There is a lake in Northern Italy that is usually unknown by tourists, mainly because the attention is stolen by the two other nearby, world-wide famous lakes – Lake Garda and Lake Como. However, nestled between the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia, this lake is a gem of rare beauty. Ancient villages and picturesque towns, such as Pisogne and Riva di Solto, frame its banks. The medieval town of Iseo is one of the most suggestive places I have ever seen, and the way it blends with the lakeside landscape explains why Lake Iseo itself has been named after this cozy town.
Lake Iseo is the charming Italian lake no one talks about and yet, Iseo’s inhabitants are incredibly bubbly, easy-going and welcoming. Here are 7 ways to discover Lake Iseo for yourself.
Get yourself a bike and start exploring.
Overall, there are many opportunities for lovers of trekking and outdoor life. Walkers can choose from the many paths that lead from the lakeside villages and climb up in to the mountains. But the best way to explore all the tiny destinations in and around Lake Iseo, and by best I mean the most efficient, exciting and enjoyable way, is to rent a bike in every place you travel to. If you are based in Iseo, grab a bike to visit the town, but also to explore inland by following the scenic roads all around the Southern part of the lake. If you are up for a cycling tour, you will find cycle paths that wind their way hundreds of kilometres all around the lake. A bucket-list-worthy experience is to cycle through the vineyards of Franciacorta, where the famous Franciacorta fine sparkling wine is produced. And why not take your time to sip some while enjoying the stunning panorama. My personal favourite though, is to take a boat to the Montisola isle in the centre of the lake and rent a bike there, to visit all the way around this little island gem.
Explore Montisola: Travel back in time on its coast and hike to the top.
There is a little island inside Lake Iseo called Montisola. As the largest lake island in Europe, the island of Montisola is also the happy protagonist of a Guinness world record. One of the most beautiful ways to travel around the island is by bicycle, which can be rented once you have disembarked from the ferry that links towns like Iseo and Sulzano to the island. On stepping onto the island, you will feel like you have stepped in to an old romantic film: the colours, the little boats parked on its coast, the nature that takes over the buildings, the lights reflecting on the water. Everything here contributes to a magical Italian vintage vibe.
However, if you are an active traveller, you will be happy to hear that, as the name suggests, the island is also a mountain (monte = mountain, isola = island) and yes, you can easily hike to its top. On the top you will find a sanctuary, from which you can enjoy a 360-degree view of the entire lake. After the hike, you can also take a little bus downhill. I recommend having dinner at the Ristorante Castello Oldofredi, which serves great local fish and… what a view!
Much smaller than Montisola, the Iseo lake is also home to two other private islets, which cannot be visited. Nevertheless, there are boat trips that circumnavigate the two islets to see them up close. These are the Isolotto di San Paolo, once connected to Montisola by a now submerged path, and Loreto, whose history is still shrouded in mystery.
Hike through the Parco Naturale Delle Torbiere del Sebino.
If you are in Iseo, you just have to cross the main road to reach this peculiar national park surrounded by water, wildlife and nature. The Torbiere del Sebino Nature Reserve is considered an area of priority for biodiversity in the Lombardy Po Valley. This is due to the variety of habitats and species and aquatic-marshland, which are either rare or endangered in Lombardy and Italy. You can visit the park by hiking through three different paths: the Northern path (starting in Iseo), the Southern path (close to Provaglio railway station) and the Central path (the most suggestive one, reachable by both the Northern and Southern path).
Visit the UNESCO heritage Parco Nazionale delle Incisioni Rupestri.
Easily reachable via train, the Parco Nazionale delle Incisioni Rupestri preserves a treasure that is 10,000 years old. The rock drawings in Valcamonica are the heritage of an ancient population that lived in the Valcamonica area in the Palaeolithic period. Drawings of people, animals, Celtic gods and much more paint the 104 rock walls with scenic illustrations. The park was the first site to be recognised as a UNESCO heritage in Italy, in 1979, thanks to its uniqueness and its contribution, with clear scientific evidence, to knowledge of the prehistoric people. Spending half a day in the park is more than enough to visit the incredible UNESCO heritage without having to rush. Don’t miss the opportunity to jump back to prehistoric times!
Go SUP in Marone.
Stand-Up Paddling (SUP) has become incredibly popular recently. If you own a SUP board yourself, you can pretty much paddle everywhere (just don’t venture too far from the coast, as the current can get quite intense). If you haven’t got one, just go to Marone, one of the many coastal villages around Lake Iseo. There you can hire one for the day and you will be safely followed by a SUP instructor that can teach you this new fun way to enjoy the lake views while staying active. If you are the real sporty type, you can also rent windsurfing and kitesurfing equipment in the southern part of the lake, near Iseo.
Enjoy an aperitivo on the lakeside.
What can be better than enjoying the incredibly beautiful sunset on Lake Iseo..? Enjoying it while having an aperitivo, of course! Aperitivo is an undebatable part of the Italian culture and oh, do we love a sunset view with it. All the villages surrounding Lake Iseo offer this option, you just have to choose the spot that speaks to your soul the most. From my own experience, I can suggest the towns of Iseo, Provaglio and Clusane. Or the nostalgic Peschiera Maraglio in Montisola.
Taste the incredible local cuisine and the Franciacorta sparkling wine.
As with every other corner of Italy, Lake Iseo has its own cuisine, too. Here, fish is the protagonist, including the savoury dried lake sardines or the fried bleaks (small minnows). However, no less important are the charcuterie and cheese that also play a fundamental role in the local cuisine. In the Brescia province, the production of salami is taken so seriously that, in Iseo, a competition electing ‘the best salami’ is held every year. Then comes the wine, of course. Lake Iseo’s most famous wine production is the Franciacorta wine, produced using the same method as the French make their champagne. Try the amazing local cuisine at my absolute favourite spot in Iseo: Osteria Ca’ de Cindri, a restaurant run by the most joyful and welcoming people. Their quality-price ratio is one of the best I have ever experienced. Try their grilled polenta, a tasty squishy loaf of boiled cornmeal, or pick out a course on their daily menu. If you are into stronger tastes, try the mouth-watering steak tartare or the smoked lake sardines. Their huge wine selection, especially Franciacorta sparkling wine, adds a different twist to your aperitivo or dinner every time.
For these and many more reasons, Lake Iseo is really worth a visit. It will quickly steal your heart, just like it did with me. Just go and see for yourself. I am sure that, once you have been, you will find your own personal favourite reason to keep returning to Lake Iseo again and again!
Many thanks to Ilaria Ciaroni this week for sharing her knowledge of Lake Iseo with us. Originally from the Marche region, Ilaria spent 6 months in Iseo and the experience was definitely an incredibly memorable one for her. During this time, she could blend in with the locals and listen to their advice on how to explore the real essence of the Iseo lake and its surroundings. Iseo’s residents are hard-workers but, first and foremost, they know how to enjoy life and all its little pleasures. From their suggestions, Ilaria was able to draw up her own personal list of favourite things to do to fully absorb the enchanted atmosphere of Lake Iseo.