Escorted Rail Tours to Isola Bella
Stewarded by the Borromeo family
Looking at Isola Bella today, it is hard to believe it was once
a rocky island, home to a small community of fishermen. However,
until 1630 Isola Inferiore (as it was previously known) was a world
away from the splendour that the Borromeo Family created. In 1630
Carlo III Borromeo took the first steps to changing the island. He
hired an architect to design a castle-type building where the
palace currently stands and a more elegant casino at the highest
point of the island. Carlo also decided to name the island
after his wife, Isabella D'Adda, and it became known as Isola
Isabella which was later shortened to Isola Bella.
In spite of Carlo's plans it was to be his sons, Vitaliano VI
Borromeo and cardinal Giberto III Borromeo, who really transformed
Isola Bella. Abandoning the original architect's plans and dropping
the idea of a casino, they planned the palace and gardens. Their
vision was that Isola Bella should appear to be a ship sailing
across the lake.
Work began on the palace and the terraced gardens and, although
the palace was built by 1670 and the gardens inaugurated in 1671,
work continued well into the 19th century. As recently as 50-60
years ago, Vitaliano X Borromeo was still adding finishing touches,
including the tree lined "jetty" that extends towards Isola
Pescatori and the "Salone Grande" (Great Room), built in accordance
with Vitaliano VI's original plans.
Palace and gardens
Visiting the palace today you will find sumptuous rooms
filled with paintings and ornate furniture that make it easy to
imagine the parties and balls that were once held there. Particular
highlights of the palace are the domed "Salone delle Feste" (Party
Room), the "Sala da Ballo" (Ballroom), the "Sala della Musica"
(Music Room) that house valuable musical instruments and the six
grottoes. The walls and ceilings of the grottoes are studded with
shells and pebbles and are a cool retreat on hot summer days.
The spectacular gardens are on ten terraces and include an
open-air theatre, the "Giardino del Amore" with geometrically
designed hedging, water-lilies and citrus trees, the Azalea Garden
and the "Piano della Canfora" which is named for the 150-year-old
laurel tree growing there. In the English garden, the "Giardino dei
Fiori" you will find lotus flowers. At the highest point of the
garden you will see a great unicorn, the symbol of the Borromeo