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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 family.

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Stresa & Lake Maggiore

From our stunning location overlooking beautiful Lake Maggiore in the picturesque town of Stresa, we explore this magnificent region of Italy. We cross Lake Maggiore to explore the Borromean Islands, taste the wines of the Monferrato region, visit enchanting Lake Orta and travel into Switzerland on the scenic Centovalli Railway.

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10 days from £2,245 pp

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