After three beautiful days in Milan, not enough of course, we moved northwest from Milan for my job photographing the annual CEO Summit for the Consumer Electronics Association at Lago Maggiore, Italy. I’ve photographed many CEA conferences over the years but this was by far the most special. The hotels where the conference was held were in Stresa, a lovely town on the western shore of Lake Maggiore in extreme northwestern Italy. The magnificent, mountain scenery was marred by smog from who knows where. A few days earlier, from the air, I saw it clouding the mountain valleys of the French Alps as we approached Milan by plane from the west. This was unfortunate as the mountains rising from the lake provide a spectacular backdrop.
Lago Maggiore straddles the border of Italy and Switzerland. The towns surrounding the lake date back centuries with the majority of buildings seemingly from the 19th century. The lovely, alpine setting and its mild climate have made Lake Maggiore a tourism mecca for a very long time, influencing the towns and architecture. A visit to Lago Maggiore and an audience with the then current head of the ancient Borromeo family was a de rigeur stop on the Grand Tour undertaken by 19th century aristocracy.
Large, elegant villas line the shore, reflecting the lake’s aristocratic heritage. The Borromeo family, one of Europe’s oldest families, has maintained residences in the area for centuries. The family’s influence is seen everywhere in the surroundings of Stresa including one of the hotels where the conference was held, the Grand Hotel Des Ille Borromees. Built around 1850, it is an elegant expression of La Belle Epoch, some would say an over the top expression.
The Borromeo family owns four small islands in the lake. The Borromeo palace is located on Isola Bella which also contains a small community and the palace’s impressive gardens. One of our activities was a tour of this 17th century palace and gardens. Members of the family were in residence, but in a private part of the palace inaccessible to the public.
The Roman roots of the Borromeo family can be traced all the way back to 66 CE. It came into prominence in 1367 during the Ghibelline Revolt against the Florentine Guelphs. A father and son in succession became Cardinal and Archbishop of Milan, the son later canonized in 1610. One off-shoot married into the Medici family. During the 16th century, most of North Central Italy was known as the Borromeo State with the family holding full political and military power.
Our visit, though short, allowed a taste of the elegance from a former time.
Grand Hotel Et Des Ille Borromees
The Regina Palace Hotel
Approaching Isola Bella
The Borromeo Palace and the village on Isola Bella
Restaurants and souvenir shops are set among the houses and church of Isola Bella.
The lower level of the palace are a series of grottos, now galleries, with the walls and ceilings decorated in this strange, shell-like texture and motifs. In pre-air conditioner days, they provided a relatively cool place for the family while away the hot, summer days.
Part of the family’s private gardens.
The majority of the once private gardens are open to the public. The stairs lead to a broad terrace
with panoramic views of the lake and mountains.
Isola dei Pescatori, Fisherman’s Island. With part of Stresa along the shore in the background.
Lago Maggiore is also a place for destination weddings. Here, a bride from somewhere in Asia,
is photographed along the lake shore as the groom looks on.
One of the conference dinners was held at the Ristorante Piccolo Lago, a Michelin two star restaurant.