This is an article I had written a while back. This intriguing island is unknown to a lot of people who visit Italy. I urge you to seek it out if you are planning a trip there. I have been there on two of my three trips to Italy. In fact, the whole Lake Maggiore region is beautiful and worthy of a visit.
Millions of visitors fly into Italy every year to experience the art, history, culture and beauty of this fascinating country. Those who are fortunate, as my daughter Sherri and I were in July of 2006, stumble across the charming island of Isola Bella. The island seemed surreal with its white peacocks, gigantic unicorn statue, seventeenth-century palace and all those breathtaking views of Lake Maggiore.
Isola Bella, which means “beautiful island,” is one of three islands sitting in magnificent Lake Maggiore, Italy’s second largest lake. It is located near Stresa in northern Italy. This island displays a unique blending of man’s artistic design with the beauty of God’s creations.
A short boat trip from our hotel in Baveno brought us to this peaceful setting. Here we discovered an ornate Baroque palace with formal terraced gardens built in the seventeenth century by Count Carlo Borromeo in honor of his wife Isabella. The structure is surrounded by flamboyant gardens dotted with fountains, statues and abundant plant life ranging from lemons to hydrangeas.
Much of the garden is constructed in the form of a pyramid of ten terraces which descend gradually down to the lake, like layers of a gigantic cake. White peacocks strutted through the lush vegetation and manicured lawns. The culmination of these stylishly overstated gardens was the gigantic statue of a unicorn, the symbol of the Borromeo family, proudly sitting on top of the so-called garden amphitheatre.
The grandiose Borromeo Palace is another site which boasts of Napoleon’s visits. Inside, we discovered many treasures, including Murano glass chandeliers, rich tapestries, antique furniture and musical instruments. There were also famous paintings and sculptures by Tuscan and Neapolitan artists. We even passed by a small marionette theatre.
It was easy to feel like we were drowning in wealth as we walked through room after room in awe of such historic and artistic splendor. Especially unique were the six grottoes decorated with light and dark stones. This unique aquatic-themed, almost subterranean, series of rooms was said to be designed for cooler summertime living.
The most unforgettable experience for me was the way my eyes were so frequently, almost magnetically, drawn to the palace’s open windows by the rippled blue expanse of Lake Maggiore nestled so snugly against the majestic Alpine mountains. I couldn’t help but wonder how it would feel to live in this regal setting, waking up each morning to these magnificent views. Today’s Borromeo family knows the answer, as they periodically vacation on the upper floors. I only know that for me, personally, looking out from those palace windows was a spiritually renewing experience. It filled me with a deep sense of inner peace and joy.
Isola Bella must be seen to be believed. It is real, yet certainly provides solid food for the imagination. With such diversity to its charms, each visitor’s experience here must be uniquely their own. To me, it will always be truly a “Fantasy Island.”