May 25 – June 2, 2019
I had planned a full day of relaxation and exploration of Stresa and the nearby sights. I had done some research about the “two islands” just off the shore: one was known for its castle and formal gardens, and the other for a plethora of restaurants. The previous evening, we went down to the water’s edge and bought a ticket that gave us access not only to these two islands, but a third on as well. Now anticipating our 10:15 departure, we returned to the waterside and were set to explore!
Views from a short walk before our boat tour
No sunshine this morning
The boats go out….
The boats come back…
We were not the only ones heading out this morning
I found it surprising – and a little disconcerting – that the boats did not so much as “dock”, as they “ran aground”. This wouldn’t be so shocking, if the shore wasn’t lined with stone. The boats had thick metal prows, which seemed to protect the boats well enough, and left their mark on the stones.
We climbed into our boat and watched the shore fall away. Our first port of call would be Isola Madre. I knew nothing about this particular island. Everything I had read about regarding the islands near Stresa concerned only Isola Pescatori and Isola Bella. What lay in wait for us on Isola Madre?
A white pea hen
Looking across to Pallanza
Isola Madre was packed full of formal gardens, lushly tended plants, exotic birds and a large building called Palazzo Borromeo. It made for a delightful setting to explore on this cool morning.
In 2006, a tornado roared through the island, wrecking havoc on the vast collection of trees and shrubs. One in particular, a cypress that was planted in 1862 and the largest one in all of Europe, was toppled. Through some amazing engineering and care, the tree is once again upright and thriving.
From the sign (also showing what the tree used to look like)
The Palazzo was started in the 15th century and opened to the public in 1978. Full of beautiful murals, family furniture and – much to my surprise – marionettes!
The Marionette collection was amazing, as well as surprising to see. Sure, people collect “things”, but those collections are usually not housed in historic buildings. And this was an extensive collection of not just the marionettes themselves, but the massive stages and scenes that were created to display them on.
After exploring the rest of building, we returned the gardens, and eventually back to the dock to wait for a ride to the next island. They actually had a pretty nice system: our boat had a set schedule to come to each island at a certain time. You could catch whichever one you wanted, meaning that you could spend as much (or as little) time on each island as you needed.
These islands took a lot of photos, so I’m going to split it into two entries…off we go to Island Number Two!