Lake Iseo (All You Need to Know) is a smaller scale, less commercial version of Lake Garda. The two lakes are around a 2-hour-drive apart. Lake Iseo is more congenial. It’s got similar breath-taking views but less traffic. More locals, less celebrity mansions. Lush green mountains and several medieval towns enclose the crystal clear lake. The natural beauty and captivating towns make it a great road-trip-worthy area. Driving on the mountain-cliffs and through mountain-tunnels, with the views of the quaint villages across the lake is nothing short of spectacular.
While driving around the Lake, you’ll notice three islands resting in the middle of the still waters: Loreto, San Poalo and Monte Isola. If you’d like a closer look (and I greatly recommend doing so), dedicate a day to exploring the lake from within. In every village there are a number of docks where you can catch one of the regular ferries which go around the villages. It’s definitely an easy and reliable way to get around. There’s also a route which takes you to Monte Isola, the mountain-island, which also docks at a number of villages on the way.
LORETO & SAN POALO
On the way, the boat sails a couple of kilometres away from the islands of Loreto and San Poalo. If you’re not too entranced by their beauty as I was, you’ll get a chance to capture some breath-taking shots of the islands as you move past them (although, I did manage a decent one!). Loreto is the smallest island on the Lake, and like San Poalo it’s privately owned. A magical wave overcomes you upon setting eyes on Loreto Island; a sixteenth-century-castle makes up the entirety of the island. The trees flourishing from within the castle, and encompassing it make it even more enigmatic. There used to be a monastery on the island since the 15th century, which was abandoned in the 16th century. In 1910 it switched hands, and a Neo-Gothic castle was built on the island, which is the structure that stands there today. It’s open to visitors, although I only found out on my last day. The Lovere Tourist Information office will surely be of help with how to get there. San Poalo is a lager, less developed island which seems to house a villa of some very lucky billionaire.
Monte Isola is the largest lake-island, not only in Italy, but in the whole of central and southern Europe. With a total area of 12.8 square kilometres, the island rises to a peak of about 600 metres above the surface of the lake. Within the island there are 12 villages: Carzano, Cure, Masse, Menzino, Novale, Olzano, Peschiera Maraglio, Porto di Siviano, Sensole, Senzano, Sinchignano and Siviano. If you thought admiring mountains from afar is enchanting, wait till you’re ambling through one! It’s easily accessible, and the ferries go on till late. I do, however, recommend spending a night here, even though I didn’t get a chance to myself. It’s the finest escape from the modern world. An hour or so cruising through the misty lake is the perfect way to unwind, by the time you reach Monte Isola your energy will equal the tranquil, slow pace of the life on the picturesque mountain island. Yet with its complex simplicity, Monte Isola is the most fascinating place around Lake Iseo. The sparsely inhabited mountain-island is truly one of a kind: there are a handful of cars on the island, only used to transport goods. Of course, in Italian style, you’ll spot plenty of motorinos or lambretti. Closer to the main dock on the Island there’s even a three storey parking lot, especially for the bikes; it’s by far the coolest (and perhaps oddest) thing I’ve ever seen.
The simpler way of life on Monte Isola is a breath of fresh air. Even sitting at the docking station waiting for our ferry back, in complete exhaustion, was a relaxing experience on Monte Isola. I highly doubt I will ever come across such a unique and unspoilt place in future travels. You can read about a day on Monte Isola here.