Also called Sebino, Lake Iseo grow in fame worldwide in 2016, when the landart artist Christo creates here “The floating Piers”, a floating platform that connects the largest lake island in Europe to the land, allowing visitors to literally walk on the water.
Lake Iseo – things to do
If you are looking for a quiet place, dotted with pretty villages and lots of nature, but also capable of offering food and wine delicacies and some activities, then Lake Iseo is the ideal destination for you.
The best way to visit it freely is certainly by car, but the Brescia side is also served by the railway network and the ferries connect Monteisola and other locations on the shores of the lake.
The most beautiful towns of Lake Iseo
On the shores of Lake Iseo there are several towns, many of very ancient origins, with cobblestone alleys, churches, palaces and suggestive views. The villages of Lake Iseo are well equipped from a tourist point of view, but you will never find them overcrowded, which makes them extremely pleasant and perfect for enjoying the typical atmosphere.
From the name, we immediately understand that Iseo is the main town of Lake Iseo, and is in fact the largest and most touristically developed town. I have spent many wonderful days and evenings in Iseo since childhood: playing in the park in front of the hospital (and yes, even several visits to the LOL hospital), walking along the lakeside and among the stalls of the large Friday morning market; an infinite number of dinners and happy hours in the various cafè and restaurants.
In addition to the pleasant walk along the lakefront, Iseo offers a pretty medieval town center of which you can still see the remains of the walls.
The Pieve and the Church of Santa Maria del Mercato are both very old and worth a visit and the Oldofredi Castle dating back to the 22nd century houses the Biblioteca, the Museum of the Two Wars (which alas I have never been able to find open given the hours totally random!) and other public offices. Piazza Garibaldi, with its beautiful arcades, is the main square of Iseo, an ancient commercial center where several fashion shops.
Sale Marasino is a pretty town on Lake Iseo chosen as a summer residence by many noble Brescia families of the past, which is why today you can admire many villas and gardens. There are also many olive trees, which make the landscape extremely pleasant and the hilly area offers a splendid view of Lake Iseo. Here there is also one of the benches of the Big Bench Project (which I will explain below). Not to be missed in Sale Marasino, the stairway of the Church of San Zenone, protector of freshwater fishermen.
Sarnico (and Paratico)
The two towns of Sarnico and Paratico, connected by a bridge that can also be crossed on foot, mark the end of Lake Iseo and the beginning of the Oglio River. The historic center of Sarnico is called Contrada and here too we find several Liberty style villas. The town of Sarnico is also known for the Buskers Festival, the street artists festival that takes place every year at the end of July and fills the streets of the center with color and shows.
Among the place to see on Lake Iseo, I cannot fail to mention Lovere, entitled one of the “Most Beautiful Villages” of Italy. The English writer Lady Mary Wortley Montagu has defined it: as “the most romantic place I have ever seen in my life”, for its narrow streets that rise from the lake towards the center of the town, offering unexpected views. The Tadini Academy houses works by Antonio Canova, Giandomenico Tiepolo and Pitocchetto. From Piazza XIII Martiri, go up to the Civic Tower, from which you can admire the best view of Lovere.
Landscape and nature
Lake Iseo is an ideal destination for nature lovers because here nature manifests its beauty and uniqueness in various forms, offering unique experiences and enchanting landscapes.
Among the main things to visit on Lake Iseo must absolutely be counted Montisola, the largest lake island in Europe. Montisola was at the center of the international spotlight in the summer of 2016, when Christo set here his Land Art work, The Floating Piers, the floating walkway that allowed you to walk on the water, connecting Monte Isola to the town of Sulzano.
Even Montisola is actually included in the Most Beautiful Villages of Italy, although in fact there are 12 villages scattered around the island. Montisola is famous for its nets, used not only for fishing, but also for football nets, as well as for the construction of wooden boats and the many olive trees. Montisola is full of trekking routes and the more trained can climb up to the Ceriola Sanctuary from which you can enjoy a splendid view. Of course for the lazy, there is also a shuttle;)
In Montisola there are also some areas where it is possible to swim in the lake, where the water is clearer and there are no algae (because personally, I do not recommend swimming in Lake Iseo near the shore.)
Natural Amphitheater of Bogn
A corner of Lake Iseo that seems to have come straight from the Philippines! This is how this natural inlet near the town of Riva di Solto is described, surrounded by cliffs that drop sheer. From the nearby parking, you can get there along a shaded pedestrian path that ends in this small beach, very popular especially in summer even for those arriving by boat. The landscape is certainly unusual and interesting, but the comparison with the Philippines seems a bit too much imho.
Torbiere del Sebino
The so-called “Torbiere del Sebino” is a nature reserve of ancient origins, after the Sebino waters retreated to their current position.
Inside this peat bogs, there are very particular fauna and flora, typical of marshy areas and for this reason, the peat bogs have now been declared a Nature Reserve.
In addition to being an interesting place for nature photography enthusiasts, the Sebino peat bogs also offer different nature trails, and are an interesting idea to spend a few hours immersed in nature.
Pyramids of Zone
Going on hillside from Lake Iseo, near Sulzano / Sale Marasino, stands the Nature Reserve of Zone’s piramids, an important naturalistic area made up of curious rock formations. These natural sculptures are geomorphological formations originating millions of years ago, following the erosion due to climatic events on a moraine deposit.
A natural landscape, caused by the progressive erosion of the ancient glacier, also suitable for children.
Other activities on Lake Iseo
A weekend on Lake Iseo does not only mean nature and villages, but it is also an interesting option for those who love to be active and for wine lovers.
Vello-Toline cycle path
Along the northern part of the Brescia side of Lake Iseo we find the Vello-Toline cycle and pedestrian path, a pleasant flat walk that runs along the lake, on a path made of tunnels dug into the rock and descents to small beaches.
Just over 5 km (one way) along the shores of the lake, to get lost admiring the placid waters in a succession of curves and green pitches where you can sit and rest. A pleasant walk, to be done on foot, by bicycle or with skates on, interspersed here and there with ladders that lead down to the small beaches. You can follow it all the way to the end or retrace your steps after a few kilometers, but I recommend that you arrive at least about halfway along the route, where you can see the Bogn amphitheater on the other side of the lake.
Trekking lovers, but also those who love walking in the mountains, should not miss the climb to Corna Trentapassi, a path of about a couple of hours that starts from Zone and which will offer you a splendid view of Lake Iseo and of Montisola.
Along the way there are no shelters or refreshment points, remember to bring food and water with you and wear hiking boots. The route is not particularly difficult, but it is a mountain trek and on the top you will often find wind, well-equipped and conscientious matches.
Big Bench Project – the Giant Benches of Lake Iseo
The Big Benches Project by American artist Chris Bangle, created to make us feeling children again and admire the landscape with new eyes, are arrivea also at Lake Iseo! And on the other hand, with the many viewpoints available and with so much local heritage, it seems right that 7 have been installed!
For the details of the locations, I refer you to the official page of the Tourist Board of Lake Iseo, while I will limit myself to telling you about the Big Bench of Pilzone (fraction of Iseo) that I personally saw on my last trip to Italy.
To reach this blue bench, you have to walk for about 45/50 minutes along a rather steep cobbled path. The route is 1.5km long but the 300 meters of altitude difference in such a short distance, make you understand that a little training is needed….but the view from the bench is absolutely stunning!
A trip to Lake Iseo cannot be complete without a nice glass of Franciacorta, even better if tasted directly in one of the many wineries that offer guided tours and wine tastings. If you happen to be in the area during the Franciacorta Festival (usually in September and March), you will find numerous special events organized by the wineries, which often include musical accompaniments or tastings of typical Franciacorta dishes to accompany the bubbles.
Where to stay at Lake Iseo
Being born and growth in the area, I have never need to overnight away from home, so I have no direct experience, but I know several people who have stayed at the Hotel Rivalago, but the variety of hotels and accommodations on Airbnb is really wide, make sure only that there is a parking space because the municipal ones are generally paid almost always in the whole area of Lake Iseo.