The Little-Known Italian Lake To Visit For A Luxurious, Charming Getaway Without Crowds

Are you tired of hearing about Lake Como and George Clooney's mansion? Do you want to experience Italy's authentic charm rather than its celebrity fame? This hidden gem promises an authentic Italian experience and offers all the luxury and beauty of its more famous counterparts without the crowds. Its name is Lake Iseo. This little-known lake is nestled between its popular neighbors, the famous Lake Como and more rustic Lake Garda, and lies more precisely between Brescia and Bergamo in the Lombardy region.

Lake Iseo covers about 25 square miles and has a maximum depth of 820 feet. Fed by the river Oglio, Iseo is enveloped by a lovely and diverse landscape. To the north, snowy alpines perch behind mountainous green hills, painting a quintessential backdrop of northern Italy. To the south, it becomes more Mediterranean, starting with its climate and flora. While all around, you have the charming villages and towns of Iseo, Sulzano, Sarnica, Sale Marasino, Lovere, Paratico, and Sarnico, just to name a few.

The best time to visit Lake Iseo depends on the type of experience you're seeking. With temperatures hovering around 68 degrees Fahrenheit in the spring and fall, these seasons offer a chance to explore this off-the-beaten-path lake and experience Italian lakeside culture in its purest form with fewer crowds. However, Lake Iseo is primarily a summer holiday destination, and visiting during the summer months allows you to take advantage of the warm weather and enjoy swimming in the lake.

What to do in Lake Iseo

There is no shortage of experiences in Lake Iseo, and the only way to see it all is to travel between villages. Start in Lovere, often listed among the most beautiful towns in Italy. Even Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, a prominent 18th-century aristocrat and writer, described it as one of the most romantic places she had ever seen. Additionally, towns like Sarnico boast stunning Art Nouveau architecture, particularly in the form of elegant villas.

For a truly special experience, time your visit with the Onde Musicali festival every summer, which features 52 concerts of classical, lyrical, symphonic, chamber, ancient, and crossover music across 19 municipalities between Lake Iseo, Val Seriana, and Franciacorta, offering a luxurious cultural experience. Keep in mind that there are some inland treasures, too. For example, in the town of Clusone, an astronomical clock has been ticking counterclockwise since 1583, revealing the zodiac sign, moon phase, and, of course, the time!

For hikers, experience a segment of the historic "Cammino di Carlo Magno," which extends to the northern part of the lake toward Lovere. This 143-mile trail retraces the steps of Charlemagne, starting in Bergamo and ending in Carisolo. If you're looking for a more well-rounded hike, consider the "Antica Strada Valeriana," a scenic coastal route from the Roman times with ancient frescoed religious sites along the way. To wash it all off, take up Lake Iseo's offer with its wide range of water activities, including fishing, swimming, sailing, diving, kayaking, and canoeing.

Mount Isola and tips for your visit

While visiting Lake Iseo — one of the most stunning lakes in the world — travelers simply cannot miss what lies in its very center, Monte Isola, the largest inhabited lake island in Europe — covering 2.7 square miles and rising to an altitude of 2,000 feet. Its name, which translates to "Mountain/Mount Island," becomes quite evident once you see its impressive landscape. The best view of Monte Isola is from the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Ceriola, a historic 5th-century chapel located at the island's summit. From here, you can enjoy a breathtaking 360-degree view of the entire lake.

Hiking to the top takes about an hour and a half along a winding path through a forest and the town of Cure before reaching the sanctuary. However, the island offers more than just scenic beauty; it's got all of Italy's best, from wine-tasting tours of the finest wines in the region to lakeside dining at restaurants like Trattoria del Sole. And if you need a dose of history, check out the 14th-century Martinengo Fortress. Bonus for pedestrians: no cars allowed on the island!

To reach Monte Isola, visitors must take a ferry from the ports at Sulzano (Monte Isola-Peschiera Maraglio) or Sale Marasino (Monte Isola-Carzano). For those who prefer to travel by boat, services are available from Iseo, Sale Marasino, Sulzano, and Tavernola Bergamasca. Detailed timetables and information on traveling between these different ports can be found on the official website of Navigazione Lago d'Iseo.