Isola Madre: Nature, History, Art and More, on Lake Maggiore

Isola Madre, an enchanting place located in Lake Maggiore, is one of the pearls of North Italy, enchanting visitors with its idyllic atmosphere and lush nature
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Isola Madre, the largest of the Borromean Islands on Lake Maggiore, is an oasis of serenity rich in history, flora and fauna. Its botanical gardens, enriched with exotic species, and the Renaissance Borromeo Palace represent its highlights. A trip here allows visitors to immerse themselves in an interweaving of nature, history and culture, making Isola Madre an artistic and naturalistic masterpiece.

How to get to Isola Madre

Isola Madre in Lake Maggiore can be easily reached through the efficient boat service present at several locations on Lake Maggiore, such as Stresa, Baveno, and Verbania. They offer regular ferry or boat connections to the island. Once you arrive at one of these departure locations by car, bus or train, you can purchase tickets at ticket offices located at the piers or online, depending on the options available. After that, you embark on foot.

Ferry services are frequent and give the opportunity to enjoy beautiful panoramic views of the lake during the journey to Isola Madre. The Lake Maggiore ferries and boats are well managed and very suitable for both leisure and educational trips. Spaces are programmed to travel comfortably in safety.

Once on the island, visitors can explore it on foot. It can be said that walking on the island is a must. The island's gardens possess well-maintained paths that lead visitors through lush vegetation, flower beds, fountains and flower-lined avenues, offering moments of total immersion in nature. A well-organized trip to Isola Madre will make for an unforgettable day.

It is advisable to take your time to explore all the interesting attractions there.

Borromean Islands Ferry Schedules and Prices

The Borromean Islands, pearls of Lake Maggiore, are easily accessible thanks to frequent ferry services. During the high season, you can count on departures every 30 minutes, from 9 a.m. until sunset. Although fares vary depending on the destination and the type of ticket selected, there are special discounts available: families, children and the elderly can benefit from reduced fares.

The table below shows the times and prices for the next 3 days.

History of Isola Madre

Lake Maggiore's Isola Madre has a rich and fascinating history dating back many centuries. Its history is intertwined with that of the Borromeo family, which played a key role in the development and transformation of the island over time.

In Roman times it was a defensive outpost. Later, in medieval times the island, then known as the island of San Vittore, belonged to abbots and bishops. The valuable evidence of a document from 846 attests to the presence on the island of a few houses with a small church and olive trees for the production of oil to be used in liturgies.

However, the most important historical records of the island date back to the 12th century, when it was mentioned as a possession of the Borromeo family. However, it was in the 16th century that the island began to take shape with the 'ambitious project of building the Borromeo Palace. Work began in 1501 and was completed in 1671. During this period, the island underwent significant changes to adapt to the needs of the palace and its inhabitants.

Over the following centuries, the island underwent various building and landscaping interventions. In the 19th century, for example, the botanical garden was expanded and enriched with exotic plants from around the world. The island also witnessed important moments in history, such as the visit of Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797.

During the 20th century, the island was opened to the public and became an increasingly popular tourist destination. Over the years, efforts have been made to preserve and restore the island's historical and artistic heritage, ensuring its beauty and authenticity.

Today, Isola Madre is one of the main tourist attractions of Lake Maggiore. In addition to the magnificent Borromeo Palace and its botanical garden, the island offers a range of cultural and nature experiences, such as the Puppet Museum and the opportunity to walk along scenic trails surrounded by nature.

Calendar of Blooms

The table illustrates the harmony of seasonal blooms on Isola Madre. From the blossoming of the Camellia in March, to the cascade of summer flowers such as water lilies and bougainvillea, it offers us a fascinating tour of nature in all its facets. The calendar reflects the ever-changing beauty of Isola Madre, a window into the floral spectacles that await us month after month.

What to see at Isola Madre

On Lake Maggiore's Isola Madre, visitors can enjoy a myriad of fascinating attractions that blend nature with historical and artistic heritage. One of the island's highlights is the majestic Borromeo Palace, an imposing Renaissance structure that stands majestically on the shoreline.

Inside the rooms of the palace, one can admire the antique furniture, decorative frescoes, and valuable works of art from different historical periods. The tour offers a perspective on aristocratic life at the time.

But it is in the botanical gardens on Isola Madre that the real gem is found. Visitors can immerse themselves in a green paradise, with an exceptional variety of exotic plants from around the world. Among the ancient trees, fountains, flowering avenues and pavilions, one can stroll along quiet paths and discover picturesque corners. Each season gives different spectacles: from spring flowers to autumn hues.

One of the most beloved places on the island is the azalea and rhododendron garden, a wonder that blooms in spring with a spectacular explosion of colors. Here, azalea and rhododendron trees form a carpet of delicate, fragrant flowers that create a magical atmosphere. In addition, the island is home to a variety of animals, such as peacocks and parrots, which can be admired during the visit. Not to be outdone are the beautiful viewpoints that the island offers.

By taking a short climb to the Belvedere, one can enjoy fantastic views of Lake Maggiore and the surrounding mountains. The views capture the essence of the region and provide a peaceful atmosphere. Important cultural point is the Marionette Museum where one discovers this ancient art. Then, the island has elegant cafes and restaurants where visitors can enjoy traditional dishes and relax surrounded by the beautiful island setting.

A visit to Isola Madre is an unforgettable experience that will enchant visitors with its timeless magic.

Borromeo Palace

The Borromeo Palace on Lake Maggiore's Isola Madre is an imposing Renaissance architectural work that draws visitors' attention with its majesty. Its present appearance was given to it , around 1563 , by Pellegrino Pellegrini, known as Tibaldi, an architect of Lombard culture. The entire structure represents a testimony to the prestige and wealth of the Borromeo family over the centuries.

Inside the complex, visitors are immersed in an environment rich in history and charm. The sumptuous rooms are furnished with elegant period furniture, precious works of art and fine carpets. The rooms, adorned with exquisite frescoes and luxurious objects , create an atmosphere of great beauty.

A visit to the Borromeo Palace allows you to explore different rooms, such as the Reception Hall, the Hall of Seasons, the Venetian Drawing Room and the Hall of Battles, each with its own uniqueness. One can admire paintings of historic artistic value, sculptures and furnishings: witnesses to the wealth and aesthetic taste of the Borromeo family.

The Library stands out, where one can sense the intellectual interest of the family. In addition, the large windows of the palace, offer a panoramic view of the garden and the immense Lake Maggiore. A visit to the Borromeo Palace is an experience that allows one to appreciate the culture that characterized aristocratic life at the time.

Botanical Garden

The Isola Madre Botanical Garden on Lake Maggiore is a green paradise that captivates with its variety of exotic plants from all over the world. It is one of the most beautiful botanical gardens in Europe. It covers an area of about eight hectares. Visitors who venture into this beautiful garden will discover a multitude of paths, flower-lined avenues and picturesque nooks and crannies. Old trees provide shade and coolness during hot summer days. The Cashmere Cypress is the island's symbol. Fountains and pavilions add a touch of elegance.

One of the main attractions is the azaleas and rhododendrons, which create an explosion of colors and delicate scents during spring. The flowers mingle in a riot of hues. The gardens are home to a vast number of rare and exotic plants, including magnolias, camellias, wisteria, lotus flowers and many others. Each season unleashes surprises with spectacular blooms.

The paths allow for peaceful walks. One breathes peace and serenity. It is possible to encounter peacocks with beautiful feathers and parrots that bring vibrancy and color to the environment. The Isola Madre Botanical Garden represents an enveloping place and is a reality where nature is expressed in all its splendor.

Isola Madre Timetables

Isola Madre, an enchanting gem of Lake Maggiore, welcomes visitors from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last admission).

The palace closes at 6:00 pm and the gardens at 6:30 pm.
Isola Madre: 10:00 – 17.30
Villa: 10:00 - 18:00
Gardens: 10:00 - 18:30

The Rebirth of the Kashmiri Cypress

The Isola Madre Botanical Garden, counted among the most spectacular in the world, is home to a unique gem: a Kashmiri Cypress, the only one of its kind in Europe. This majestic, imposing and fascinating tree is also the protagonist of an incredible story. Dating back to 1862, when its seeds were brought from the Himalayan region and planted here, this cypress has become a symbol of the Isola Madre and, despite its status as an endangered species, even in its original region, it is considered one of the most beautiful plants in the world.

However, in 2006, a powerful whirlwind tested the cypress's resilience, uprooting it completely and risking damage to the nearby building as well. This event initiated an intensive recovery operation by teams of gardeners and professionals who took turns in the care given to the tree. Among the techniques used were the placement of rods to raise the tree back up and a delicate "convalescence" regimen that lasted two to three years, in which the tree was literally pampered.

Years after that tragic day, it is safe to say that the plant has successfully passed this tough test, representing a splendid example of how human intervention can sometimes sustain and enhance nature. The Kashmir Cypress continues to soar majestically, a living monument, one of four on Isola Madre.

Art and Culture on Isola Madre

Lake Maggiore's Isola Madre is an immense place of art and culture, offering visitors an experience rich in charm and sophistication.

The palace and gardens were permanently opened to the public starting in 1978. From then on, Isola Madre became an important cultural hub for the entire Lake Maggiore area. Art and culture on Isola Madre are celebrated and are the foundational aspects that embrace the whole environment.

Interestingly, Isola Madre is often home to cultural events and temporary exhibitions that promote all forms of art and offer a glimpse into the local and international art scene. These exhibitions may include installations, sculptures, and painting works that further enrich the island's cultural offerings.

The island is also a great place for music lovers, as it hosts concerts and live performances at various times of the year. Visitors can enjoy evenings of classical music or performances of various kinds, immersing themselves in the magical atmosphere of the lake.

In addition, the culinary culture of Isola Madre is also a key element. Local cuisine can be savored at the restaurants and cafes on the island. By doing so, one learns to appreciate the authentic flavors of traditional dishes prepared with fresh and wholesome ingredients.

Obviously, the island's main artistic expression is the Borromeo Palace, a Renaissance architectural work housing a valuable collection of works of art, period furniture and fine carpets. The present appearance of the complex, related to the late 16th century, was developed by Pellegrino Pellegrini, known as Tibaldi (a trusted architect of Carlo Borromeo, archbishop of Milan). In 1710, architect Filippo Cagnola defined the stairways, pergolas and some vases.

Puppet Museum

On Lake Maggiore's Isola Madre is an interesting Puppet Museum, a unique stop for lovers of theater and the art of puppetry. The museum displays a large collection of marionettes and puppet theaters from different cultural traditions, offering an opportunity to discover this ancient and fascinating form of entertainment.

The puppets on display represent historical characters, fairy tales and traditional stories, and are made with great skill and detail. At that time, theatrical performances were intended for the 'entertainment of members of the Borromeo family and friends. They were moments of entertainment on the island.

Visitors can admire the various techniques used to animate the puppets and discover the secrets behind their operation. The museum also offers puppet shows in a small dedicated theater, where the figures come to life and tell unforgettable stories. It is a unique experience that transports visitors to an enchanted world of fantasy and creativity.

What to do for free at Isola Madre

On Lake Maggiore's Isola Madre, there are several attractions that can be visited for free, offering visitors the opportunity to explore the island at no cost.

One of the free highlights is the walk in the immense green park. One can soak in the tranquility and admire the ancient trees and spectacular views of the lake and mountains.

Another free attraction is the harbor, from which ferries depart. It offers a chance to admire the boats plying the waters of Lake Maggiore and enjoy the lively and picturesque atmosphere of the place.

In addition, visitors can explore only of the surrounding areas of the Borromeo Palace's outdoor gardens at no cost. One can take walks along the paths, admire the exotic plants and photograph panoramic views.

Finally, there are several picnic areas on Isola Madre where tourists can stop and enjoy a meal outdoors surrounded by nature.

Prices and tickets for Isola Madre

Prices for visiting Lake Maggiore's Isola Madre include the cost of the boat or ferry ride, admission to the Borromeo Palace and botanical gardens, and any additional costs for specific experiences or activities.

Tickets may vary depending on the experiences you want to conduct.

Ferry fares depend on the length of the journey, the ferry company, the seasons, and the type of ticket purchased. It is advisable to consult the websites or contact the shipping companies directly for up-to-date information.

Ticket prices to visit the Borromeo Palace vary according to age and type of visit desired. The botanical gardens on Isola Madre require a separate entrance ticket, but there is a combined ticket that includes access to both the palace and the botanical gardens.

To visit Isola Madre (palace and gardens), prices, depending on category, vary as follows:
- Single adult 17€
- Single kids 10€ (Under 15 years)
- Group adults 15€
- Group kids 8€ (Under 15 years)
- Baby 0€

It is recommended to check prices and available options directly on the official Mother Island website or at island information points for a complete overview of rates. Other experiences or activities on the island, such as special guided tours, may incur additional fees. In addition, the island offers cafes, restaurants, and stores, where you can purchase food, drinks, souvenirs, and local items.

Frequently Asked Questions

How to get to Isola Madre?
Isola Madre can be reached by boat from several locations on Lake Maggiore, such as Stresa, Baveno, and Verbania. Tickets can be purchased at pier ticket offices or online.
What to see on Isola Madre?
Isola Madre offers several attractions, including the majestic Borromeo Palace, rich in artwork and antique furnishings, botanical gardens with a variety of exotic plants, the Marionette Museum, and beautiful viewpoints over Lake Maggiore.
What birds are there on Isola Madre?
Various kinds of birds, including peacocks, pheasants and parrots, can be seen on Isola Madre.
What to see for free on Isola Madre?
On Isola Madre you can walk around the park for free, admire the harbor and access several free picnic areas.
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