April 24, 2015

"U" is for Unicorn

The Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees in Stresa is a hotel built for 19th century travellers on their Grand Tours of Europe. This is where Ernest Hemingway recovered from his war injuries and Winston Churchill honeymooned. So why does this luxury hotel on northern Italy's Lake Maggiore display the symbol of two unicorns?

Grand Hotel des Iles Borromees, Stresa

Two Unicorns Guard the Hotel Entrance

The unicorn, a mythical creature with a long pointed horn on its forehead, represents humility and it’s the symbol of the aristocratic Borromeo family that owns much of the property around Lake Maggiore.

Humilitas, Humility, on the Palace Lawn

In the 16th century the Borromeo family built a lavish palazzo on an island called Isola Bella. Terraced gardens surround the palazzo and at the top of the elaborate Teatro Massimo is the family symbol, a large stone unicorn ridden by Cupid.

Teatro Massimo, Isola Bella

Unicorn Sculpture, Isola Bella

Cupid Riding the Unicorn

The family has another emblem, three interlocking rings, which represents the union of three families through marriage (the Borromeo, Visconti and Sforza families).

The Borromean Rings

Over the centuries times may have changed but the Borromeo family branding has not. A unicorn now appears on the palazzo's cafeteria menu and the interlocking rings are on the bottled water, reminding visitors of the family's long and distinguished history.

Have you come across any unicorns in your travels?

Next:  "V" is for Vivaldi


  1. Never came across any unicorns. Drove around part of Lake Maggiore two years ago getting from point A to point B and definitely want to go back and actually spend some time there.

    Life After Retirement - My Russian Adventure

    1. It's definitely a place I'd like to spend more time. We barely scratched the surface.

  2. Interesting. The rings seem such a contrast to Cupid on the unicorn.

    1. One so simple, the other so romantic.


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