by Jacopo Cazzaniga
Between the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia is wedged Lake Iseo, the most romantic of Italian lakes. A blue and serene body of water that stretches for more than sixty kilometers, lapping the shores of Lovere, Sulzano, Sarnico and Sale Marasino… to name some of the most famous cities in the region.
It is no coincidence that even a great artist like Christo chose Lake Iseo as a special place for his “Floating Piers”, an exhibition that closed its doors at the beginning of July, after scoring an unprecedented success and an exceptional number of visitors for the wonderful Sebino region. To be sure, there have also been critics like Vittorio Sgarbi who dubbed the exhibition a “boarwalk to nowhere”, urging tourists to visit, instead, neighboring villages because: “Iseo means Romanino’s frescoes in Pisogne, the Art Nouveau of Sarnico, the Tadini Academy of Fine Arts in Lovere”, or other exceptional sites embodying Italian arts and culture.
It is starting precisely from these suggestions that Halldis has crafted an interesting tour comprising ten destinations to make the best of Lake Iseo and feast one’s eyes on breathtaking views tinged of warm colors at sunset and smelling like Mediterranean pines when a gentle breeze blows on the horizon.
In pairs or alone, with friends or the whole family, Lake Iseo is one of Italy’s most beautiful places to spend a wonderful weekend or a wonderful holiday.
Monte Isola is the largest lake island in Europe and called the pearl of Lake Iseo. It is a special and unspoiled place, dotted with ancient villages where to enjoy some peace, and, perhaps, sip a good pirlo (a traditional cocktail made with white wine and Campari) when it is time for an aperitif, with the reddish sun on the horizon and boats that silently return ashore …
At Monte Isola you can find the shrine of the Madonna of Ceriola, built in the thirteenth century and located in Cure, the highest point on the island. Among the various villages on the island, Carzano is one of the best from which you can admire the island of Loreto, which lies north of Monte Isola, and is home to a neo-Gothic castle surrounded by a beautiful evergreen park. San Paolo is the other island on Lake Iseo. It stands to the south and is perfectly visible from Sensole, which can be reached via the coastal road that starts in Peschiera Maraglio.
Monte Isola during the Floating Piers (photo by Ivan Zanotti)
Lovere is a charming town of about 5,000 inhabitants included in the list of the most beautiful Italian medieval villages. It overlooks the western shore of Lake Iseo, defined by many international writers as one of the most romantic places in the world. The village is strategically located: on one side, it is possible to admire the boundless beauty of the lake, on the other, stand the mountains of the Camonica Valley with a view stretching to the summit of Mount Adamello.
A day trip to Lovere allows getting in touch with a vibrant town of great historical and architectural interest. It features many tourist attractions, from Piazza 13 Martiri to the Civic Tower, which dominates over Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II, and the Tadini Academy of Fine Arts, which houses priceless works by Canova and Tintoretto.
A view of the port of Lovere (photo by P. Alessandro Polito)
On the northwestern shore of Lake Iseo, we find the little town of Pisogne, at the mouth of the Oglio river. The center features many attractions. Topping the list, among the places to visit, there is certainly the Church of Santa Maria della Neve, with its sixteenth-century frescoes by Romanino. In the main square of the town stands the Bishop’s Tower, dating back to the twelfth century.
It is worthwhile to spend some time strolling along the Pisogne lakeside, to admire the beautiful sunset colors and find a little relaxation in the magical silence broken only by the rustle of the lake. For nature lovers, instead, we recommend the beautiful municipal park and the 4 Bone Mine, just a few minutes away, to enjoy an original spelunking adventure.
The Pisogne color reflected on Lake Iseo (photo by Ivan Zanotti)
Sarnico is the crossroads of Lake Iseo, a mandatory passage to visit the Bergamo or Brescia side of the lake. The town welcomes every year visitors from around the world and has nothing to envy to the villages of Lovere and Pisogne. We recommend visiting the historic downtown streets (called “district”) and take the time to admire the beautiful surrounding landscape.
Walking through the district, we find the valuable Bellini Art Gallery, which houses more than 150 artistically and culturally valuable works. Always in the town center, you can visit the Church of St. Paul, and rest in the shade of the ancient Clock Tower. Furthermore, the whole of Sarnico is also dotted with amazing villas (like Villa Faccanoni) positioned in exclusive places that offer one more reason to admire the Liberty style that characterizes the town’s architecture.
Sarnico reflected on Lake Iseo at sunset (photo by Luca Santoro)
Sale Marasino is a small oasis of history and richness resting on the eastern shore of Lake Iseo, at the right distance from the main tourist attractions of Sebino. The charming town abounds with majestic villa facades standing as symbols of a bygone era marked by pageantry and beauty. Upon entering the village, we pass by Casa Turla and Casa Tempini, then continue towards the Mazzocchelli Palace and, finally, lap Villa Martinengo.
Among the monuments to visit are the ancient Church of San Zeno and the neoclassical Church of the Madonna of Gandizzano. The name of the town refers to two local entities that are geographically separated but culturally united. Sale is, in fact, part of the town overlooking the lake and Marasino is the highest part, located on a hill.
Traveling to Sale Marasino (photo by Richard M.)
THE ZONE PYRAMIDS
Starting from the eastern shore of Lake Iseo, we reach the small town of Zone, located in the upper Val Camonica. Within the area, there is a nature reserve dotted with so-called Zone pyramids, also known as fairy chimneys. It is a natural spectacle unique in the world that is worth a visit.
The pyramids are the result of erosion by the river: natural sculptures formed from clay that natural elements have molded to the point of making them perfectly vertical, as if they were planted in the ground by some mythological giant.
The Zone pyramids are conical and feature big boulders on the summit. For those who love adventure, it will be a pleasure to know that the park can also be reached by bike.
Discover more: Christo’s Lake Iseo
THE FOREST OF THE GNOMES
Still in Zone, there is the possibility of venturing into a magical place called the Forest of the Gnomes, a real path through nature dotted with “fairytale” sculptures carved by a local sculptor known only by the mysterious name of “Red”. Over the years, this original artist carved more than fifty trunks to the point of giving them the appearance of fairy creatures.
The Forest of the Gnomes is a nature trail that will delight young and not-so-young, a magical place where gnome sculptures and other creatures will make you hike easier. A trip to the park is a good alternative to numerous other excursions that you can do on the shores of Lake Iseo.
The entry to the Forest of the Gnomes (photo by Christian Oliver Harris)
RIVA SOLTO AND THE BOGN CLIFF
Riva di Solto is perhaps one of the smallest municipalities overlooking Lake Iseo. From the lakefront overlooking the western shore, you can enjoy a wonderful view of Monte Isola, while the town gives its back to the “Corna Trentapassi” mountain, which reflects its colors on the water surface. The entire surrounding area is dotted with fortifications that once surrounded the village, and features numerous important sights, among which are the baroque facade of the Church of St. Nicholas and Palazzo Polini, which was originally a monastery built in the sixteenth century.
Riva di Solto is also the home of the lake sardines, and, therefore, we recommend a culinary stop at any of the well-known restaurants with lake views. Once you have recharged your batteries, we suggest visiting the Bogn Cliff, only a ten minute walk in the direction of Castro. Here, you can admire a unique cliff, a vertical limestone formation carved by wind and water over the centuries and today strewn with vegetation.
Riva di Solto is perhaps one of jewels on Lake Iseo
FRANCIACORTA AND THE WINE TRAIL
Franciacorta is the name of a hilly area that stretches between the historical buildings of the city of Brescia and the blue waters of Lake Iseo, a place known worldwide for the excellence of its wines (do not call them spumanti!). A tour in Franciacorta is a must for anyone who is passionate about gastronomy and the “little bubbles”. During the summer, you can be delighted by exploring countless tasting experiences in the area’s best known wine cellars (Berlucchi, Ca’ del Bosco and Bersi Serlini, just to name a few), along what is rightfully called the wine trail.
The re-fermentation of the Franciacorta wine is the result of an ancient process, which aims at releasing to the market only those bottles that pass specific quality standards and do not need autoclaving to accelerate the fermentation process, which can take up 30 months of aging. The process permits producing dry or sweet wines, depending on the amount of sugar used.
THE TRAIN OF FLAVORS
The train of flavors is an interesting train ride on the old rails of Lake Iseo, along which you can taste local specialties and fine wines. There are numerous options available and different paths, depending on personal interests. The train departs from the Iseo Railway Station and runs along the lakeshore, offering visitors the opportunity to admire exquisite landscapes during the ride.
The train’s two historic carriages are pulled by a restored diesel-electric locomotive servicing the Brescia-Edolo railway line. The train stops in key areas, like the towns of Pisogne, Sulzano or Capo di Ponte, depending on the package selected.
Discover more: ride on the train of flavors
The train of flavors awaits you for an unforgettable journey around Lake Iseo