Italy’s north is a gemstone necklace of azure lakes, a string of incredible beauty that attracts romance amid silhouette mountains. Lake Iseo and its island mountain – Monte Isola – may not be as famous as its neighbours, but its beauty is undeniable.
I’m sure there’s an Italian word for ‘sleepy elegance’. I’m also sure it doesn’t sound like a dusty dowager with a crystal stem of sherry at her elbow. But in lieu of such a word, sleepy elegance will have to do.
For the little villages around Lake Iseo, and the boat makers, net menders and fishermen on the lake’s looming island mountain, this disobedient collocation seems fitting.
Secreted amongst the peaks of Italy’s mountainous north, and squeezed in between Lake Como and Lake Garda, Iseo looks like a comma separating two famous stanzas.
And this is very much the attraction of Lake Iseo: it’s overlooked and undervalued.
Here’s our quick video on Lake Iseo and its mountain island:
Lake Iseo’s biggest town – Sulzano – is little more than a few waterside cafes and restaurants, some shops and a beautiful hotel – the Rivalago, all done with that inescapable charm that Italy manages.
But what Sulzano does offer is easy access to Italy’s biggest lake island. In fact, Monte Isola – literally ‘Lake Mountain’ – is the biggest island on a lake in all of south and central Europe.
Monte Isola – Europe’s highest island mountain
A short yet superlative ferry ride from Sulzano will take you to Peschiera Maraglio – the island’s biggest village.
From here, you can either explore the foot of the mountain, which is also the shoreline of the island, or the winding pathways up to the peak of the mountain – 600m above sea level.
The bad news is there are no cars on the island, so you’re either on foot or pedalling. Otherwise, motorbikes are of course allowed.
This is Italy after all.
Taking the road around the mountain will give you some amazing views and bring you to many of the 12 atmospheric little villages that make up the island community. It’s about 7km all the way round and it gets hilly in places, so be prepared for this if you’re on foot.
Climbing the elevated roads up the mountain is obviously more of an investment in time (and your knees!) but the effort is worth it.
At the top, you’re rewarded with views across the mountains and down over the lake. A shrine – the Santuario della Madonna della Ceriola – dating back to the 13th Century looks out over the view with you.
To get to the summit, you have to pass through the village of Cure. I’m sure the irony of the name isn’t lost on those who choose to hike here.
The other option is to relax with a spritz in Peschiera Maraglio, enjoy the views across to Sulzano, and perhaps stroll to the next ferry wharf for your ride home – a sum total of about a four-minute walk.
From the moment you arrive at Iseo, the romance of this little lake and its impressive mountain island is as apparent as it is incontrovertible. But as with many parts of Italy, the true beauty of this place is in the details.
Little flags on the quays, neat wooden boats posed by the water, pretty doors, walls draped in ivy, racks of little fish drying in the sun and fishing nets webbed over the water ready for their next catch.
It’s all these touches that make Lake Iseo so magical.
We count the days for when we can return.