Isola Bella is one of the Borromean Islands, about 400 metres off Stresa, and can be reached in a few minutes from Verbania, Baveno, Stresa and Arona.
The island is a natural treasure made even richer by human intervention; it has always been one of the favourite visitor attractions of Lake Maggiore, not to be missed if you want unparalleled views of the lake and its surroundings. Isola Bella is dominated by its sumptuous Baroque palace, along with a luxuriant Italian-style garden, which reaches a height of 37 metres and is laid out on ten terraces. Many parts of the palace are open to visitors: richly furnished rooms and opulent salons embellished with priceless artworks.
The garden is full of flowers and exotic plants of great rarity, which grow thanks to the particularly mild climate of the Borromean Gulf. Everything on the island has been designed to create a scenic effect, including the “Theatre” constructed at the end of the superimposed terraces, dominated by a statue of a Unicorn, the heraldic emblem of the Borromeos, which is flanked by statues representing Nature and Art. The huge, extraordinary garden is further decorated with ponds, fountains and a plethora of statues dating from the second half of the 17th century. The white peacocks that wander over the manicured lawns add their grace to this enchanting spot.
Isola Madre is the largest and perhaps most characteristic of the three islands in the Borromean Gulf. Its palace displays furnishings from the historic residences of the Borromeo family, and contains some beautiful rooms, such as the Dolls’ Room, the Room of the Seasons and a room devoted to the Puppet Theatre.
The atmosphere of this enchanting place is magical; its immense garden of rare trees and exotic flowers, where peacocks and pheasants wander and budgerigars fly in freedom, has something of the fascination of a tropical land. The English-style garden of Isola Madre, landscaped in the early 19th century in a space of almost eight hectares, displays a flora which is a continual surprise and which is hard to find in other places.
It is famous for the amazing spectacle of its azaleas, rhododendrons and camellias in flower, as well as its pergolas of ancient wisteria. The largest specimen in Europe of Kashmir Cypress, superb lime and lemon trees, a marvellous collection of hibiscus, and a Gingko Biloba, are all found here.
Isola Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island), or Upper Island because of its more northerly situation than the other islands in the Gulf, is the most picturesque of the Borromean Islands, as well as the only one to be permanently inhabited. Distinctive features of its ancient little village are narrow lanes with characteristic two-storey houses, with long balconies traditionally used for drying fish; the island’s inhabitants earn their living mainly by fishing and tourism.
Its unmistakable skyline is punctuated by the pointed spire of the Church of San Vittore, which rises above the red roofs of the houses; its shore is always occupied by the little boats of its fifty residents. It becomes even more atmospheric in the evening, when the whole island is discreetly lit up, a living picture reflected in the calm waters of the lake.