Wednesday 27 September 2023

Stresa on the banks of Lake Maggiore. Home to Colmar

WARNING  This blog contains lots and lots of photos, if you would like to look at them more closely please just click them and they will open full screen.

As usual we used National Express coaches to get us from Norwich to London, in this case traveling on Sunday 3 September 2023. The coach made excellent time as far as Stratford before getting bogged down in traffic, the driver even had to ring the depot and ask them to delay some departures for travellers catching connecting buses. Once at Victoria we made our way to the underground and invested £2-70 each on a journey to St Pancras station then a short walk to The Premier Hub.
Checking in we were surprised that we had been allocated a large room with a large double bed unlike in the past.

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The Hubs don’t have a restaurant so it was out to eat. A place we had looked at in the past but not used was The Gas Station and with the nice weather we were able to sit outside to eat. (photo from their web site)image

Monday 4 September 2023
Up early and no breakfast to check out and then meet out Great Rail Journeys tour manager at St Pancras Station, before heading to the departure lounge and awaiting our train to Paris, thankfully breakfast was served onboard for Standard Premier travellers .
We were in coach one, so when we arrived at Gare du Nord we had the full length of Euro Star train to walk before even reaching the station exit, from there a short walk to Paris L’Est for the train to Colmar. In Colmar our hotel was literally straight across the road from the station and even that was semi pedestrianised.

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The station from our Hotel


Our Hotel from the station

Once checked in it was off for a look round this charming little town, it has its own waterway running through the centre of town with punted trip boats.

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As expected with all the restaurants lining the canal/river there are some fair sized fish in there
   The buildings in this part of town are very old and quite attractive, but you need to keep an eye on the traffic.
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Walking back to The Hotel Bristol where we were spending just the one night we passed this rather splendid water tower in the park. We only had a few hours to spare to look round Colmar as diner was pre ordered and we would all be eating in the hotel.

Stresa on the banks of Lake Maggiore, Comar to our Stresa Hotel

After a leisurely breakfast we wandered across to catch the train for our onward journey to Stresa. The railway station at Colmar has a large stained glass window in each gable end. These date back to 1991 as the originals were destroyed in an explosion in 1944

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IMG_20230905_111538Unfortunately we couldn’t travel all the way to Stresa by train due to engineering work on the line so we had to take a coach from Domodossola for the remaining part IMG_20230905_151302of the journey. Like in the UK there was a replacement bus service laid on, but GRJ chartered a private coach to take us directly to our hotel. We managed a few photos from the train as we sped along.

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Our hotel for the week was the Grand Hotel Bristol which we found very comfortableIMG_2194Its quite a rambling old building but still quite plush with 5 floors. Their main trade seems to be coach holidays although there were a couple of corporate events going on while we were there. It is situated right on the lake front but you have to cross quite a busy road to get there.The hotel even looked nice at night when lit up.IMG_20230905_214717

Like most of the hotels along the sea front it  has a fountain out front, but not as smart as the one at The Grand Hotel Des Les Borromees  next door


Our hotel’s fountain


Next door’s fountain

We also had an indoor swimming pool, This was at the end of a very long sloping corridor, but to save walking they had a Horizontal “lift” a real weird sensation going from the foyer  to a large vestibule with the pool and more rooms running off it. Above the vestibule was a large stained glass ceiling dome to let light in and a similar but slightly smaller one in the foyer.

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      The hotel also had a large outside swimming pool with solar heating, Diana enjoyed it but I gave it a miss.
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Our bedroom was on the third floor and was served by two lifts which was handy, we were at the side so not overlooking the lake, not important as we wouldn’t be spending all day in our room looking out of the window, but we did have a view of the end of the swimming pool. The room was quite roomy and very quiet with a balcony and an ensuite bathroom toilet. Needless to say I was in trouble for taking the photo when the bed was a mess.

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Other than Breakfast and a couple of included evening dinners we didn’t use the hotel much but we did have coffee in the terrace.IMG_2420


The hotel next door, The Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees I think was a 5 star establishment and was a bit grander, Behind the fountain  was a kind of grotto which was illuminated at night, not only that, it had a set of clarions that played on the hour. The windows all had flowering window boxes and it all looked a bit grander, however the main entrance seemed to be tucked round the back.

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Stresa on the banks of Lake Maggiore The Islands

Our real first day of the holiday and we had a free morning so we wandered along the lake side through the gardens to catch the road train for a ride round the townIMG_2206 and to give us an idea of what’s on offer. well worth the 5 euros as it goes round all the little streets and probably to a few places we wouldn’t have found ourselves.IMG_2202

One of these places was at the very far north end of the town where at one time the Stresa-Alpino-Mottarone cable car took people up the mountain, but following a serious accident in 2021 killing several people it has never been recommissioned.IMG_20230910_101618

It also gave a good view of some of the islands we would be visiting this afternoon.IMG_20230906_105102 (2)

Stresa is a lovely little town and ideal for exploring the lake and islands, it was about a ten to fifteen minute walk from our hotel to the centre. Not only does in have a ferry terminal giving cheap transport to the islands as well as visiting lots of lakeside towns, it has loads of places to eat or just to get a drink during the day as well as a small harbour and lots of smaller excursion launches .  We used the ferries several times as you will see later. 

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In the afternoon we had an excursion on one of the launches to two of the islands but we didn’t have to walk into town as the boat picked us up opposite our hotel.First we visited Isol dei Pescatori the island of the fishermen where we had our first Galetos. As you can imagine the streets are nothing more than alleyways between the houses as there are no cars and all travel is on foot with goods being transported on hand carts.

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One end of the island is quite open with a small enclosed harbour for the small boats, other than a few tiny tourist shops and cafes there is very little on the island and you can easily see it all in an hour.

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When our boat returned we did a short crossing to Isola Bella for a private guided tour of Borromeo palace after it had closed to the public. This is quite a magnificent palace as you will see from the pictures with lots of paintings, wall hung tapestries, high ceilings and fancy floors, that is before you go out into the gardens.
The entrance doors take you straight to a rather impressive hall way and stair case.

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The room full of pictures is very impressive, they are hung from ceiling to floor with the opposite walls hung symmetrically in size and layout, at the end of the room is a bed chamber behind a low wall. As you can see even the floor is decorated.

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Then into the rooms with high ceilings, one of the rooms contained a lovely model of the palace and island.  

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Like lots of Italian Villas and Palaces they have there own collection of puppets, these were not for children's entertainment as they would be today but for adults and some are quite grewsome.  

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     All the rooms we saw were quite outstanding, one of them contained a display case with the children’s armour in it. In another room was a splendid table.
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One thing definitely worthy of note is the harpsichord in the music room, a thing of beauty without doubt. It seams that the family own many important instruments.IMG_20230906_182320

Next it was down stairs into the cool of the grotto and I have never seen such a large one taking in several rooms. One of the rooms contained the harnessing from the horses, another the statue of the sleeping Venus by Giovan Battista Monti. There is much more information on this web siteIMG_2251 

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Running up from this lower level is a spiral staircase going to the very top of the building, the steps are stone slabs just cantilevered out of the wall with no support on the other end  

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Our final room to visit, one wall was hung with tapestries all hanging from ceiling to floor, showing a river scene with wild animals. It is said that the flow of the river changes as you walk by, but I couldn’t see it.

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After this it was out into the garden, directly ahead of you is the pyramid with a stair case going up each side and home to some snow white Peacocks and hens who soon tell you they are there.

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Not all our party took the opportunity to climb to the top, But from up there the views of the garden give a different perspective looking down from above, also looking out across the lake.

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Probably not the best time of year to see the gardens but they still looked much better than mine at home.

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The Palace is still lived in and as in the UK when the owner is in residence their personal flag is flown from the flag pole, at other times its the Country’s flag that is flown,