Wednesday, October 19, 2011
11:05 PM | Dana Kaplan, Stresa Sights | Edit Post
Have you seen the above poster on display or for sale in Stresa? It's everywhere, and it's beautiful, isn't it? One of those classic posters from the early part of the 20th century... artistic font, simple design, striking colors. But... what is it? Where is this 'ferrovia elettrica'? Why is Stresa celebrating its 100th anniversary this year? Wonder no more... Today I'll tell you the story of the old Stresa-Mottarone Tram.
For starters, the tram does not exist anymore. It was opened in 1911 and dismantled in 1963. But Stresa remembers it lovingly, and hence the marking of its century birthday. Secondly, there are still traces of this tram; small reminders of its having been here, if you know where to look. So let's go back in time to Stresa in the 1880s, when the city was experiencing a tourism boom, and the Guglielmina family, with a bold leap of faith, decided to build a luxury resort hotel at the summit of Mt. Mottarone. Alpine climbing and mountaineering were becoming popular; more and more people wanted to experience the views from the top of the mountain; and the Guglielmina family believed that a luxury resort would open this up to the wealthy tourists who were frequenting Stresa in those years.
They were right. The Grand Hotel Mottarone was inaugurated in 1884, and immediately became popular with royalty, celebrities and other wealthy travelers. Located at 1491 meters altitude, the hotel had three floors of rooms, a panoramic dining room, a parlour, a reading room, and, telephone connection with Stresa and Baveno. In the first two years the guest list included the princes of the House of Savoy -- Emanuele Filiberto, Duke of Puglia; Vittorio Emanuele, Count of Turin; Luigi Amadeo, infante of Spain; the Duke of Genoa, Tommaso Alberto Vittorio with his wife Isabella; Margherita of Savoy, Queen of Italy, with Prince Vittorio Emanuele; and Maria Elisabetta, Duchess of Genoa. Below is the hotel, photographed in the early 1900s.
The Grand Hotel Mottarone, as a tram approaches.
Impressive, especially considering that there was no paved road to reach the hotel at that time. The tram in the photograph was only a dream at that time. Guests were brought back and forth in carriages; the uphill journey by carriage took 4 1/2 hours and the downhill an hour less. An early reporter wrote in the Italian Alpine Magazine, No. 9, dated 1884, that, "... Foreigners arrived by day and by night: like a seaport ... in the mountains! ..." .....
North of Alpino the tram climbs Mt. Mottarone.
This was the station at Gignese.
The popularity of the mountain grew. And when the Grand Hotel made the decision to remain open during the winters, in 1908, skiing became another attraction drawing people to the mountaintop. After lengthy negotiations construction of the tram finally began in 1910. The small River Cree was covered and became what is now Via Roma. A Liberty-style roof was built in front of the Stresa boat imbarcadero; this became the Stresa end station of the tram. Work progressed quickly, and in August of 1910 the magazine Verbania reported, " ... The laying of the superstructure of the triple-track line is already beyond the Panorama: by the end of August it will reach Alpino, at the beginning of November it should reach the Mottarone ... The rack-and-pinion locomotive departs, turns, stops, whistling: puffing and blowing it climbs up, pushing forward the carriages laden with meterial. It crosses trenches, appears on the flanks of the mountain, crosses bridges, skims the Stresa-Gignese road, disappears into the woods, launching out steamy columns of smoke." Alpino, for modern reference, is the location of the Alpinia Giardino Botanico. And the tram opened for business in 1911. It was a rack-and-pinion railway, also called a cog railway. The trains were fitted with cog wheels or pinions that meshed with the rack, allowing the train to operate on the steep hills. The 10 kilometer trip from Stresa took 1 hour 15 minutes, making six stops, at Vedasco-Binda, Vezzo, Gignese-Levo, Alpino, Borromeo, and finally Mottarone.
A rack-and-pinion railway track.
Even before the tram opened Mottarone was becoming very popular as a ski resort. In 1909 the Mottarone Ski Club was founded, one of the first in Italy. The mountain gained the nickname "The Ski Slopes of the Milanese." There was a special early train that left Milan for Stresa, transporting as many as 1000 skiers at a time. Then the tram brought them up the mountain. The Milan Ski Club began offering lessons on the fields below the summit. Refreshment stands and more restaurants and hotels were opened. And life went on in this way for much of the first half of the twentieth century for the Stresa-Mottarone tram.
But it wasn't without troubles or interruptions. Several factors greatly affected the tram in those years. There were wars. And there was progress. The first World War deprived the area of both tourists and staff, most of whom had been called up for war service. The Borromeo family fought to keep the tram going by using it for the transport of goods. The 1930s saw another decline, after some years of prosperity, and by 1941 the tram was operating in the red. Competition arrived in the form of paved roads to the summit. And then, in 1943, the Grand Hotel Mottarone burnt to the ground after an electrical short circuit. In 1946 the Stresa terminal was moved inland, near to Piazza Cadorna, and away from the lake and the Liberty-style station. It left the area at the lake to now be used for car and bus parking, which was becoming increasingly more important. By 1959 the Borromeo family finished the clearing and paving of a direct road from Stresa to the summit. In 1963 the last tram trip was made. It took only a few months to demolish all of the tracks, starting in the town centre and then up the mountain. Some of the carriages were sold for exhibition purposes. And the Stresa-Mottarone cableway opened in 1970; the journey to the summit now takes only 18 minutes.
The old Stresa tram station, gone now...
...And the Mottarone station, now just a ruin, fenced in near the new chairlift.
And where can we find traces of the old tram today? What is its legacy? First of all, the development that took place around Alpino and other stops along the mountain. From farmland at the turn of the twentieth century these have become thriving towns with many villas, hotels, restaurants, the golf course, and of course, the Alpinia Giardino. Think of the tram when you walk on Via Roma. The track had been right there, and the River Cree still flows underground on its way to the lake. Several of the carriages have been brought "home." There are three at the 7 Camini campsite in Alpino, and another at the Tranquillo campsite in Baveno. And there is the L1 trail from the summit of Mottarone down to Alpino and then Stresa. It is the path of the tram, and remember how we can see the posts still in the ground in certain places.
This old tram carriage is on display at the Transport Museum in Ranco.
Here's a yellow tram carriage in its new life at the Tranquilla campsite in Baveno.
Old posts from the rack-and-pinion railway along the L1 trail from Mottarone to Stresa.
Older Stresiani can tell you about riding the tram when they were children. And all Stresiani can tell you that it is a part of their history, per sempre, for always, and so they mark and celebrate its 100th birthday, even if it is no longer here.
You may also be interested in reading:
Much of the historical information here is from the book Stresa, published by Scenari and available in bookshops around Stresa in several languages. Photographs mainly from museodeltram.org. or locations mentioned.
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IMPORTANT POSTS AND LINKS
- Important Train Information
- Alibus Shuttle From Malpensa to Stresa
- Driving Directions From Malpensa - With Photos
- If You Have Only One Day in Stresa
- Top Ten Things to See in Stresa
- Parking a Car in Stresa
- Train Service from Malpensa to Stresa and Milano
- Linate Airport to Stresa Directions
- Milan Tram System Map and Transport
- Bus Schedule
- Stresa Boat Imbarcadero
- Stresa to Mottarone Cableway
- Boat Schedule - English
- PosteItaliane - Postal service
- Trenitalia Site and Schedule -- English
- Winter Trip to Stresa? Start Planning Here
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