Borromean Islands – Stresa, Lombardy, Italy

A Diminutive Archipelago in a Picture-Perfect Lake

The old-world hotel where Ernest Hemingway’s tragic WW I hero Frederic Henry trysted with his goddess, Catherine Barkley, in A Farewell to Arms still dominates the banks of Lake Maggiore, in a setting that only grows more gorgeous with age.

The enormous 19th-century Grand Hotel et des Iles Borromees is as romantic and princely as in the days of the young American soldier, and the lobby bar still serves a stiff Hemingway martini to help guests slip into that mood of being “faint with love.”

The views alone are enough to warrant a certain lightheadedness: ask for any of the lakeside rooms for a priceless view over the 40-mile sweep of water toward the snow-dusted Swiss Alps and a glimpse of the four Borromean Islands.

The tiny but fabled Borromeans are named after the aristocratic Lombard family that has owned them since the 12th century. They consist of two Baroque palaces, a tiny fishing village, and two lavish gardens, whose springtime display of rhodo­dendrons, camellias, azaleas, resident peacocks, and golden pheasants is world renowned.

“What can one say of Lake Maggiore, and of the Borromean Islands,” wrote Stendhal, “except to pity people who do not go mad over them?”

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