Isola Bella, Italy
Our favorite port of the Italian lakes was Isola Bella. Isola Bella lies in the heart of Lago Maggiore. Lago Maggiore is ripe with olive trees, eucalyptus and olea fragrans. The island was a small fishing village until 1632. That’s when Carlo III of the House of Borromeo began the construction of a palazzo to be dedicated to his wife Isabella D’ Adda. That’s where the island gets her name. The palace grounds were designed to house the most elaborate gardens in Italy. The entire project took 39 years and was finally completed in 1671. Inside, the rooms of the palace are a rich opera of art furniture and tapestries. There are man-made caves below the palace that house the largest wine cellar we’ve ever laid eyes on.
The garden park is composed of ten terraces. Statues, fountains, magnolias, cypresses, citrus fruits and rare plants and flowers represent a kaleidoscope of colors. At the top of the theatre is a unicorn, the coat of arms of the Borromeo lineage. The privately owned island is open to the public most of the year. It is unavailable when the Borromeo family is there on holiday. It has also been rented out for Royal weddings and celebrity galas. We took a ten-minute ferry from Strata to Isola Bella. The cost was five euros per person. The tour of the palace takes about an hour. It would take an entire day to examine all of the botanical gardens. Open air shops and a few restaurants line the north side of the estate. The vendors have to break down their stalls every evening and ferry their wares off the island at the end of the day. The restaurants look out over the water. We had an authentic Italian brick oven Pizza and a bottle of red vino. The red wine is much lighter than you find in the states and goes down like water.
Fishing and sailing are popular recreation on the lake. The water is calm and bountiful. There is an abundance of fresh fish on the menu.
Italians are late starters and don’t have much use for clocks. Shops and restaurants close at 2 pm for “siesta”. Wine is very popular at lunch and may contribute to these naps. The streets come alive again around 7. Dinner is served from eight at night until one in the morning. Dessert usually includes a complimentary shot of Lemoncello. Homemade Gelato was our favorite sweet. Clubs stay open till 6 am. Italians aren’t big on breakfast (expresso & toast) and the shops try to open by 10 each morning. The coffee is fantastic. We had expressos every few hours to keep our motors running. It’s a very enjoyable lifestyle!
We highly recommend a stop at the lakes on your next Italian adventure. The scenery is brilliant and the weather is delightful. The architecture is absolutely amazing. La Isola Bella gives you an up-close look at one of the playgrounds of the obscenely wealthy. Rome, Venice, Milan and Pisa may get all the hype, but the Lakes are full of romance and adventure and show off Italy’s natural beauty. Arrivederci!