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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Isola Madre

Each of the three Borromeo Islands has such a unique personality. If Isola dei Pescatori is a quaint home to simple fishermen, and Isola Bella boasts a palatial, magnificent abode for princes and princes, then Isola Madre falls in between the two. I would describe Madre as lush, verdant, and the most comfortable of the three islands. It is also the one on which you will see the least evidence of souvenir shops and other touristic trappings, and therefore the easiest in which to lose yourself.

The largest of the Borromeo Islands, Isola Madre is famous for its azalea, rhododendron, and camelia bushes, but also for the Cashmere Cyprus, the largest example in all of Europe and over 200 years old. Citrus plants were introduced to the island at the beginning of the 1500s by Lancillotto Borromeo, having been brought from Liguria. The microclimate of the island allows them to flourish, giving more of a tropical feel. The villa, built in the sixteenth century, was constructed atop ninth century ruins of a church and cemetary. After disembarking and purchasing a ticket (I paid 10 euro for mine at the island entrance, but many combination tickets are available) one enters the property through a gate, and begins a slow climb up gravel paths to the house. At first narrow and closed on one side by an ivy-covered wall, the path soon opens onto larger lawns and beds of plants. Many plants are labeled, as this island is renowned for its exotic botanical collection.

The entrance gives hints of more to come.


Following arrows along a designated route one is treated to views of the towns across the lake. You're also bound to encounter several brightly colored feathered friends along the way to the villa.

A few feathered friends.

The villa itself is simple but elegant. It looks like a home that people could actually live in, and not only live in but enjoy living in. It looks like a well-loved home. Wax statues here and there, in rooms partitioned off from the public, are dressed in period clothing from the 16th and 17th centuries, making the effect even more realistic. The tour winds past two completely captivating seventeenth century puppet theaters much used by the family, one stage depicts hell, with a fire-breathing dragon prop off-stage to the right.

An interior hallway, much as it looked 400 years ago.

After leaving the house one can also visit the family chapel, and spend more time in the gardens. There are many paths off limits to tourists, and of course I wondered where they go as the wound around corners, but the bit of mystery is nice.

A couple of lovely spots just outside the house.

Where these stairs go is a mystery...


There are two snack bars and one full restaurant on the island, near the dock. There is also a small souvenir area. None of them are intrusive or interfere in any way with the serenity and lushness of the island. Wear comfortable shoes, and budget yourself a good hour and a half or longer, to benefit from the peaceful ambience, before catching your ferry.

Here is the link to the main Borromeo Tourist site:

http://www.borromeoturismo.it

And about the other islands:

Isola dei Pescatori
Isola Bella -- A Little Background




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