Sunshine in Stresa

Have come to the fantastically Belle Epoque Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees in the tourist resort of Stresa on Lago Maggiore. Arrived Thursday morning in a taxi from Malpensa Airport. Was a bit worried that the taxi driver might baulk at taking me such a long way, but by contrast his eyes lit up at the prospect of such a juicy fare. He was very friendly, but clearly had no idea really where he was going beyond the vaguest of directions – still between his sat nav and a friend on the phone we got there in the end.

The hotel is one of the more spectactular I’ve had the fortune to stay in. Old world opulence with heavy drapes, window-boxes laden with geraniums, and stained glass in the unlikeliest of places. Not that I was here to enjoy myself of course – at least not yet.

The event went well by and large. I got to taste a ’89 Barolo – one of the great vintages of one of Italy’s greatest wines (“you can smell the truffles if you really concentrate”, said our sommelier for the evening, and he was right). Technically it was a headache, with a very basic audio-visual setup that was far inferior to what we are used to, and a team of very willing but not “solution-oriented” techies. It took me some time to convince them that we couldn’t run DVDs mid-presentation by simply putting them in the podium laptop and hadn’t they noticed that a) there was a DVD player at the back of the room, and b) there were 3 inputs to the projector and the one we weren’t using was a video input… Oh dear oh dear oh dear… How many Italians does it take to play a DVD? The answer dear reader(s) is 4. I shouldn’t really complain as everything sort of worked in the end but it added unnecessarily to the stress of the occasion.

I stayed on at the hotel for the weekend. Hard to actively recommend the place just because the food and service were so disappointing for a very expensive 5* hotel. After our event I declined to eat in the hotel again other than for breakfast, and even that wasn’t great.

Stresa itself is touristy but pleasant. It’s very hard to find a restaurant that doesn’t have a menu in unmpteen languages, and when I finally did (the appropriately named Il Clandestino), it was of course fully booked for dinner. Nevertheless I still ate well – the first night in a popular cheap and cheerful taverne and the second night in a wine bar. Both were far better than the hotel had dished up, and far far cheaper!

As I’m writing this the sunshine has disappeared. I made the most of it yesterday with a trip to one of the islands in the lake – Isola Bella in this case, although I think Isola Madre may be the better option – but i thought I’d save that for next time I’m here. Checkout time is fast approaching, so arrivederci from Piemonte.

PS – a quick “buongiorno” to Kiki, whose shop on via Roma provided an excellent gift opportunity and whose friendliness went beyond clinching the sale. If the Germans laugh at your name again (which she said they did regularly), then laugh back at their fashion sense.

PPS – talking of fashion. I have it on good authority (ahem!) that neon is back in this year (at least from Lanvin and Balenciaga).

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