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A ferry glides across 15,271-acre Lake Iseo to arrive at the dock on Monte Isola. Passengers with packages and bicycles climb off the ferry; curiously absent, however, are cars. No vehicles are allowed on the 1,062-acre island in the middle of Lake Iseo, so there is nothing to mar the charm and quiet of the beautiful island. Surrounded by picturesque fishing villages, Monte Isola is the perfect place to explore by bike or on foot and be immersed in the culture of the Lombardy region of northern Italy. Visitors can climb to the island's highest point, 1,358 feet above the water, and enjoy the view across Lake Iseo from the religious sanctuary at Cure. Relatively unknown outside of Italy, Lake Iseo is a favorite with Italians and a fantastic destination nestled in the foothills of the Alps.
A fleet of motorized ferries connects most of the lakeside towns around the 38-mile shoreline. Tours with food and bar service leave from Sarnico on the southern shore and from Sulzano and Sale Marasino on the eastern shore. Most tours stop at picturesque Monte Isola.
Monte Isola is the largest island in any lake in Europe- 12.8 square kilometers or 3,163 acres-and one of three in Lake Iseo. The other small islands, Loreto and San Paolo, are private. Lake Iseo itself is the fourth largest lake in the Lombardy region behind Garda, Maggiore and Como. Known in Italian as Lago d'Iseo and also as Lago Sebino, Lake Iseo is 15.5 miles long and a little over three miles wide. It was formed by the Valcomonica Glacier, and the Oglio River makes up both the lake's primary inflow and outflow.
The western shore of Lago d'Iseo is rugged with very little vegetation. Little gorges created by small mountain streams entering the lake are interspersed with charming fishing villages. The eastern shore is also dotted with fishing villages, but its terrain is much gentler giving way to abundant vegetation and agricultural fields. The southern end of the lake includes a peat bog and nature reserve. The lake is very deep with a maximum depth of 824 feet. Originally, Lake Iseo was much deeper, but sedimentation build-up over time created the bog and provided valuable habitat for waterfowl. The northern end of Lake Iseo has thermal spas and petroglyph sites. In fact, the National Park of Rock Engravers is Italy's first UNESCO site, preserving several prehistoric rock carvings and archeological sites.
The Nature Reserve of the Pyramids of Zone, established in 1984, is in Marone on the eastern shore of Lake Iseo. Created by the same glacial activity that carved the lake's basin, the pyramids are pinnacles, some over 30 feet tall, capped with boulder "hats." Every so often a hat will fall off, and the pinnacle will erode until it reaches the next boulder. Marone is one of several fishing villages around Lake Iseo, including Riva di Solto, Sarnico and the village of Iseo. Lovere, once a fortified town, is known for its arts and nightlife, and it is a popular tourist destination. All the villages have a variety of accommodations including holiday homes, villas, hotels, and bed and breakfasts.
Some of the lakeside villages have boat rentals available, and the winds on Lake Iseo make it a great place to sail or windsurf. Canoeing, diving and fishing are also popular lake pastimes. Fishermen pull tench, pike and trout from the waters. In the winter, visitors can use Lake Iseo as a home base from which to enjoy one of the area's nearby ski slopes.
In June of 2016 the conceptual artist Christo opened a 16-day exhibit on Lago d'Iseo titled The Floating Piers. Floating walkways connected the lakeside town of Sulzano to the islands of Monte Isola and San Paolo, totaling 1.9 miles in length. 220,000 interconnected cubes wrapped in a shimmering yellow fabric were designed to change to shades of gold and red according to the time of the day and the weather. Christo described the experience as "like walking on water - or perhaps the back of a whale."
Tucked away in the foothills of the Alps, Lake Iseo is an almost undiscovered gem. With its rich past, sparkling water, and quaint villages all set against the reminders of its glacial creation, it is a treasure waiting to be enjoyed.
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