Aaah Italy. La Dolce Vita.
I originally planned to visit Italy’s Lake Iseo in 2020, but of course COVID threw a wrench in those plans. Well, I finally made it and it was sooo worth it! Here’s why!
Where is it?
There are more than 1,000 lakes throughout Italy, but when most of us think of the “Lakes Region”, it usually means northern Italy. The lakes of northern Italy spread across the regions of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. Some lakes are even partly in Switzerland. You’ve probably heard of some - Lake Como, Lake Garda, Lake Maggiore, and probably Lake Lugano. Those that are less well known include Lake Orta and Lake Iseo, and we chose to visit Lake Iseo.
Lake Iseo, also known as Lake Sebino, is the fourth largest lake in Lombardy. While you may not know Lake Iseo by name, you might recognize it from a famous art installation by Christo in 2016 - the Floating Piers.
How do you get there?
It’s about a 2 hour drive east of Milan. It’s not a difficult drive, but traffic can be challenging.
Tip: If you’re renting a car at the Milan airport, plan your pre-return gas fill up carefully. When we picked up the car at the airport, we weren't thinking about getting gas on the way back to the airport in a week’s time. Returning to Milan, we passed several gas stations on the way to the airport, but didn't stop. That was a mistake because we ended up getting gas a run down, unmanned gas station that only took credit/debit cards. Since it was unmanned, that meant that there was no attendant to assist if we had an issue AND no way to pay cash. There was a telephone number to call, but really? When I tried to pay, more than one credit card kept getting rejected, which should not have occurred. It was a mess. Ultimately, I took photos of the pump number, the final amount on the pump, and kept all of my rejected receipts so that, if there was an issue, I would at least have some evidence that I tried to pay. When I got back to the U.S., I continued to monitor my credit cards to see if there was a charge for the gas, and/or if my credit card number had any unauthorized use. Turns out, one of the attempts went through and there was no unauthorized use, but the situation was really stressful.
What’s there to do?
Visit Monte Isola – The only way to get to Monte Isola is to take the ferry. Once you get there, you can walk the perimeter of the island like we did or hike up to the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Ceriola.
Fun fact: Monte Isola is the largest lake island in Europe. It covers just under 5 miles (12.8 kilometers) with a peak of about 1,900 feet (600 meters) above sea level. It’s so beautiful, but crowded - everyone wants to visit!
There’s hiking – you can do short hikes, long hikes, easy hikes, difficult hikes, hikes through vineyards, hikes with beautiful views. For the best hike for you, check out All Trails. I use it to find hikes and walks anywhere – near my home and all over the world!
Wineries – Well, of course there’s a wine trail! In fact, the area is known as Franciacorta. It’s almost unknown in the United States. What a shame. The region produces a phenomenal sparking wine. If you can get your hands on a bottle – buy it! Here’s a list and a map of all the wineries in the area.
We visited the Elisabetta Abrami winery. Like most of the wineries in the region, it’s small, producing only about 50,000 bottles annually. The wine maker herself led the tour with her husband. There were only five of us on the tour, so it made for a really fantastic experience. Elisabetta and her husband were so lovely and the wine was incredible. If you find your way to Lake Iseo, definitely visit!
Where’d we stay?
There are tons of places to stay, but we chose the Hotel Araba Fenice right on Lake Iseo, in the village of Pilzone. Everyone at the hotel was wonderful. I speak some Italian, but the staff speaks very good English. Breakfast was included and it was delish! The room was just what I hoped for, but the view was even better!
Like I mentioned, there are many places to stay in Lake Iseo. The main villages include Pilzone, Sulzano, Lovere, Iseo Sarnico, Pisogne houses. We chose Pilzone, because we liked the Hotel Araba Fenice. Note: (1) The hotel offers parking for a fee. Pay for it. Parking is a PREMIUM and worth the charge. Parking is also tight. I mean tiiiiight. (2) The hotel is on a very narrow, one car road, that you share with other cars and pedestrians. So, if you have the misfortune of a car coming in the opposite direction, one of you is going to have to drive backwards on the road because the road is barely big enough for one car, but definitely not wide enough for two cars. Hope you're a good backer upper. Just sayin’.
Where’d we eat?
It’s kinda hard to go wrong with food in Italy and we ate several delicious meals. One was at the Bella Iseo, which was next to, but not necessarily part of, the Hotel Araba Fenice in PIlzone. Soooo good and the view was beautiful. Our outside table was right over the water. Totally insane!
The other outstanding restaurant was a family run restaurant call the Camplani di Marone. The food was spectacular. The restaurant sat on a hilltop overlooking Lake Iseo. Take a look at the view!
I loooove Italy for many of the same reasons that you all love Italy, but Lake Iseo was just so much better than I expected. If you are planning a trip to Italy, try to make it to Lake Iseo. If you don’t have a trip to Italy in the works, start planning your trip to Lake Iseo!