Trips to Isola Bella, Lake Maggiore
An opulent 17th century villa and gardens reward this tiny island’s visitors
Isola Bella - the name means 'beautiful island' - is one of the three Borromean Islands situated in Lake Maggiore in northernmost Italy. This tiny island lies approximately four hundred metres from the shore of the medieval fishing port of Stresa on Maggiore's western bank in Piedmont; an area of Italy renowned for its outstanding natural beauty and tranquillity.
Initially, Isola Bella was little more than a barren strip of rocky land inhabited by local fisherman but in 1630 the Borromeo family, influential members of Piedmont's aristocracy, began the construction of a grand residence (a 'palazzo') and gardens on the island. Utilising Isola Bella's long and narrow formation, the design of the construction was intended to resemble a ship with the palazzo situated in the narrower north end of the island (effectively the prow of the 'ship') and the gardens in the wider southern area.
The Borromeo family's transformation of the island took forty years to complete, but the result is nothing short of breath-taking, and today Isola Bella is one of Lake Maggiore's most unmissable destinations. Regular ferry services bring visitors to admire the grand four-storey palazzo; an outstanding example of Lombard Baroque architecture which once hosted Napoleon and Josephine Bonaparte as guests, and the magnificent tiered Italian gardens where, from the uppermost terrace, the beauty of Lake Maggiore's mountainous landscape can be fully appreciated.