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An afternoon in Monte Isola

A few weeks ago, on 1st May, we in Italy, were blessed with the Labour Day bank holiday. Every school in the country had the day off, so I, and some of my fellow English language teaching assistants, decided to spend an afternoon in nearby Monte Isola, a town located in Lake Iseo on three different islands. We got glimpses of each, but only actually disembarked on one of them: the largest of the three, which was rather confusingly called Montisola. In this article, I’m going to be recounting the glorious few hours we spent there, and hopefully encouraging you to pay a trip to this place, yourself!


Getting there

To reach the shores of Montisola, and, indeed, those of the other two islands, it is necessary to catch a boat. There are a number of different terminals dotted around the place – my friend Maggie and I left from the one in Iseo – all of which have vessels coming and leaving multiple times per hour.


Our journey took about fifteen minutes, and was most pleasant. Our eyes were treated to splendid views of the surrounding mountains, and our bodies to a lovely cool breeze which beat against us as we glided through the water. On the way, we also passed very close to the Islet of San Paolo (one of the aforementioned trio), a tiny little piece of land which I believe is now a private holiday residence.


Our afternoon

Maggie and I arrived at the Sensole stop on Montisola just after 14:30, wind-swept and ready to begin our ascent of the mountain. Alas – our friends, whom we’d arranged to meet on the island, were still on the other side of the lake! We decided to wait for them at the bottom, and found a little waterside olive grove (attached to the Trattoria del Sole restaurant) to lie and sunbathe in. We hung our legs over the edge of the wall, and enjoyed the feeling of freezing waves splashing against them each time a boat went past.


An hour and a half later, our friends sent us a message to say they’d arrived on the island, but had got off at a stop about a mile away from ours! We decided to walk to meet them, since they were where we wanted to be: at the start of the road that led up the mountain. Along the way, we walked past several beautiful houses and grassy beaches, as well as an adorable outdoor cat shelter! If you’ve read my article on Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium, you’ll know I’m a little obsessed with feline creatures, so I was delighted to see these little ones scampering about.


Fifteen minutes later, we’d arrived in Peschiera Maraglio, the town’s busy fishing quarter. Everywhere we looked, we could see wooden racks on which fresh fish had been hung to dry. At this point, it was getting on for 16:30, and we were beginning to worry that we wouldn’t have time to climb the mountain and get down again before the last boat left the island. We went over to a fried seafood stand to ask their advice, and they told us about a shuttle bus that would take us, for the small fee of 1, 50€, to a point just below the summit. The vehicle was packed, and the roads were pretty windy, but we couldn’t have been more grateful for the existence of this service!


Ten minutes later, we were off the bus, and taking in the extraordinary sight of the nearby landscape. Far below, the lake was glistening in the afternoon sun, surrounded on all sides by great mountains, which were covered in lush vegetation. We’d have been happy with this view alone, but we knew better ones were waiting for us at the very top. We found a sign leading to the Sanctuary of Madonna della Ceriola, a church located at the mountain’s highest point, and off we set.


I’m not sure if I’m horribly unfit, or if the path up to Montisola’s summit was genuinely pretty steep, but either way, I certainly didn’t find the ascent easy! In fact, Maggie and I concluded that we wouldn’t have made it if we’d started right at the bottom, and that all the palaver from earlier that afternoon had actually been a blessing in disguise. It wasn’t all bad, though: our legs may have been suffering, but our eyes certainly weren’t! It had been raining a lot in the previous few weeks, so all the plants were beautifully green.


A quarter of an hour and much panting later, and we’d finally made it to the top! We quickly found our friends who’d walked the whole way up, and were now sitting on a rock, rewarding themselves with copious amounts of beer. We spent a good hour there, chatting away, and taking all the typical ‘I’m climbed a mountain! ’ (or should I say ‘I got a bus up a mountain! ’? ) photos.


At around 18:15, we decided it was probably about time to begin our descent. We stopped briefly to look inside the church (see below), and to see a small cave just beneath it, which accommodated a shrine to the Virgin Mary. There wasn't an awful lot of time left before our friends had to catch their train home, so we began tossing up our travel options: should we run down down the mountain or catch a bus? Our fate was sealed when we arrived at the shuttle stop just as one of the vehicles was about to set off. Ten minutes later and we were back at sea level.


Instead of heading back to Iseo, we decided to cross the lake from Peschiera Maraglio to the nearby Sulzano. Maggie and I had a bit of time to spare before our train home, so, after waving goodbye to our friends, we decided to explore the town a bit, and grab a bite to eat. During our walk, we came across a sign for The Floating Piers, an art installation set up back in 2016, which allowed members of the general public to cross Lake Iseo on a floating yellow walkway. We only wished we could have been there to see it!


Having wandered Sulzano's lanes to our hearts' content, we enjoyed a quick dinner at the lakeside Mr Bike Cafè. From our table, we had a fantastic view of the sun setting behind Montisola, and of the lights turning on one by one in the houses at its base. We gazed at this sight for as long as we could before heading to the station to catch our train home.


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