A summer at the lake | Two days in Mont’Isola


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1/2 daysWeekend

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Italy’s largest lake island is the ideal place for a weekend contemplating nature and its gastronomic delights, both land- and lake-based.

Every year thousands of Italians (and non-Italians) regret choosing the seaside as their summer holiday destination. Sand – or worse pebbles – everywhere. Privacy-proof deckchairs and beach umbrellas as far as the eye can see. That unpleasant post-lifting feeling bathing in salt water gives you. A single day of the much vaunted energy and vitality of the sea turns into to the enthusiasm of the epic hero returning from the desert. Why not choose a more zen destination, then, with the chance for a dip all the same when the sun is high? 

Lakes are inherently relaxing with their shimmering water, the perfect alternative for lovers of contemplative landscapes with a few well-calibrated moments of leisure. And Lake Iseo is truly a gem: “With its little gulf and fishing villages where time seems to stand still” Monte Isola is plum in the middle of Sebino and conserves historic culinary traditions encompassing both land and lake which deserve to be discovered with the tranquillity so befitting of these places and all holidays worthy of the name.

Before getting to Europe’s highest lake island, as packed with olives as it is short of vineyards, it is worth stopping off in the heart of Franciacorta to visit the centuries-old wine estate inherited from the Barboglio family in 1836. At the helm of Mosnel, its fifth generation of winemakers undertakes to “transform its grapes into emotions” and offer its visitors the chance to visit its organic vineyards and taste the wines that have made the Mosnel name over the decades, with its only partial wood ageing.

And after a welcome drink in Franciacorta, it’s time to set off lakewards, to Sulzano, more specifically. In the summer of 2016 this small town on the east bank of the lake captured the world’s attention when it hosted The Floating Piers work of art, the much talked about floating quays which enabled over one million people quite literally to walk on the water. This is the site of Hotel Rivalago whose beautiful position pieds dans l’eau affords the best views of Mont’Isola. Early risers can take advantage of its luggage storage service to take the ferry which makes its way to the little port of Peschiera Maraglio every twenty minutes.

Our culinary exploration of the island starts right here at this fishing village. This is where the first netmakers set up in business, heirs to an art which once kept the whole community busy. From the tenderest age women learnt to weave the nets at conversation and gossip pace, nets which were then used by fishermen on their naèt, typical long, narrow wooden boats. The elders tell stories of a certain Andrea Archetti, a carpenter who fled Venice in the 15th century and took refuge on the island, making the first naèt on the basis of designs stolen from gondola makers. They were lightweight, nimble and fast boats which are now, made of modern materials, used by young locals for races. 

But the tradition of greatest interest to visitors to Monte Isola is undoubtedly its fish drying and conservation customs. Just fished sardines, cavedano and perch are washed, cleaned up and dried before being put in salt for 24 hours. The salt is then removed and they are washed once again before being hung up to dry in parallel rows. A few fishermen continue to respect this tradition, stringing up fish in archetti (ash or hornbeam branches bent into bows) which are still to be seen on the lakeside between Peschiera and Sensole. After five or ten days in the sun – depending on weather – the fish is pressed in oil in iron containers for several months until the sardines are gold coloured and the cavedano lobster pink. A few minutes on the hot coals, a drizzle of oil, parsley and garlic, and they’re ready to be served with polenta. It is a poor man’s dish of the past with a full, satisfying flavour which you can try at La Foresta, a restaurant which has been serving lake fish based dishes and strictly local produce since 1974, with the extra of an unrivalled view of the little island of San Paolo.

After lunch, the ‘lazier’ among us will want to rest in the shade of the centuries-old olive groves at Le Ere beach with a good book, possibly taking a mid-afternoon dip in the lake, whilst the more energetic may want to rent a bike and cycle around the island, starting from Peschiera Maraglio port and perhaps taking the beautiful ‘olive road’. After Sensole and Menzino the route continues in the direction of Sinchignano. If you turn right at Chiesa di San Carlo it takes you on a tiring route to Santuario della Madonna della Ceriola for a cultural visit with a panorama bonus. Alternatively a few minutes of easy tarmac road take you to Siviano and then Carzano, to finish off this circular route. Every five years this small village is decorated with thousands of colourful paper flowers for Festa di Santa Croce in which roses, wisteria and even orchids are imitated with such precision and skill by the village’s women that you might even confuse them up for the real thing.

And after a romantic sunset on the lake, it’s time to return to the ‘mainland’ for a pre-dinner drink: Questione di Gusto offers hundreds of wines to accompany as many cheeses from Bagòss to Silter by way of Fatulì. Anyone wanting to stop off in Iseo for dinner can finish off their evening at Ristorante Radicì, in which the lake’s culinary traditions are given an international-style creative twist by its very young managers.

Your second day on the lake gives you a different take on it, Bellini Nautica with a skippered boat hire service, to get to know Sebino from the deck of one of the world’s most famous and luxurious boats. With “Monte Isola Experience”, an hour or so on the water gives you two hours free on the island, enough for a good lunch, this time with meat and vegetables, as the people of Monte Isola do not only have fish to offer. The salami made here is produced using a ritual which has been scrupulously followed by generations and which no one would dare to change, including the habit of working it in the waning moon. After smoking in “cà del salam”, it needs to be left for thirty days before the outcome of all this skill can be tasted. A complete tasting of this delicacy is offered by L’Isola dei Sapori at Peschiera Maraglio: this Monte Isola salame can be eaten pure, accompanied by other local salamis and cheeses, or made in the form of “migole”, grilled and accompanied by that unmissable grilled polenta.

Before returning home or indulging in a little more lake holiday there’s a day out worth stopping off for in Provaglio d’Iseo. Terre d’Aenòr makes organic Franciacorta with a preference for “conserving the area as pristine as possible and contributing to sustainable development coherent with the needs of the new generations”. And this fruitful dialogue is at the heart of an innovative architectural project which aims to build a modern wine estate which fits into the landscape context of the moraine hills. The tasting experience includes a guided visit to 19th century Palazzo Bianchi, a stroll through the clos vineyards – i.e. ‘enclosed’ by walls and fences, a true rarity in Franciacorta – and naturally a wine tasting accompanied by organic products. And if you like you can combine it with a wellness session in the vineyards, a fitting end to a relaxing weekend.

Wineries and correlated activities


Bellini Nautica

Sport and outdoor activities
Via Carlo Lanza, 28, 25049 Iseo BS, Italia

Hotel Rivalago

Via Luigi Cadorna, 7, 25058 Sulzano BS, Italia


Via Giuseppe Cesare Abba, 38, 25040 Passirano BS, Italia

Questione di Gusto

Wine bars, wine shops
Questione di gusto, Viale Repubblica, 4, 25049 Iseo, BS, Italia

Terre d’Aenòr

Via Alessandro Volta, 22, 25050 Provaglio d'Iseo BS, Italia


Wherever there’s something to celebrate there has to be a glass of Franciacorta and an extraordinary sound.


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