Iseo: An Italian town that lives in the present whilst protecting its future
Iseo in Italy is a middling size town of approx. 7,000 thousand people located in the wonderfully lush region of Lombardy in the central part of Northern Italy. It is less than one hour’s drive from Milan Bergamo airport. Whilst situated inland it offers a very open feel to it because of the spectacular Lago d’Iseo nearby. The soil is very fertile and home to some of the great Italian vineyards. It is one of those places that you visit where tourists fit into the local community and you don’t feel you have landed in some false ‘Disneyfied’ tourist attraction. As well as a good number of overseas tourists I was also struck by the number of local Italian tourists, which is always a good sign. There were lots of cyclists so it is particularly attractive to those who are keen to immerse themselves more closely to nature.
The town has a great buzz to it, particularly on a Saturday evening, where it appeared that every man, woman and child was out chatting to friends, relatives and neighbours.
Iseo is a pretty little town with lots of narrow streets and the centre of the old town is pedestrianised which makes it a joy to wander around. The shops were a little on the expensive side so not much shopping done. There is plenty of Italian history and heritage to whet the appetite of those seeking culture. Worth a visit is the Pieve S. Andrea whose Bell Tower dates to the 12th century. The nearby San Silvestro Chiesa contains a rare fresco of the ‘Danse Macabre‘ which is quite spooky. My favourite was a tiny church adjacent to the Piazza Garibaldi with its unusual tuff based statue of Giuseppe Garibaldi, dating from 1883. Inside this quaint Chiesa di Santa Maria del Mercato were large fragments of historic frescos, including one of a saint with the stigmata on his hands. I am guessing that it might be St. Francis of Assisi.
All of the nearby towns and villages host a myriad of museums and heritage sites, including the famous Place du forum et Capitolium and The Valle Camonica which boasts a UNESCO heritage site. Lombardy also has some remarkable parks and nature reserves. The highlight of my recent visit was a short ferry ride to the stunning Monte Isola which is the largest inhabited lake island in Europe.
There are no cars on Monte Isola so either walking or cycling is best way to get around. The locals, though, mostly use scooters and as everyone knows Italy has a strong association with the iconic Vespa. The island rises to 600 m. where there is an ancient village Cure renowned for its salami. It has my vote as the best salami I have ever tasted. Another local dish worth tasting is the dried twaite shad, referred to locally as a sardine and which is dried locally on wooden racks. I also drank a glass (or two) of the local champagne from the Corte Franca region and I have to say that it would give French champagne a run for its money.
We dined in a terrific pizza restaurant called Ristorante Saint Martino. We also had a wonderful wedding feast on one evening, which consisted of approx. 8 courses (I lost count), in the Radici Ristorante which lived up to its reputation for innovative cuisine.
We stayed in the nearby Iseolago Hotel, a four star resort hotel with excellent facilities. Our only big test during our short stay was the night time drive from Bergamo airport to the hotel. Our Google map route said 40 minutes but after driving for 20 minutes it still said 40 minutes so we obviously took a bit of a detour! However, we mastered it on the return journey (in day time). It was probably lack of overseas driving practice due to no travel over the past couple of years.