Our Discovery Tours small group spends two nights on the bucolic shores of Lake Maggiore, using the lakeside belle époque town of Stresa as our base. This magnificent setting is more than just a pretty face: Maggiore is a geological wonder, and Stresa hides a rich and surprising history. Here’s what makes them so distinctive:
- Italy’s second largest lake, Maggiore is long and thin as lakes go, yet winds its way through hills and mountains for some 40 miles. It straddles Italy’s Piedmont and Lombardy regions and reaches north into Switzerland.
- Though the lake’s surface shimmers at 633 feet above sea level, most of its bed lies below sea level – up to 587 feet below, making its deepest point more than 1,200 feet.
- Eleven islands dot Maggiore’s splendid landscape, seeming to float like jewels on azure waters.
- The fabled lake played a crucial role in Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. Part of the novel was set in the Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees in Stresa. Later, the hero and his lover crossed the Swiss border by rowboat to escape the Italian military.
- Other celebrity visitors to Stresa over the years include George Bernard Shaw, Nelson Rockefeller, Clark Gable, Charlie Chaplin, Princess Margaret, and Gina Lollobrigida.
- Palazzo Borromeo on Isola Bella boasts ten tiers of terraced gardens, home to resident peacocks. The baroque palace is the lake’s finest structure, a critique shared by Emperor Napoleon, who stayed here with his wife in 1797.
- Celebrated conductor Arturo Toscanini—musical director of La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and other famed venues—was well known in Stresa; the tiny Isola San Giovanni was once his residence.
- Methane gas was first identified and isolated in Lake Maggiore’s marshes by Italian physicist Alessandro Volta. The year was 1776 and Volta was presumably inspired by a paper about “flammable air” written by Benjamin Franklin. Volta went on to show that his gas could be ignited with a spark.
- In 1936, a Swiss architect intentionally sunk his 1925 Bugatti Roadster in an attempt to hide proof of the vehicle from tax collectors. The tax evader attached the car to a chain, planning to retrieve it after authorities ended their investigation. But the chain corroded and the car was lost, only to be retrieved by divers in 2009. It fetched 260,500 euros at a classic car exhibition in Paris.
- Stresa was long a retreat for European aristocracy, as its many villas prove. The opening of Switzerland’s Simplon Pass to trains in 1906 greatly increased the city’s popularity.
- The pink granite in the surrounding hills has been quarried for use in buildings around the world, from Paris to Bangkok.
Witness Lake Maggiore and Stresa firsthand with with Gate 1 Travel today!