The glorious Italian lake with beautiful villages, hearty cuisine – but hardly any tourists
Head for the Hills
The peat lakes of the Torbiere del Sebino nature reserve in the Franciacorta wine-growing area south of Lake Iseo are home to waterfowl including marsh harriers, purple herons and bitterns. There are hiding places for birdwatchers and a circular walking path starting from the monastery of San Pietro in Lamosa, which has interesting frescoes from the 15th and 16th centuries. The vine-covered villa of L’Albereta (0039 030 776 0550; www.albereta.it) is a wonderful place to stay or dine in Franciacorta.
North of Lake Iseo, Valle Camonica is famous for its amazing prehistoric rock carvings, delicious cheeses, imposing mountain scenery and, in winter, good skiing. The pretty village of Bienno, 24km north of the lake, is perfect for a short foray into the region for its arts and crafts workshops, ancient tradition of metal craftsmanship and working watermill. Step back in time at the aptly named Bar Antico (Piazza Roma) and sample tasty mountain specialties like cheese-filled gnocchi at La Caldera de Noscent (0039 0364 300474; facebook.com/ristorantelacaldera).
The flavors of Iseo
Lake fish such as perch, chub and tench feature prominently on restaurant menus, sometimes as a garnish for pasta, while the tasty ‘sardines’ from Monte Isola (actually not sardines but shad), air-dried and preserved in oil, are a speciality, usually served with polenta. The island also produces a lightly smoked salami while the cheeses from the Valle Camonica north of the lake, such as the savory Silter and the sweet Rosa Camuna, are exceptional.
The Franciacorta region produces some of the best sparkling wines in Italy, using chardonnay, pinot nero and pinot bianco grapes and in styles such as sweet Satèn, bold Riserva and fresh Pas Dosé. A good time to visit is September for the Festival del Franciacorta, when wineries hold tastings, bike rides, picnics and other events. However, most welcome visitors year-round; try small, family-run wineries such as Bosio (bosiofranciacorta.it), run by brother-and-sister team Cesare and Laura Bosio, or nearby Bersi Serlini (bersiserlini.it).