aperol spritzes and great paninis and salads. Warm welcome from the staff too, and don’t forget to write your name and hometown on the chalkboard at the back!


Moon Vintage, Stresa
A treasure house of Italian vintage fashion – everything from second-hand Gucci bags at €1000 to designer sunglasses and pre-loved shoes for around €40-€60. Beautiful pieces and well worth a look around if you’re on the hunt for something special.

Orta San Giulia

Orta San Giulia


What we did:

Took a boat to the charming and wonderful Iles de Borromee in the centre of the lake; palazzos fade into the garden scenery with breathtaking views back across to Stresa. Headed over the mountain to Orta San Giulia with its monastery in the middle of the ‘other’ lake and its hillside shrines to St Francis. Beware the mosquitos! Hitched a ride with the cable car and chair lift up to the top of Mount Mottarone to admire the views to the Alps and beyond. 


Super Sex by Morphine
Low-down dirty funk, which we heard loads of times at LOV.

What we bought:

Ice creams, so many ice creams. Stresa is a hotbed of wonderful ice cream shops, each one with a bigger selection of flavours than the last. Even nicer pastries with chocolate and cream fillings. We ate a lot while we were there. A lovely handbag for only €30. I didn’t buy the €1000 vintage bag from Moon. Sad face!

Where we stayed:

Hotel Residence La Luna Nel Porto

House Of The Dead / Crazy golf?:

Yes! We didn’t expect it but there it was – a really rundown mini golf course at LOV. We didn’t mind the fact it was gently crumbling into nothing when there were drinks at the end of it.