A restorative weekend along the Brescia side of the lake, where cycling adventures, glasses of Franciacorta wine and baked tench with polenta await you
Nestled in the lower Camonica Valley, embraced by majestic mountains created by the sediments of an ancient sea, lies Lake Iseo. A silent witness to the patient work of nature, today it blends harmoniously with human achievements that offer respite to holidaymakers. Just over an hour from Milan, the eastern and western shores meet where the Oglio River re-emerges from the Sebino, an alternative name of Latin origin for the lake that evokes its picturesque bays (sinus binus). This marks the starting point of a route that winds along the Franciacorta shoreline of the lake, perfect for exploring by bicycle before the gentle spring temperatures give way to the fierce heat of summer.
If you find yourself in (or near) Lombardy, bid farewell to those weekends that begin at dawn on Saturday with the looming dread that being a few minutes behind schedule will mean being caught in never-ending traffic jams on the motorway. Instead, wake up at your leisure and savour a good breakfast at the bar, knowing that your first destination is in the very heart of the region. The area of Paratico is blessed with three verdant havens, perfect for enjoying a weekend immersed in nature: the Parco Comunale (Municipal Park) with the neo-Gothic Oselanda building (a venue for contemporary art exhibitions) and the permanent exhibition of stone sculptures, the Parco delle Erbe Danzanti (Dancing Herb Park) where you can test your knowledge of flowers and plants, and the Parco dei Tassodi (Bald Cyress Park), trees of American origin whose luxuriant foliage provides a nesting sanctuary for various birds, including herons.
A little further on, we come across the Azienda Agricola Bredasole, located by the first rapids of the Oglio River. The farm’s name appears as early as 1810 on a map in the Napoleonic land register. Extending over twelve hectares of land, it produces around ninety thousand bottles of wine annually according to a model of organic viticulture. Dante Alighieri, who is believed to have been a guest at Paratico Castle in 1311, will be used by the winery as a kind of illustrious “brand ambassador” to represent its “poetic” vision of the vineyard as a landscape element rather than a mere grape “factory”. Book a visit to the wine cellars of this winery – with tasting, of course – and don’t forget to try their selection of honeys!
Before embarking on your two-wheeled adventure, be sure to replenish your energy levels. For lunch, we recommend a trip to Clusane, a district of Iseo. Here, just a stone’s throw from the small port, you’ll find the Trattoria del Muliner and its legendary baked tench, served with steaming stone-ground polenta. This dish holds the De.Co. (Municipal Denomination) recognition and has a special place in the hearts of Clusane’s residents, who dedicate an entire week of celebrations to it, the third week of July every year to be precise. This humble fish, with its slightly slimy skin, once abundant in the lake but now rather scarce, became appreciated again after the war thanks to an undeniably tasty recipe. Stuffed with Grana Padano cheese, breadcrumbs and spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper, it is baked in the oven with a drizzle of oil and a few knobs of butter. It’s unlikely you will be disappointed by this ‘poor man’s stuffed capon’, especially when accompanied by a glass of Franciacorta Brut.
It is well known that a good walk is an aid to digestion, so why not take advantage of Iseo’s lake promenade? Explore the old medieval village, wander along the alleyways and perhaps indulge in some shopping. However, don’t linger around too long, because a busy afternoon of sport awaits you. You can rent bicycles directly at your accommodation for the night. If you have opted for a family trip, perhaps with children in tow, Camping del Sole Village is the place for you. It offers glamping solutions, mobile homes and chalets, as well as swimming pools, football pitches and tennis courts, with staff on hand to entertain children of all ages. For a more exclusive stay, we recommend the Iseolago Hotel, which offers a wellness centre and private beach. Regardless of your choice, you will be able to rent bicycles and discover the Torbiere del Sebino (Sebino peat bog), riding around this nature reserve along a loop trail of about 10 kilometres.
Declared a “wetland of international importance” in 2000, the peat bog was formed – like Lake Iseo – at the end of the last geological era. This marshy basin of swampy, flooded areas (later called “peat bogs”) began to be intensively exploited around the middle of the 19th century, thanks to the use of peat as a replacement for coal, which was expensive to import. Before the advent of oil and electricity, it was used in spinning mills, in furnaces, to heat homes and even power the trains of the Brescia-Iseo-Edolo railway up until World War I. Following its rise as a destination for clay diggers in the 1950s, the implementation of the first environmental protection restrictions reinstated a sense of tranquillity to the area.
Now and again, hop off your bike and follow one of the many footpaths that wind through the reserve among reeds and pools of water, or visit the Monastery of San Pietro in Lamosa. Built as a private church and donated to the monks of the Abbey of Cluny in 1083, it takes its name from the “Lame”, the marshes that the Cluniac monks dedicated their efforts to reclaiming using innovative agricultural techniques. Recently restored to its original glory thanks to an initiative of the Municipality of Provaglio d’Iseo, it offers wonderful views of the Torbiere.
After a satisfying bike ride, enjoy time relaxing by the pool or in the spa before dinner. If you are overcome by that sense of fatigue that often sets in after exercise, you can find food and drink options without having to leave the premises. Those looking for a more lively experience can “venture” into the village and find comfort in the dishes of the Osteria ai Nidrì. This old farmstead, which offered shelter to the citizens of Iseo during the bombings of the World War II, today hosts the cuisine of Daniel Gallizioli, which focusses on seasonal ingredients, in particular lake fish, treated with respect but without “culinary conformism”.
On Sunday morning, refreshed and rested, return to the old town centre of the lakeside capital to visit Piazza Garibaldi, home to the first Italian monument dedicated to the “Hero of the Two Worlds”, Castello Oldofredi, one of the oldest and best-preserved castles of the area, and Pieve di Sant’Andrea (Parish Church), built beginning in the 5th century over the remains of a Roman temple. If the Romanesque bell tower in the centre of the façade is not enough to tempt you to go inside, Francesco Hayez’s St Michael Archangel in the left aisle is sure to persuade you.
And after the cultural tour, it is the turn of the food and wine tour. Just ten minutes from Iseo, next to the Torbiere del Sebino, the Bersi Serlini winery offers guided tours of its vineyards and underground cellars, providing the opportunity to enjoy tastings of the estate’s organic wines. Allow yourself to be enticed by more original experiences, such as blindfolded tastings or picnics in the vineyard. In your personal box you will find a bottle of Franciacorta Brut Anniversario, the result of a triple selection of Chardonnay grapes with an average age of 15 years, with an elegant label that recalls the historic Art Nouveau-style label of the first Brut Bersi Serlini from 1970. Accompanying the wine, you will find local cold meats and cheeses and other delectable treats with this rich aperitivo.
Before returning home, add the finishing touch to your holiday by enjoying an excellent lunch in the oldest part of the village of Timoline in Corte Franca. The Ristorante Borgo Santa Giulia strives to promote Slow Food Presidia and local products, which are offered in their original form on platters but also in more elaborate preparations. For example, Fatulì della Val Saviore, a goat’s cheese made with raw milk from the Adamello blonde goat, can be found among the appetisers alongside Ret di Capriolo, but is also used to make the creamy sauce for malfatti alla bresciana (a pasta dish).
This weekend offers just a glimpse of the beauty that awaits in this corner of Lombardy. Whether you are an adventurous cyclist or intrepid walker, Lake Iseo will amaze you with its charming villages and picturesque landscapes.