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Lombardy and the sorroundings area: discovering the best lake islands. Milan Airports

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Lombardy and the surrounding area: discovering the best lake islands

The best way to explore the “region of the lakes”, which encompasses Lombardy and Piedmont, is to visit its islands. These stunning jewels seem almost caught in time and are a great way to rediscover the old flavours and traditions of the area. Each island is a world unto itself, with plenty of beautiful villas and lush gardens underpinned by a unique, enchanting atmosphere.
Isola Bella full size

Open-air museums

The lake islands of Lombardy are not only home to unspoilt natural landscapes, but also offer a number of sites of huge historical and cultural importance. A great example of this is Isola Comacina, the only island on Lake Como. Initially ruled by the Byzantines, it was later conquered by the Longobards before being raised to the ground by Como in the 12th century, after which it fell into neglect. In the early 1900s, however, a series of digs unearthed one of the most important medieval archaeological sites in the area. Many of the artefacts discovered are now stored at the Antiquarium in Ossuccio, but if you visit the island - which is open from March to October - you can still see the remains of the 17th-century Chiesa di San Giovanni Battista, featuring stunning frescoes from the 19th century, as well as the ruins of the majestic Romanesque Basilica di Sant’Eufemia.

As you wander round, you’ll see three small artists’ houses in the rationalist style, inspired by Le Corbusier’s model holiday home. The houses helped to make this island a centre for the production of art. History and nature also mingle on Isolino Virginia, located close to the western bank of Lake Varese, in the municipality of Biandronno. This peaceful oasis is full of local flora, which provides the perfect backdrop to the oldest prehistoric stilt house in the Alps, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2011.

Monte Isola: timeless beauty

The largest lake island in Europe, Monte Isola is a gem surrounded by the blue waters of Lake Iseo, formerly known as Sebino. The island creates a divide between the Brescia and Bergamo sides of the lake. Visiting Monte Isola is like going back in time. There are no cars and no pollution - people get around on foot or by bike, with stunning paths flanked by olive groves which yield a prized DOP extra-virgin olive oil.

Tiny, picturesque hamlets are at every turn. In Peschiera Maraglio, you can still see naèt - traditionally fishing vessels - tied up to the moorings, while the Chiesa di San Michele, dating back to the 1600s, is a real bonus.

Sinchignano is also worth visiting, with its tiny 18th-century Chiesa di San Carlo, as are Siviano - dominated by the 14th-century Martinengo fortress - and the medieval village of Novale. Last but certainly not least, the Santuario della Madonna della Ceriola - which is connected by a bus route - offers the best look-out point on the island, with stunning views of the surrounding mountains and coastline.

A unique, wild area, Monte Isola gained international recognition in 2016 when the artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude chose it as the location for their visionary Floating Piers art installation - a floating walkway linking Monte Isola, Sulzano and the private Isola di San Paolo.

The Borromean Islands: aristocrats and fishermen

If you have time, head to the Piedmont side of Lake Maggiore, where you’ll soon spy the Borromean Islands, named after the family that owns Isola Madre and Isola Bella. Isola Bella is home to the splendid Anfiteatro Massimo and the majestic Palazzo Borromeo, which serves a reminder to the aristocratic roots of the Borromeo family.

The building is lavishly decorated with Flemish tapestries and works of art. Isola Madre is equally beautiful and indeed captured the heart of the French writer Gustave Flaubert, who called it: “The most voluptuous place I have ever seen in the world.” The island features a wonderful botanical garden and some gorgeous furniture in the Borromeo family’s property (particularly stunning is the Salotto Veneziano, with walls featuring trompe l’oeil decorations and puppet area).

But perhaps the most picturesque of all the islands is Isola Superiore, also known as Isola dei Pescatori. Mentioned in Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, the island is home to a tiny hamlet of just 50 residents, with narrow, winding alleys leading to the Chiesa di San Vittore, which dates back to the 1000s and features frescoes from the 16th century.

Lake Garda: where the water is oh so blue...

Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, but not many people know that it’s home to five islands, making it the perfect spot for lovers of nature and diving alike.

Near the Lombardy bank of the lake is Isola del Garda, also known as Isola Borghese. A place of rare beauty, it has been inhabited since ancient times, as illustrated by the 130 Gallic and Roman headstones found on the island and now held in the Roman Museum in Brescia. It’s possible to visit the park and neo-Gothic/Venetian style villa, which is now owned by the Cavazza family, between March and October.

A few hundred metres away is the Scoglio dellAltare, a rocky outcrop that used to be the scene of an annual mass, attended by the fishermen of the lake on their boats. The site is now known as one of the most interesting diving spots on Lake Garda.

Further south, towards Manerba, you’ll come across the small Isola di San Biagio, also known as Isola dei Conigli. This tiny lake paradise is surrounded by crystal-clear waters and can be reached on foot during dry spells thanks to a raised section of lake bed that connects it to dry land.

On the Verona side of the lake, near to Malcesine, is the Isola del Sogno. The island is much loved by divers on account of the wreck of a boat that sank here in the 1980s. The unspoiled Isola dellOlivo is also in this area.

Finally, opposite Assenza di Brenzone is Isola del Trimelone, used as a military outpost during World War One. Thousands of explosive devices and other war relics have been found on the island, which is now used as a nesting place for seagulls and cormorants.

Isola del Garda

Our tips

  • Visit the Sagra dei Lumaghitt. Held every June as part of the Festa di San Giovanni, the Sagra sees a stunning fireworks display light up Isola Comacina, while the lake itself comes alive with the magical spectacle thousands of floating candles, or lumaghitt.
  • Head to Concerti dellIsola, a series of music concerts held on Isola del Garda between May and October.
  • Visit the Vittoriale di Gardone Riviera, which was once home to the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio. Situated on the edge of Lake Garda, the complex is home to an amphitheatre, works of art and relics from the First World War.
  • Enjoy a day in Sirmione, on Lake Garda. It’s one of the most beautiful villages in Italy - and the nearby Giamaica beach is the perfect place for a dip in the crystal-clear waters.
  • Explore the medieval charm of the Rocca di Anghera, on Lake Maggiore. Let yourself be transported to another time in its historic rooms, botanical garden and the largest doll and toy museum in Europe!

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