Lake Iseo: a quick, green getaway

Lake Iseo is a smaller scale, less commercial version of Garda with breath-taking views but less tourist-traffic • Andrea Said

21 October 2016, 8:00am
The natural beauty and enchanting towns make it a great place for a road-trip
The natural beauty and enchanting towns make it a great place for a road-trip
45 minutes outside of the Milan Bergamo airport there’s a charming place called Lake Iseo, the fourth largest lake in Lombardy. It’s shared equally between the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia, and seems to be the region’s best kept secret. Getting there is relatively easy, the drive is straightforward; even disoriented tourists can find the way without much difficulty. Seeing as it’s a Ryanair airport, it’s the perfect place for a quick, inexpensive, green-getaway when you’re longing for some nature-time.

Lake Iseo is a smaller scale, less commercial version of Garda. It’s got similar breath-taking views but less tourist-traffic; more locals, less celebrity mansions. The natural beauty and enchanting towns make it a great place for a road-trip. There’s also an island called Monte Isola in the middle of the lake, a sparsely inhabited mountain-island which is truly one of a kind. Having explored all of the lake-side towns, none have impressed as much as Lovere as a base for further travels. 

Staying in Lovere

The first thing that caught my attention amidst the preliminary Googling phase was the name. Lovere – sounds kind of enchanting doesn’t it? A couple of clicks later my mind was made up. The little town, it turns out, is just as charming as its name suggests. There’s no wonder as to why it’s a part of I Borghi piu belli d’Italia, an association that notes small Italian towns of strong artistic and historical interest. 

Waking up to the silence, clean air and the stunning backdrop of the mountains is uplifting. After a week of meandering through the narrow alleys of the old town, decorated with the pastel coloured houses and overhanging wooden roofs, I was in love with Lovere. While making your way through the cobbled streets in the centre of the old town, you’ll notice a number of medieval towers from the 12th and 13th centuries. The towers are called the Pumpkin Tower (Torre detta la Zucca), the Alghisi Tower (Torre degli Alghisi) and the Civic Tower (Torre Civica). Similar towers can be found in all of the villages surrounding Lake Iseo. 

Waking up to the silence, clean air and the stunning backdrop of the mountains is uplifting
Waking up to the silence, clean air and the stunning backdrop of the mountains is uplifting
Staying in Lovere once the peak touristic season has ended promises a quintessentially Italian experience. The old town in Lovere is a hive of activity. The narrow medieval roads are bustling come 7am. Within a day, we were humming around the town first thing in the morning just like the locals. Iride Paris, a charming patisserie run by a passionate young lady (who also welcomes customers, bakes and serves), was always the first thing on the agenda, and more than one stop a day was usually made. Be sure to avoid the tourist traps like Cafe Wender and its neatly packaged, mass-produced crafts closer to the old town. Within the old town there are a number of small family-run pasticcerias with small nibbles and an endless variety of bread products; you’ll surely be sated. If you’d like to balance out your diet, there’s also a small, yet resourceful, greengrocer in the centre of the old town. The produce is fresh, and plentiful. The owner will explain where each product came from and patiently describe the difference between the three shades of green grapes, and even offer a sample to help you decide.

There’s more to the place than the pretty sights, the enjoyable food and the history though; what captivated me the most was the lifestyle and energy flowing through the town, an aspect that was lacking in the other Lake Iseo towns and villages. A short walk around the rest of the villages is more than enough. If you’d rather not rent a car, there’s a ferry station in Lovere, with regular trips around the Lake. From there you could also get a ferry to Monte Isola.

Monte Isola

If you thought that admiring mountains from afar is enticing, wait till you’re ambling through one. 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. 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 form of escapism you could ever find.

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. It’s the ideal escape from the modern-world. There are only a handful of cars on the island, used to render services. 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 paths that run alongside the lake or hire a bicycle to get around on
When on the island you can choose to either walk around using the paths that run alongside the lake or hire a bicycle to get around on
When on the island you can choose to either walk around using the 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 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.