Where do you go in Italy if you want to learn about history and culture, hike among vineyards, eat delicious lake fish, and daydream by crystal clear waters, but without the crowds? And less than a 2-hour drive from Milan? Lake Iseo!
Even though celebrities (hello George Clooney!) flock to the more famous Lake Como nearby, there are a ton of things to see and do in Lake Iseo. With excellent hiking paths and beautiful landscapes, it is especially popular with adventure travellers. But there’s no shortage of things to do for culture and history buffs, either.
Where is Lake Iseo?
Iseo is in Lombardy, in northern Italy. It is one of the lakes that make up what is Italy’s Lake District. The other lakes include Lake Como, Lake Garda, and Lake Maggiore, just to name the most famous ones.
With lush green mountains, cobbled villages that seem lost in time, and peaceful, crystal-clear waters, it is a truly magical place.
Any season is a good time to visit the lake. The summer months are great for outdoor activities like hiking, while in winter you can go skiing. Rainy fall weather only adds to the romance of this beautiful lake.
As it lies between Milan and Bergamo, is easy to visit the area around the lake on a day trip from either town. The same goes for the other lakes too.
The best things to do in Lake Iseo
The whole of the Lake District is blessed with beautiful landscapes. As a result, it is popular with nature lovers. In addition, the area is full of towns rich in history and things to see.
1. Monte Isola, travel back in time
Also known as “Montisola“, this is the largest lake island in Europe. No cars are allowed on the island, which means it is really quiet and beautiful to see on foot. There is a ferry service to the island. From Sulzano, which is the closest, ferries leave every 15 minutes.
Although there are no cars on the island, there is, however, a public bus that connects all the villages. Bicycles are also available to rent.
2. Explore charming Lovere
Lovere is a beautiful town on the western coast of Lake Iseo. In fact, a 17th-century English writer, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, called it “the most romantic place [she had] ever seen”. I’m not surprised! With its cobbled streets and pretty little shopfronts, it’s not to be missed.
As it is on a slope between the lake and the mountains, it takes a bit of effort to walk but it is well worth it. The old part of the town with its narrow cobbled streets is an absolute pleasure to explore.
Another of Lovere’s highlights is the church of St. Giorgio. Dating from the 17th century, it is one of Lovere’s oldest buildings. The church has a three-aisled interior with large marble columns, sculptures, and rich tapestries. Worth a visit if you are in the area.
3. Marvel at the astronomical clock of Clusone
This is a real hidden gem indeed! Although not right on the coast but on the mountains, the small medieval village of Clusone is worth the effort. Why? Because, in the middle of the village, there is an amazing astronomical clock from the middle ages.
The clock was designed by local mathematician Pietro Fanzago in 1583. In fact, it hasn’t missed a beat in over 400 years. Still works fine today!
As well as telling the time, the clock also denotes the day, month, current zodiac sign, moon phase and hours of day and night. What is more, the clock’s hands move anti-clockwise!
4. Hike the Antica Strada Valeriana
In Roman times, this path was the only way to reach the valley of Lake Iseo from Brescia on foot. But in the 19th century, a new coastal route to the villages was built. The old path soon fell into disuse.
Thanks to careful restoration work, the Antica Strada Valeriana is again open to the public. It is fairly easy to walk and offers great views of the area.
5. In winter, go skiing at Montecampione
Montecampione is a popular modern skiing town. It is in Val Camonica, Brescia (i.e. the region around Lake Iseo). If you like to ski, here you have about 30 km of ski slopes of all levels. Notably, for families, there are mini slopes for children (and beginners).
Ski lifts that start at the village can take you up to the ski slopes. Finally, if the weather isn’t helpful, an artificial snow plant means there’s good skiing until March.
6. Go wine tasting at Franciacorta
Franciacorta is the main wine region near Lake Iseo, with lush vineyards and rolling hills. It is famous for its fine sparkling wines. In fact, the area is home to over 100 wineries!
A great way to enjoy a visit to the region is by going on one of the many wine tours available. Usually, they start from either Milan or Bergamo and often include lunch. Some even include a shopping trip to the Franciacorta Outlet Village.
7. Enjoy local art & culture
The villages and towns around Lake Iseo are rich in cultural sights. From religious shrines to Art Nouveau mansions and art festivals, Iseo does not disappoint.
Some of the highlights include the church of Santa Maria della Neve in Pisogne, built in the 15th century and the impressive Basilica of Santa Maria in Valvendra.
Alternatively, you can marvel at the splendid Art Nouveau mansions around Lake Iseo. The most famous is the “Liberty Houses” in Sarnico.
Finally, music lovers can time their visit to the prestigious Onde Musicali Festival. It’s a summer-long programme of concerts in various towns, with music ranging from classical to jazz.
How to get to Lake Iseo
The easiest way is by car. This way offers the most flexibility. For instance, the lake is only 60 km (or 1 hour 20 minutes) away from the city of Bergamo.
Or, you can get there by train or bus. There is also a regional railway, which connects most towns around the lake. From Milan, the train takes about an hour and a half to reach the lake area. For more info, you can check out the trenitalia.it website.
Disclaimer: I was a guest of Visit Bergamo Official during this trip, but all opinions are my own.