If you love a geranium in a windowbox, Stresa is your kind of town. The hotels on the waterfront feature balustraded terraces, curved balconies, ornate facades – and brilliant blowsy trims of red and pink geraniums.
The town is perched between mountainside and water, on the edge of Lake Maggiore in northern Italy. It became a glamourous resort when the railway opened and started delivering wealthy tourists to its picturesque shores. The hotels built to cater to the visitors were the byword in elegance. Our pick of the wonderful Belle Epoque fancies that face the lake is the Regina Palace.
The hotel was built in the early years of the 20th century, and by 1946 it had quite a reputation as a glamorous resort. So it was a shoo-in to host the first Miss Italia pageant, in 1946. The hotel was home to the pageant in its second year too, an event that goes down in history for having voted Gina Lollobrigida the runner-up!
The hotel’s good looks are matched by the view. Here’s what goes on across the road – a lakeside promenade with the enticing Borromean islands through the trees. That wedding cake of a garden is Isola Bella, a madly romantic place that is still the summer getaway for the Borromee family.Travellers joining Sandra Ross on the Ross Gardens Tour of Italy in September will stay at the Regina for four nights, using it as a base to explore the lovely gardens of Lake Maggiore and Lake Como.
But back to those geraniums: if you love the look of the Regina’s chic windowboxes, search out the geranium cultivars ‘Big Red’ and its recently arrived sister, ‘Big Pink’. Both are new hybrids bred for increased flower size. While we love those big flowers, the real appeal of the two ‘Bigs’ is their resistance to disease, and the way they keep on blooming, even through a Sydney winter.
Their cheery good looks mean that even if you can’t make it to the Italian lakes this spring, you can at least look out the window over a blaze of colour. Of course, if the Italian lakes take your fancy and you’d like to join Sandra and her group, check out our itinerary here.
Photos: Robin Powell