John Bensalhia looks at the splendour and natural sights of Lake Iseo, a perfect destination for peace, tranquillity, walks and much more!

While some destinations are known the world over, others keep their charms a little quieter.

Lake Iseo is one such example. It's been described as an “undiscovered gem” and if you're lucky enough to have visited it, then you'll know why. Lake Iseo offers amazing natural beauty. The deep blue lake is surrounded by lush green mountains, providing the quintessential tranquil spot to see.

Lake Iseo is the fourth biggest lake in Lombardy, Italy. It's near to the cities of Brescia and Bergamo, and is also notable for being near to the wine region of Franciacorta, which is mere minutes away.

Besides providing the perfect spot for a walk or ramble in the hills and mountains, Lake Iseo is surrounded by a good number of medieval towns which include their share of sights, restaurants, cafés, shops and places to stay (hotels and bed and breakfasts).

So without further ado, let's take a closer look at what there is to know about Lake Iseo!

WEATHER

One of the many plus points of Lake Iseo is its climate. It offers pleasant, mild weather all year round. Even the winter is reasonably moderate (just the place to go if you're stuck in miserable, freezing cold Britain between December and February!). The winter paves the way for a fresh, warm early Spring season before the sun bathes the area to show off its splendour in the Summer time.

TRANSPORT

The transport facilities are generally good in Lake Iseo. If you want to get to Monte Isola, then there is a passenger ferry which will take you there and back. The airports are nearby in the regions of Brescia and Bergamo if you're coming for a holiday.

There are boats (www.navigazionelagoiseo.it) and buses (www.arriva.it) for you to take and there is also a regular train service that runs from Brescia with connections to locations such as Bergamo, Milan and Venice.

Talking of trains, if you're after a more traditional experience, then the classic 1950s diesel train, Treno Blu is a fine opportunity to sightsee.

SIGHTS TO SEE

MONTE ISOLA

If you're looking for a spot of peace and quiet, then Monte Isola may just be what you're after.

Also known as Montisola, Monte Isola is the biggest inhabited lake island in southern Europe. It is said to have around 2000 residents, no cars and an atmosphere of pure peace and tranquillity.

The island includes the beautiful village of Peschiera Maraglio. The village contains two elements that Monte Isola are famed for: fishing and net making. The inhabitants of Monte Isola are well known for their talents in making nets, whether for hammocks or tennis nets. You can see the nets draped over some of the local cafés.

Fishing is one of the area's best known elements – and in fact, you can sample the fresh fish in many of the restaurants (see restaurants section).

ISEO TOWN

If you're visiting Lake Iseo, then it's definitely worth paying a visit to Iseo town. With a population of around 9000, the town offers some fine architecture and some great historical sights. One of the most famous of these is the statue of Garibaldi located in the main square, Piazza Garibaldi. The work of sculptor Pietro Bordini, it's said to be the first Italian monument (dating back to 1883) which is devoted to the 'Hero of Two Worlds'.

Other good buildings to visit in the town include Castle Iseo. Built in 1161, it functioned as a Capuchin monastery between 1585 and 1797. Arsenale Iseo is another classic building which has seen it function chameleon-like over the centuries as a number of things: Work house. Oldofredi family residence. Prison. Today, it plays host to exhibitions and cultural events which are held on the ground floor.

The area also contains its fair share of churches. These include the Church of Santa Maria del Mercato (originally a private chapel), the Church of St John The Baptist and the Parish Of St Andrew (where it's said that the Bishop of Brescia San Vigilio took refuge in the sixth century to escape the barbarians).

CHURCH OF ST MARY OF THE SNOW

The Roman Catholic church of Santa Maria della Neve is located in the province of Brescia, and one of the key elements of the building is the artwork on display.

The walls of the church interior boast fresco cycle fragments which is the work of Renaissance artist Romanino (AKA Girolamo Di Romano). The acclaimed artist was commissioned to decorate the church by the Augustinian religious community that had built the sanctuary. The community had chosen Romanino because of his talent and standing in the art world as they wanted to broadcast the importance of their teachings to people, and spread the word of the message of the united church.

Romanino's frescoes boast vitality, colour and a good sense of realism. His characters are marked out by their animated poses, gestures and facial expressions and glances. The church walls include dynamic crowd scenes, featuring people in contemporary clothing, armoured soldiers and elegantly dressed nobles – all to give a feeling of inclusive daily life.

VALLEY WALLS OF VAL CAMONICA

When you talk about art, the first thing that comes to mind is the art gallery – looking around a range of classic paintings, sculptures and statues in four walls.

But if you take a look at the valley walls of Val Camonica, then you'll see that people had an eye for art 11,000 years ago.

The walls are adorned with more than 300,000 carvings – you can find the valley just north of Lake Iseo. While the majority are said to be between 3000 and 5000 years old, the oldest examples are said to be 11,000 years old.

The carvings – said to be the work of the prehistoric Camuni tribes – offer a fascinating insight into the past. The drawings depict characters, animals and warriors – whether posing with weapons like swords or bows and arrows – or in combat. There are also enigmatic shapes – for all art connoisseurs, what these are meant to mean is up to each individual!

GALLERIA TALDINI

Lovere town's Galleria Taldini offers a brilliant selection of art with pieces dating back to between the 14th and 19th centuries. Important artists like Jacopo Bellini, Tintoretto and Parmigianino are represented in the gallery that contains its fair share of marble works and paintings.

The statue pieces include Antonio Canova's The Religion and Dance Of The Sons Of Alcinous and Benzoni's Mars Dormant. The paintings offer a good scope of styles and range. Among the eclectic line-up are Bellini's Madonna And Child, Busso's Flight Into Egypt, Fusari's Judith And Holofernes and Pecchio's Rest Of The Holy Family On The Flight Into Egypt.

RESTAURANTS

RISTORANTE LE MARGHERITE

Looking to sample some of the local Lake Iseo cuisine? Then a good port of call is Ristorante Le Margherite.

The restaurant is based in the lakeside town of Clusane – one of the best things about eating out is that you can get a chance to take in some of the local surroundings while munching on your food. The views from Ristorante Le Margherite are outstanding and inside, the smart interiors are just as sumptuous.

One of the main catches, menu-wise is tinca riplena al forno. Tinca (or tench as it's also known) is a type of fish that's found aplenty in the lake. It's related to carp and the resulting dish is one of the most popular at this locale – in addition, there are other dishes to choose from including ravioli and risotto dishes and lots of desserts!

 

TRATTORIA AL PORTO

One of the oldest restaurants in the Clusane area is Trattoria Al Porto, which dates all the way back to 1862.

This is another restaurant that offers a winning combination of stunning views and locally sourced food. Because the restaurant is located on the water, the views are fantastic. The local ingredients (including the fish which contribute to the generous amount of seafood dishes) are fresh and healthy, and add much to the flavour of the dishes on offer. It's a good one if you're a pasta fan – there are plenty of pasta goodies to choose from, including lasagne and ravioli. It's also a top choice of destination if you have a bit of a sweet tooth – the extensive desert menu offers sweets such as panna cotta, sorbet and tiramisu.

AZIENDA AGRITURISTICA CINQUE ABETI

If you're off on a ramble, and at the end of the walk, you're feeling a little peckish, then why not stop off at Azienda Agrituristica Cinque Abeti? It's based high up in the dell'Alto Sebino hills above Lovere which is on the northern end of Lake Iseo.

You're guaranteed peace and quiet in this lovely area which is near the fields of the Bossico Plateau and the fir forests, and appropriately offers a great deal of rustic charm.

The foods are very good, with dishes made from organic, locally grown ingredients – the restaurant is well known for its pasta dishes and home-made cheeses.

18B

If you're looking for something a little different to fish or pasta, then 18B could be right up your street. Furthermore, it allows you a little bit of creativity when you come to eat.

Offering scenic views, the key innovation at 18B is that you can create your own burger with a wide range of buns and fillings. Whatever your burger bias, there will be something here to suit all peoples. In addition, there are other dishes to enjoy from sushi to cheesecake to freddo. And of course, if you like cocktails, then you can choose a wonderful creation from the restaurant's menu.

CASCINA DOSS

One of the first things to hit you when your meal is placed in front of you at Cascina Doss is how amazing it looks. The presentation of the meals at Cascina Doss are tastefully and creatively presented.

The quality of the food at this restaurant (which is a stone's throw away from the centre of Iseo) is also superb, and offers dishes such as a seafood platter (with fishes including tuna, red prawns and bass) and stuffed gnocchi. You can choose from the a la carte menu (which includes cod, pike salad and sliced beef with potato carbonara) or the business lunch menu (which offers a club sandwich, fish and chips or a hot dog).

Another boon of this classy restaurant is that you can save money by bringing your own wine if you choose. Class, quality and value: Hungry for more?