If you thought admiring mountains from afar is enchanting, wait till you’re ambling through one. Monte Isola (Lake Iseo, Lombardy, Italy) 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. In every village surrounding Lake Iseo there are a number of docks where you can catch one of the regular ferries. 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.
When on the island you can choose to either walk around using the peaceful paths that run alongside the lake or hire a bicycle to get around on. A complete circuit of the island will only take you about two hours. The traditional Italian bicycles come in two sizes (adult, child). The child size will do fine for the petite sort. While the bikes are pretty to look at (and Instagram-worthy), they’re rather heavy, so it might be challenging for smaller people (as myself) to drive up the mountain-hills. There’s also the option to walk alongside your bike at times. Circling around the island, you’ll eventually get Peschierie Maraglio, where you can find an antiquated church called S. Michele. In spite of seeming deserted on the outside, just like all churches in Italy, it’s rather impressive on the inside (in the same way that any food is bound to be delicious). Walking into it, I did not half expect to see the intricate, fine pastel paintings covering the walls. The shades in the paintings together with the lighting (and the general feel of the island) create a sort of dream-like experience. Spending a few minutes in the church is a great way to cool down with the fresh breeze coming through.
Further down, there’s an old town center. Leisurely cycling through the cobbled meandering streets, decorated with the brightly coloured houses and overhanging wooden roofs is mesmerising. It’s not just the pretty sights, but the lifestyle and energy flowing through the mountain commune. The fun in renting a bike comes with the downhill bit: rolling down the shaded smooth roads is a sure way to get an adrenaline rush. It might be a good idea to bring a bandana along: getting a mosquito or ten in your mouth will somewhat dampen the experience. At the end of the route, when approaching the main docking port, there’s a gelato shop (obviously, a great one, as they all are) and some benches to rest at.
If the trip made you hungry, there are a number of quaint restaurants in the center, the main docking area where you first set off from. I opted for the pizzeria, who can resist a slice of fresh Italian pizza? We returned our bikes, bought some cute souvenirs and sat at one of the tranquil cafeterias. A cappucino (and a second ice-cream) were revitalising. I also needed to use the loo. The surprise and bewilderment that overcame me as I finally made it to the end of the line is inexplicable. The toilet was a hole in the ground, you know, sort of like a shower (I later found out it’s called a squat toilet). Not being able to figure out how to flush and being completely bedazzled with the whole thing, I decided it can wait till we were back at the hotel room in Lovere). Brace yourselves, maybe do some research before. (Yes, I’m a female).
With a couple of hours to spare till our ferry returned, we decided to go try to reach the village at the peak, Cure. There’s a path on the side of the island before exiting the port. It’s a steep, challenging hike up – definitely not possible with the rental bicycles. The roads leading up to Cure are surrounded by flourishing fields, vineyards, and random isolated houses here and there. Away from the busy touristic port, the astounding beauty and remoteness of the island becomes truly apparent. Although we didn’t make it to the actual top due to time constraints and wobbly legs, we got quite far up. It’s probably a trip worth making at the beginning of the day.
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.