MONTISOLA ISEO LAKE: HOW TO GET THERE AND WHAT TO SEE

It is the largest lake island in Europe, and the true pearl of the entire lake, a small paradise where there is no vehicular traffic, only boats that connect the island with the mainland. The nearest departure point is Sulzano, from where a fast ferry service leads to Peschiera Maraglio, an ancient fishing village that welcomes tourists when they land on the island.

Peschiera Maraglio Montisola | IMAGE Stefano Massari

HOW TO GET TO MONTISOLA

Of course, there is only one way to get to Montisola: by lake.
If you are not among the fortunate owners of a private boat, the choice naturally remains that of the ferry: the main departure ports are those of Sulzano and Sale Marasino, from which you can reach the island in about twenty minutes by boat. Alternatively, ferries also depart from Iseo, Lovere, Sarnico and other towns overlooking the lake: here you can find out the costs and timetables.

There are two pedestrian routes that lead to the exploration of the island: the circumnavigation around the perimeter, an articulated but easy route that offers visitors the chance to pass through small villages lapped by the lake and to enjoy the gentle panoramas of Montisola (4 hours for the loop). Several paths lead instead to the highest point on the island, the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Ceriola, located at an altitude of 599 metres and from which to enjoy a unique panorama of the lake and the mountains of the Brescia shore. From Peschiera Maraglio it takes about an hour to reach the sanctuary, but it is possible to shorten it by arriving at Cure by public transport and then, with a 20-minute walk, to the Sanctuary.
Monte Isola is still a living and inhabited island, with a solid craft and food and wine tradition

Santuario Madonna della Ceriola

Montisola aerial view | Francesco Zanardini

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What are the Naèt of Montisola

They are the typical boats that were used by the inhabitants of Montisola both as a means of transport and for fishing: elongated in shape (length between 6.40 and 7 metres), made of chestnut and larch wood, the Naèt was particularly agile and fast, ideal in the days when engines were not yet available and a sail could be attached to the boat thanks to the use of two crossed chestnut wood poles. The Naèt shows some similarities with the Venetian gondola and mascareta (let us not forget that Venice counted the Sebino among its possessions for centuries): the typical standing rowing and the elongated shape.
Naèt are still produced on the island today, in the same way as they have been for generations: by hand, using hammer, chisel, axe and planer. www.montisolabarche.it and www.cantierearchettiercole.it
Various sports associations on the lake group together amateurs of this type of boat: it is possible to watch various competitions between boats (for information www.remosebino.it) or, if you wish, to practice this type of rowing directly, for example at the Naèt Sarnek Facebook group in Sarnico.

Naèt and fishing nets, Peschiera Maraglio fishing museum | Photo by JoJan

The nets of Montisola

In the past, one of the indicators of wealth in Montisola was the possession of nets and their quality: nets, in fact, were essential for fishing and thus for obtaining food. More valuable nets allowed easier fishing, at greater depths and, therefore, guaranteed a better catch. It took a family the whole winter to produce a net and, often, disagreements between one family and another could result in the theft or damage of the nets, which threw entire households out on the street. The skill of the people of Montisola in producing nets was such that soon, both on the island and on the mainland, netsmiths and workshops sprang up that produced and marketed nets, thanks to the islanders’ skills. Montisola still excels today in this type of activity: while it is true that the production of fishing nets has almost disappeared, the reconversion of activities has meant that, today, there are several companies that produce nets for construction sites, for sport, for gardening or for other activities directly on the island. It is said that, at the last World Cup, balls were inflating nets produced right on Montisola!

The dried sardine, a slow food presidium

Don’t be surprised, sardines are one of the best-known and most appreciated typical products of the Sebino area. Of course, we are not talking about sea sardines, but about the Alosa Fallax lacustris, which is very similar to its saltwater relative. Throughout the course of the year, except in spring (breeding and restocking season), it is possible to see fishermen who, from dusk until dawn, spread their fishing nets to catch sardines, but also chub, trout, whitefish and perch.
As soon as the sardines are caught, cleaned by a single cut under the head, they are washed and placed in salt for 24 to 48 hours. After salting, the fish is re-salted and then placed to dry on special frames for up to thirty days, then placed in special containers where, by pressing, the fat is removed. The sardines are then covered with olive oil to ensure preservation for a few months (an essential factor in a time when fridges did not exist…). www.pescheriamontisola.it

The oil

In recent years, Montisola has also developed olive cultivation and the related production of extra virgin olive oil, which, despite the limited areas available, has also given rise to the marketing of this particular oil. Since 2015, Montisola has joined the National Association of Oil Cities.

The salami of Montisola

Despite the lake and fishing, despite the island’s small size, traditional pork processing has been handed down for generations in Montisola too, resulting in the famous Salame di Montisola, the preparation of which involves the entire family during the first few months of the year. In addition to the canonical operations of cutting, mixing, and bagging, one of the particularities of Montisola salami is the 30-day long smoking process, at a constant temperature in special rooms without windows, with unplastered walls and vaulted ceilings. These rooms are known as ‘cà de salam’: there are only a few on the whole island, so much so that, at this stage, they have to be booked and often salami of different origins are placed to smoke together.

Salva

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