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Lake Iseo (Italy)

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In Italian: Lago d'Iseo

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      05.10.2011 09:42
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      One of my favourite lakes in northern Italy

      Lake Iseo, situated between Bergamo and Brescia, lies 186 metres above sea level, is 25 km long, has a maximum width of 5km, a maximum depth of 250 metres, and a surface area of 62 square kilometres. It contains the largest inhabited lake island in Europe.

      The best route to take when travelling around the lake is to go clockwise around the lake, starting at the small town of Sarnico. The mountains along the quieter western shore descend steeply towards the lake, while the area of reeds across to the east is framed by rolling meadows. Local fishermen spend their days in search of lake tench - a speciality often served as tinca al forno (baked lake tench with polenta). Olive groves, vineyards and avenues of cypress line the road, which passes through a series of tunnels. The steep slope between Tavernola and Riva di Solto is unspoilt. Venice quarried the black marble for San Marco here, and until 1910 this region was only accessible by boat.

      Soon the main town on lake Iseo comes into view: Lovere, which has a well-restored Renaissance centre. This former textile town has made a successful transition to tourism, with a new marina on the lake. The church of Santa Maria in Valvendra is well worth a look for its baroque interior and Renaissance artwork. The Galleria dell'Accademia Tadini has an astonishingly good collection of paintings, porcelain and Flemish tapestries. (Open April-October, Tuesday-Saturday from 3 - 7pm, Sunday and holidays - 10am-noon and 3-6pm.

      The old road along the eastern shore winds pleasantly past several old villas as far as Pisogne, but then suddenly widens to accommodate heavy goods traffic. Don't rush at this point, otherwise you will miss the 15th century Augustinian church of Santa Maria della Neve which contains some fine fresco work by the 16th century Renaissance artist Romanino and is sometimes known as the 'poor man's Sistine Chapel'.

      The next stop is Sulzano, picturesquely situated beside a yachting harbour, and the starting point for ferry trips across to Monte Isola. This mountain island, 600 metres high and covered with chestnut forest and olive groves, is a haven of tranquillity Given the choice of ferry stops back to the mainland, you can do just a short stretch of Iseo's waterside promenade (which is lined with fish restaurants). Perhaps enjoy a fish lunch in a rustic trattoria on the waterfront..

      Iseo itself, is the most appealing town on the lake and good for restaurants, shopping and people watching. The entrance to it via the 15th century Castello Oldofredi is delightful. The various narrow alleys meet up at the arcaded Piazza Garibaldi, the town's medieval market place, which is lined with inviting cafes and dominated by a mossy statue of Garibaldi.

      One very rewarding car excursion from the Lago d'Iseo is to Capi di Ponte, half way up the Val Camonica to the northeast, famed for its prehistoric rock engravings. Over 300,000 of these have been discovered, and they date from different periods - some even from Neolithic times (8,000 years ago). The engravings, many of which show hunting scenes and religious symbols, can be admired in Capo di Ponte's National Rock Engravings Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1979. (Open Tues-Sun, March - mid October, 8.30am - 7.30pm: mid Oct - Feb closes 4.30pm).

      I really liked Lake Iseo when I visited with my family. It isn't as large or as glamorous as the other lakes in northern Italy but it has its own special aura; in late September the light quality is excellent, less people are buzzing around although the pizza restaurants in the town are always full and I even got away without wearing a swimming hat in one of the outdoor pools on the campsite we were staying at. That is a special bonus. Highly recommended.

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      In Italian: Lago d'Iseo