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Stepping back in time on Iseo’s mountain in the lake

6 May 2024

Beautiful villages

This island of less than 5 square miles somehow manages to blend comforting charm with spectacular wilderness. At its heart are gorgeous Italian villages recognised as the Most Beautiful Villages in Italy.

Disembarking in Peschiera Maraglio, you can wander by the bougainvillea-draped lakefront houses to the labyrinthine alleyways and the Church of San Michele Arcangelo. An unassuming exterior shrouds a remarkable stucco interior decorated with impressive Baroque frescoes. Originally a fortified village, the island's 'capital', Siviano, is dominated by the medieval Martinengo tower. Here, a cluster of terracotta-roofed houses peek through the vines and olive groves, leading down to a diminutive and tranquil harbour.

Combining picturesque narrow alleyways opening out on to small piazzas lapped by Lake Iseo's gently eddying waters, the hamlet of Carzano is one of Monte Isola's finest. Backed by the rocky mountain and looking out over to the Franciacorta ridges, Carzano has a charm of its own.

Spellbinding walks

The best way to see the characterful villages of this car-free island is on foot. There is a 5.8-mile circular route encompassing the whole island, but one of the most popular routes is on the southern coast from Peschiera Maraglio to Sensole.

A shoreline path that has attracted artists for centuries, this mile-long lane is known as the 'road of olive trees'. With wonderful views of the lake and the nearby private island of San Paolo, this sedate route is lined with olive trees, their silver leaves dancing in the gentle breeze.

Perched on a rock at the top of the mountain, the Shrine of Madonna della Ceriola is visible from all over the lake and, consequently, has incredible views of the surrounding landscape. This simple chapel is believed to date from the 13th century and its opulent interior contains a number of frescoes and tablets celebrating miracles attributed to the Madonna. However, its main draw is a wooden statue of the Madonna with the infant Jesus in her arms, dating from the 12th century. For the adventurous, the shrine can be reached on a hilly two-mile walk through delightful countryside - and the panoramic views from the top are utterly magnificent.

Delicious cuisine

It doesn't take visitors long to realise how important food is to Monte Isola. The lake has understandably played a crucial role in the life of islanders, many of whom made wooden boats and nets for its fishermen - there is even a museum in Siviano celebrating the netmakers.

While the interior is more renowned for its salami production, near the shore in Peschiera Maraglio and Carzano, you may see racks of lake fish being dried in the sun. Chub, char, sardine, whitefish, tench and pike are provided by the lake's alpine waters.

These traditional skills are now honoured under the slow food Presidio, and the many amiable trattorias abound with delicious food. Look out for sundried lake sardines with polenta. This is a traditional speciality and one of the area's best examples of 'slow food'.


Exploring Monte Isola feels like discovering a new world: a peaceful island far from the bustle of cities, awash with beautiful countryside and picture-perfect villages, where the local produce is showcased through delicious food created with time and care.