We're just back from our latest discovery along Italy's Lake Maggiore, STRESA. Sure, the name to Americans may make you smile a bit quizzically at first, and absolutely, the nail-biting super-winding one-car-at-a-time road leading down to this town may be a bit on the stress-ful side, make you question why you actually chose this place out of everywhere else in the region to stay...and then you arrive. And then you instantly know. Places like this with such stunning natural beauty and elegance are few and far between, and its privileged location set along the crystalline lake framed by picture-perfect mountains and lush green hills make this possibly one of the world's most beautiful locations. The Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees is exactly where you want to stay when visiting Stresa, and going off-season still provides you with the region's signature luxury feel, naturally beautiful crisp scenery (snowcapped mountains included!) without breaking the bank. Starting rates are just under US$200 per night including a sumptuous breakfast at the moment for this 5-star luxe property. The original building dates back to 1800's but careful renovations, keeping with its Belle Epoque theme have transformed it into an exquisite gem. Although it's served as a holiday retreat of choice for royalty around the world, it is so surprisingly down to earth and comfortable, and the ubiquitous staffmembers take time to get to know you, your preferences, and make you feel as if you're the only ones in house. Although the decor is regal and grand, t's the little touches that are so memorable here, like the concerned concierge making sure he personally handed us a comprehensive printout of directions for wherever we were planning to venture that day either by car or on foot.

Stresa has a beautiful old-world charm, like most towns around the Italian lakes it is quite seasonal so it can be challenging at times to find most shops and restaurants open on a consistent basis, so just make note. However, we made some great discoveries such as La Cascinetta, a rustic farmhouse in the hills serving dinner by the fireplace in a quaint dining-room-style space along with some of the villages just over the Swiss border such as Locarno, that are brimming with restaurants, sailboats along the lake, families taking their daily stroll, and just an overall atmosphere that is as far away from the word stress as you can get.
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