Caffé Bolongaro, Pallanza, Italia

Stresa, majestically overlooking Lago Maggiore, in the foothills of the Italian Alps, should be a gourmand’s dream.  But sadly it caters to every tourist-trapping, pension-grabbing, fruit-juice-slurping, pie-eating, over-eating, day-trip-loving, coach-travelling, lip-smacking, tongue-slavering, downbeat, yester-year tourists from all of England and sometimes Italy.  The Germans are too sensible, or too time constrained to visit, and the Americans are all credit-crunched.

Although a beautiful town, unfortunately one of the best things to come out of Stresa is the regular boat to the islands and in less than an hour, Pallanza, where there is a single restaurant with something worth eating.

Caffé Bolongaro was the first place visible from the ferry port, and suspiciously conspicuous in a “come hither Tommy the tourist” sort of way.  But a walk around the town revealed nothing better.  For once the place nearest the dock was the best option available.  On reflection it’s obvious why ladies of the night patrol the docks.  As I sat down I remembered the cosy, idyllic lakeside views from the eateries on Isola Bella where we could so easily have stopped.  The fish from the lake is allegedly so good that they send out video crews early morning to videographically verify the provenance.

Pallanza is not as attractive as Stresa (and well short of Isola Bella) and also a bit disconnected.  The view of Pallanza from Isola Madre is nice enough but landing at the dock gives you the impression that you are yet another tourist sheep being brought to the Thomas Cook tannery to be fleeced yet again.

Actually, the cheesiest place in town was full of good food (not just cheese), well served, by nice waiting staff, only one of whom had the Italian affliction of smoking outside the door, blowing tobacco smoke hula hoops out of crisp packet shaped cheeks.

The wine I ordered to accompany my cheesy, but tasty, Italian clichés of Pizza Capricciosa and Spaghetti Carbonara was a local wine, Grignolino d’Asti 2007 Tanuta Garetto.  The colour of strawberry jam, it tasted of rhubarb and red fruits with a bit of sharpness on the nose and a slight taste of salt.  For a young Italian stallion of a wine, I expected more tannins.

If you had served me this wine cold and shut my eyes, I would have said it was a medium quality Kiwi Sauvignon Blanc.  So the wine was OK, once chilled, and it didn’t take as much persuasion as an English resto to get an ice bucket to achieve the Grignolino to SB transgenderisation.

The food, though, was another story.  The number of different conflicting translations precludes me naming all the ingredients of the Capricciosa Pizza, but removing the 100% of the capers and 20% of the Oregano would have been the only possible improvement on this top drawer oven produce.

The Spaghetti Carbonara was a master-class in how to cook pasta with plenty of crispy bacon but not too cheesy or heavy in the way the rest of the world likes to cook this rich dish.

On the way home, passing the islands of Isola Madre and Isola Superiore, I wondered why Isola Bella was named so.  A quick picture from the ferry gave a clue.

Find yourself in Stresa and want a good lunch?  Head for Pallanza on a full day “hop-on, hop-off” ferry trip (for a handful of Euros) to Pallanza via the islands.  If you miss Superiore, then eat in Pallanza and don’t stray far from the ferry port – you will not improve on Bolongaro.

Ristorante Pizzeria Bolongaro, Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, 9 28922 – Verbania (VB) Italia.
T. +39 (0)323 503254

3 Responses to “Caffé Bolongaro, Pallanza, Italia”

  1. Peter May Says:

    Gosh — what a untypically snobby post from you.

    The other Brits in Stresa were all ‘down-beat tourists’ and worst than that they were elderly ‘pension-grabbing coach travellers’, while of course you were a … well, what — what were you? Just another Brit in Stresa. Do you think the locals could spot that you were somehow special and different from all the other Brit tourists??

    When you reach pensionable age do you intend never travelling abroad again in case your age upsets people like you are now?

  2. Alastair Bathgate Says:


    Didn’t mean to sound ageist. I met a few very decent pension grabbers in Stresa and exchanged amusing tales. If I have a pension left when I retire (not looking likely right now) I will be off to Stresa again forthwith.
    Since you ask, I was a train traveller and therefore in a different class (second) to the guys I met staying in some of the posh hotels.
    The point I was trying to make is that many of the restos were catering for what they thought the coach travelling tourists wanted and this is generally not good enough these days.

  3. Peter Kirchem Says:

    I had lunch at the Bolongaro yesterday sitting in the November sunshine and had the best Spaghetti alla Vongole I have ever had, and that is truly saying something. They had, as expected, finished it off ‘in Padella’ and so it had just ‘caught’ adding the most subtle of flavours! Writing this I am so enthused, I think I will go back tonight!!
    I also so agree with you about Stresa. Pretty dreadful place full of pretty average tourists. Pallanza is wonderful and Verbania (where I live) is a ‘real’ Italian town where the tourists come second! Leave Stresa to the tourists and maybe we meet one day at the Bolongaro … I’m the one with the sunbather and black Labrador! Lol

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