In the last months, there’s been a lot of hype around an event due to be held on Lake Iseo, around the charming island of Monte Isola. For those who don’t know, the famous land artist Christo chose this site to be the set of his latest installation, the “Floating Piers”. For two weeks, starting from the second half of June, one and a half million of people walked on the water of the lake, through a 3 kilometers long floating catwalk from the city of Sulzano, on the east bank of the lake, to the island of Monte Isola.
Yours truly didn’t manage to step on the docks as I planned to go afterward, to enjoy better the place without all the crowd.
The island of Monte Isola (literally, Mountain Island) is the highest lake island in Europe. Set in the Lake Iseo, it has great charm given by its history, art, ancient villages, the hospitality and, guess what? the culinary excellence.
Like I wrote before, Monte Isola has been in the spotlight of the world as an integral part of the work of Christo “the Floating Piers,” but that doesn’t mean that now it’s less attractive because the show is over, on the contrary.
As the name implies, it’s a mountain emerging from the lake, whose hillside hosts 11 between villages and hamlets, for a total of scarcely 1.800 inhabitants. From the biggest frazioni like Carzano, Peschiera Maraglio and Siviano on the lake shore, you can walk or bike your way through the island or reach the top of it at 600 meters above sea level (Lake Iseo is already at 181 m.a.s.l.), where you can find the shrine of Madonna Della Ceriola. That’s the best spot if you want to have a panoramic view of the surroundings plus, being the oldest church of Monte Isola, it holds some historical and artistic value as well.
As you may guess, Romans were the first to settle on Monte Isola and Lake Iseo, called at their time lake Sebinus, more than two thousands years ago, and that’s when the first plantations became established, mainly vines, chestnut trees and olive trees. During the following centuries, Monte Isola developed a more medieval aspect but being a small island on a lake, some traditions we can see now started as well in those years.
Fishing nets’ fabrication has been the biggest deal for centuries on the island of Monte Isola. Almost every family participated in the realization of these nets during winters, and a good net was vital since they relied on fishing for a living. But when you struggle for something between other families, you can start smelling troubles. Richer families had better and longer nets, hence more fishing spots, and more catch, so some feuds started. Thefts, armed conflicts, sabotages… you know, same old stuff.
Despite all, the tradition continued until industrialization and competition hit hard. Now there are still artisans who sew their nets for fishing purposes and for the sports industry: the ones used in the last football Fifa World Cup were a proud proof of the goodness of their job.
Speaking back to the fish, you can’t ignore the culinary side of it. On the island of Monte Isola, one of the most famous product, it’s the fish in oil. Usually, the fish used for this preparation is the sardine, the chub, or the perch. Once caught, they are washed, cleaned, cured, then sun-dried and finally put on oil in a big metallic container for several months. The result is a golden/pink colored fish, very intense and peculiar once eaten, both cooked or not.
If you don’t like fish, you can jump on cured meats, as Monte Isola is famous in the area also for its salami. Between January and February, all the families not devoted to fishing, start preparing their salamis from their own porks. To eat a salami, it takes one month to wait but after that, you can see why the inhabitants are so proud of their products as, they say, preparing salami outside the island doesn’t guarantee the same good result. Well, it’s worth trying to see if they’re right, with a slice of bread and some typical olive oil!
Reaching the island of Monte Isola, and its two tiny private islands of San Paolo and Loreto, it’s possible only by boat from both banks of the lake (west bank, Bergamo province, east bank, Brescia province). The service is available all day around, with 15 minutes from each departure from 5 in the morning to midnight, and every 40 minutes from midnight to 5. You can reach by car Sulzano or Sale Marasino on the east side of Lake Iseo or Tavernola Bergamasca on the west side without any problems since the road network is very efficient in the region.
Just remember one thing, though: you can move on the island only by foot and by bike! No cars are allowed, the few there are for police or doctors, and the use of mopeds is strictly allowed only to the inhabitants. If you really feel lazy, the is a public bus service too, but c’mon!
Have you ever been on a lake island or are you planning to visit the island of Monte Isola? Let me know in the comment section!
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