Lake Iseo and Franciacorta: a proposal happily uniting land and water, art, history and culture, wine and food and hospitality. An extraordinary and enchanting environment for the quiet waters of the lake framed in the greenery of the Prealpine hills, the gentle slopes of Franciacorta where the straight rows of the vineyards draw orderly landscapes, and vivacious districts and towns conserve a way of life that is still authentically original.
Franciacorta, a sun-blessed morainic amphitheatre lying between Lake Iseo and Brescia, known for its famous wine farms, but even in the past, a welcoming holiday place, offers an evocative natural scenario of villas, castles and palaces, towers, parish churches and sanctuaries. Ideal for excursions, on foot, on a bike or on horseback. A fascinating place, easy to reach, is the Abbazia Olivetana di Rodengo Saiano: one of the most important monasteries in Italy, it presents three cloisters of different origin and is a true and proper gallery of the Brescian school of 16th and 17th-century art. Foppa, Romanino, Moretto, Gambara and Cossali have contributed to its collection of precious works, and the wooden choir is a splendid example of wood carving.
An enchanting spot of Romanic origin, overlooking the Riserva Naturale delle Torbiere del Sebino is the Cluniac Monastery of San Pietro in Lamosa, at Provaglio d’Iseo. Already famous in the Longobard era, from which it still has a finely carved pulpit, is the parish church of Santa Maria di Piè del Dosso at Gussago. Part of the circuit of open castles and villas in Lombardy is the castle in Bornato, an important Renaissance villa richly decorated with frescos and built inside existing fortifications of which the 13th-century walls still remain, and Palazzo Torri di Nigoline in Corte Franca, a 17th-century country residence.
Standing out on the slopes of Monte Orfano is the convent named Annunciata di Rovato which offers a spectacular panoramic view. On the “iron road”, the 15th-century Averoldi forge in Ome. Ome also has a spa and wellness centre dedicating great attention to natural medicine.
Famous local wineries, found in aristocratic homes or typical farms, open their gates for guided tours and wine-tasting. Still imposing their presence are the castle walls in Passirano. The hamlet of Erbusco captures attention with its castle ruins, Santa Maria parish church and the grandiose Lechi villa in Palladian style. The Franciacorta Golf Club boasts some of the best greens in Italy while Nigoline di Corte Franca offers a course through gentle slopes, ponds and insidious bunkers.
Belonging to the group of big lakes, Lake Iseo was formed by the Oglio river which, after flowing through Valle Camonica, filled the sinuous hollow ex- cavated by the slow withdrawal of the glaciers. A long and narrow basin split by the imposing presence of Monte Isola, the biggest lake island in Italy and the highest in European lakes. A mountain and island at the same time with a particularly mild climate that favours the growth of typically Mediterranean vegetation alongside chestnut trees and oaks; 600 metres above sea level with tiny lakeside localities and ancient rural hamlets. The sanctuary dedicated to Madonna della Ceriola and the Oldofredi di Menzino castle are signs that clearly indicate its profile. An unusual and happy union voted as one of the most beautiful districts in Italy to be discovered by foot or by bike. As well as a sober and quiet way of life, the island conserves traditions of very ancient origin such as net-making, boat-making and sun-dried fish.
To travel the Brescian shores of Lake Iseo means encountering the many small centres facing the lake and climbing upwards through the hills. Each one conserves its own past such as the remains fo the Roman villa at Marone, the castles in Iseo, Clusane and Paratico, the Bishop’s Tower in Pisogne, the historical nucleus of Sulzano and the 16th-century buildings in Sale Marasino. Absolutely worthy of a visit is Santa Maria della Neve at Pisogne, richly endowed with frescos by Romanino. A splendid occasion for enjoying the natural habitat is the path between Vello and Toline, about 5 km of bends around the steep cliffs surrounding the lake. It is open only to walkers and cyclists.
Wonderful views can be enjoyed by following the ancient “Via Valeriana” overlooked by tiny country churches perched on the hillside. A curious geological phenomenon are the “pyramids” at Zone: pinnacles created by action of the weather on clay soil, topped by huge rocks which give the place a magic atmosphere.
The lake seen from the lake, “on the blue lines”, is the proposal for a boat trip using the punctual services of the Lake Iseo Navigation company. Pleasant excursions to enjoy the landscapes dotted with tiny harbours, villas, gardens and lots of greenery.
One great attraction is the cuisine shared by Franciacorta and Lake Iseo, combining the prestigious wines of the district with local products. Land and lake once again together. Lake fish, meat, salamis and cheese are the ingredients for tasty recipes and traditional dishes. Especially baked stuffed tench with polenta, a Clusane speciality, oil-braised beef in Rovato, and the “spiedo” in Gussago.
Franciacorta wines should never lack on important occasions. Rivalling the Franciacorta vineyards are the olive groves making Marone the city of oil. Holiday farms, trattorias and restaurants serving first-class food can be found everywhere in large numbers.
Events, shows and exhibitions are organised in all seasons on the lake shores as in the countryside. One of the most important is certainly the “Festa di Santa Croce” celebrated every 5 years at Carzano on Monte Isola. This is an appointment not to be missed in the traditional period from 14-18 September when the maze of cobbled streets in the small hamlet are bedecked with hundreds of pine branches decorated with thousands of paper fl owers masterfully created by the local inhabitants.
Gourmets can enjoy tench in Clusane restaurants during “La settimana della tinca” held the third week of July, and visit the exhibition “Dall’olivo all’olio”, held in Marone during the month of May to celebrate its DOP olive oil. Competitors arrive from all over Europe to take part in the “Gimondi bike”, an international mountain bike contest organised along a special track that, from Iseo, crosses the whole of Franciacorta. Part of a world circuit is “La festa della zucca” in September when a prize is awarded to giant pumpkin growers at Sale Marasino.
The celebration season starts with the carnival parades. Roses are the queens of “Franciacorta in fiore”, held at Cazzago San Martino during the month of May. Lovers of sparkling wines flock to “Festival del Franciacorta”. “Franciacorta in Bianco”, held in October each year at Castegnato, is dedicated to the hundreds of Italian cheeses. The villas and gardens of Franciacorta act as a backdrop for summer events. “Iseo jazz” adds colourful notes to holidays on Lake Iseo.
International sailing races and regattas are organised by the sailing clubs for those with an interest for sport. Entertainment parks for children and shopping for all complete a very rich offer of proposals for tastes of all kinds. Holiday farms, B&B, hotels and camp sites in such a privileged locality are an excellent starting point in the pleasure of discovery.