Lake Iseo Travel Guide – See, Do & Eat

Looking for the best things to see and do in Lake Iseo? How about the best restaurants and hotels too? Then keep reading my Lake Iseo travel guide. I cover all the cool things that I got up to on my press trip to Italy’s Lake District.

Disclaimer: this was a press trip organised by the Visit Lake Iseo tourist board and Visit Brescia and Visit Bergamo. I did not have to pay for my activities, accommodation or food. However, this is an honest account of my experience and all opinions expressed are my own.

Lake Iseo scenery

Where is Lake Iseo?

Lake Iseo is one of the four great lakes in the Lombardia (Lombardy) region of northern Italy. The other great lakes are Lake Garda, Lake Como and Lake Maggiore. Lake Iseo is the smallest of these and is nestled between Lake Garda and Lake Como.

Located between the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia, Lake Iseo isn’t as well-known outside of Italy as the star-studded lakes of Garda and Como. And it is all the better for it. Lake Iseo isn’t crowded or overly touristy. It feels authentic and untouched. The lake is pristine and its surroundings are lush. Without overdevelopment, nature flourishes. Visiting Lake Iseo makes for a peaceful and relaxing holiday away from the masses. 

Things to do in Lake Iseo

The region has all the glamour we’ve come to expect from the Lombardy Lakes but with all the outdoor activities of an alpine resort. In Lake Iseo you can hike, ski, cycle, kayak, canoe, sail, fish, swim and a whole lot more. You can use the ferry to travel to different villages.

Where to get your culture fix

When it comes to culture, there is all manner of incredible places where you can get your fix. The lake is peppered with churches, castles, sanctuaries and museums that are open to the public. Lake Iseo is also home to 38 different historic buildings and eight archaeological sites. There’s also 16 cultural trails that take you on a scenic journey through charming towns and villages.

Santa Maria della Neve or del Romanino

In Pisogne there are fascinating ancient buildings to admire. Make sure you pop into the church of Santa Maria della Neve or del Romanino. Built in the 15th-century the interior has a series of frescoes depicting the Passion of Christ. These were done by artist Girolamo Romani, known as Romanino, between 1532 and 1534. Due to the beauty, brightness and intensity of the figures, it is often referred to as the “Sistine Chapel of the Poor”.

Santa Maria della Neve or del Romanino

In Antica Srada Valeriana you can take in the panoramic scenery. In Monastero di San Pietro in Lamosa you can admire beautiful sixteenth-century frescoes. You can also visit Sala Marasino, an exquisite Renaissance mansion.

Monastero di San Pietro in Lamosa
Monastero di San Pietro in Lamosa

Lake Iseo Winery Tour

Also on the shore of Lake Iseo is the Franciacorta wine region where they make Franciacorta wine, the Italian Champage. I had a tour and tasting at the Guido Berlucchi Winery and it was one of the best things I did in Lake Iseo. Clcik the link to read all about Berlucchi Wine Franciacorta.

Monastero di San Pietro in Lamosa

But the real star of the show here is the lake. In the spring, summer and early autumn the water is warm enough for long swims and plenty of wet and wild fun. La Spiaggetta ‘the little beach’, is a grassy area and an idyllic spot for a relaxing dip. 

Best time to visit Lake Iseo

I was in Lake Iseo in October, a quieter season for sure, but one of the most stunning in terms of scenery. Surrounded by dense woodlands and soaring peaks the autumn foliage was a tremulous arrangement of fiery reds and shimmering golds. The whole region basked in a golden-hued autumnal light and put on an outrageous display of nature. Prepare for an extravaganza of colour and leaf-peeping opportunities. As you can imagine, the setting is incredibly romantic. It is a wonderful place for a romantic break.

Lake Iseo road trip

One of the best ways to acquaint yourself with Lake Iseo is to make your way around the shoreline. Walking is always my preferred way to see a place. However, if you want to see more in less time then you can cycle or drive. There are dedicated cycle lanes around the lake. Watching the many lycra-clad peddlers zoom by, it’s clearly a very popular way to get around.

Tour of Lake Iseo by private minibus

I enjoyed a private minibus tour which was organised by the Visit Lake Iseo tourist board. I was in Lake Iseo on a press trip, so we were treated to a drive around the lake with a tour guide. If this is something you would like to do, Visit Lake Iseo will arrange this for you.

We stopped off along the way to take pictures and walk along the promenade to soak up the laid back atmosphere. Everywhere around us people were sipping espresso al fresco enjoying the splendid lake views. The weather in October was beautifully bright, crisp and dry. It is a terrific time to visit the Northern Italian Lakes.

Ferry ride to Monte Isola

In the middle of Lake Iseo rises Monte Isola, which is one of the most beautiful villages in Italy. It is also the largest lake island in Europe.

Monte Isola

About 1,800 people live here throughout eleven different villages. Cars are banned but there are public buses.

To reach the island you can take a ferry from Sulzano. Once you reach Monte Isola, you can hike through the chestnut groves, ramble around the quaint fishing village and wander the cobblestone streets that wind towards the mountains.

Climbing to the top of the island, you can visit the Sanctuary of the Madonna della Ceriola and enjoy the 360° views of the lake.

If all of that sounds a bit too strenuous, then just pull up a seat at an outdoor table and relax with a coffee and watch the world go by. 

Lunch at Ristorante La Foresta on Monte Isola

When you get hungry, I highly recommend having lunch in Ristorante La Foresta. With its stunning lakefront setting, gorgeous terrace and succulent seafood menu, it is a great spot for a long lingering lunch. With its floor to ceiling windows, the sun bouncing off the water and the lake shimming outside, it is an incredibly romantic setting. Are you sensing the theme here?

Seafood comes fresh from the lake and it would be remiss not to try the local speciality of dried sardine. Although, this is a bit misleading. It is not a sardine at all, it is just called that because of its sardine-like shape. It is actually a freshwater fish called twaite shad, and you’ll find it in a lot of dishes in the region.

You’ll find the local salami on the menu too. Both of these have unique, intense and distinctive flavours and are the two typical ingredients that I recommend you try whist in Lake Iseo. Oh, and don’t forget to quaff as much of the local wine as possible. Franciacorta sparkling wine is the Italian Champagne, and it is delizioso. Click here to learn more about Franciacorta.

Private boat trip around Lake Iseo

For the ultimate glamourous Italian lake experience, hire a private boat, preferably one of those gorgeous wooden Riva boats, for a tour of Lake Iseo.

You’ll get a chance to visit the two other islands in the lake – Loreto isle and San Paolo isle. The history of the lake and the people who live here is intriguing and peeping into the private island owned by the Beretta family and hearing the tales of their epic entertaining is a fascinating glimpse into how the other half lives.

Walk around Iseo town

Back to reality. Depart the boat at Iseo town and enjoy walking around the charming cobblestone streets and squares. Have a look around the many churches filled with incredible artworks and frescos that are hundreds of years old.

Basilica of Sant’Andrea

You have to remember, back in the day, most art was made for religious purposes. Paintings and sculptures were placed in churches to help teach religious stores to people who could not read. There is an incredibel amount of artwork in the chruches in Northern Italy. They are free museums and seeing the paitings in their original setting is quite remarkable and rather unique in this day and age.

A ramble to the The Basilica of Sant’Andrea through the warren of narrow streets throws up a fascinating glimple into life here in this charming town.

Iseo Lombardy Italy

The church is also worth a visit as it is one of the major works of 15th-century Renaissance architecture in Northern Italy.

Basilica of Sant’Andrea
Basilica of Sant'Andrea
Basilica of Sant’Andrea

A walk along the promenade in Iseo is also a wonderful way to while away some time and enjoy the lake views. As there are a lot of Italian holidaymakers here, the cafes and restaurants have a great selection of regional dishes and wines at reasonable prices. Like I said earlier, this Lombardy Lake resort is great for those who want an authentic experience, to taste a real slice of Italian life and culture.

La Pagoda di Eolo Restaurant for dinner

No doubt all that fresh lake air and walking around will have worked up an appetite, so, if you are looking for a restaurant that puts local, seasonal ingredients at the heart of everything it does, book a table at La Pagoda di Eolo Restaurant for dinner. 

I had la cacio e pepe del Sebino with fatulì cheese from Valssaviore and dried sardine of Montisola. It was served in a gigantic cup and saucer and it was a unique dish full of the distinctive flavours of the region. The scallops for starters were sweet, plump and succulent, and the sorbet with gin spheres for dessert was sharp and packed a punch. If you are looking for the best restaurant in Lake Iseo, La Pagoda di Eolo is should be at the top of your list.

Located in Sarnico, just a few minutes from the Cocca Hotel Royal Thai Spa, La Pagoda di Eolo Restaurant is an elegant setting on the lakefront with outdoor and indoor dining. The menu features typical dishes of the region brimming with local ingredients. On the menu, you’ll see dishes labelled ‘slow food presidium’ which indicates that the dish has an important cultural heritage. These are the dishes I highly recommend trying to get a taste of the region. They really give a sense of place on a plate.

Getting to Lake Iseo

Lake Iseo is located between the provinces of Bergamo and Brescia. The nearest airport to Lake Iseo is Milan Bergamo (BGY) Airport, which is 29 km away. You can also fly into Milan Linate (LIN) (67.6 km), Milan Malpensa (MXP) (105.7 km), Bologna (BLQ) (163.4 km) and Venice (VCE) (178.4 km). 

If you are taking public transport, you can catch a bus from the airport to Brescia and then a bus from Brescia to Iseo.

Where to stay in Lake Iseo

If you are looking for a Lake Iseo hotel beside the lake, Cocca Hotel Royal Thai Spa fits the bill. With an outdoor and indoor pool, thermal suite, spa and lake views, this hotel is hard to beat. This is where I stayed, and you can click this link to read my review of the Cocca Hotel Royal Thai Spa.

Cocca Hotel Royal Thai Spa lake iseo view

Is Lake Iseo worth visiting?

Absolutely! This is a nature-lovers paradise and an ideal destination for those who like to embrace the great outdoors whilst surrounded by colourful scenery. It is a destination where you can be a wild or mild as you like with lots of water activities, cultural and heritage hotspots, romantic restaurants and unique experiences. It is also located in the East Lombardy gastronomy region so is a great place for those who want an authentic taste of Italy and to experience local cuisine. So what are you waiting for? It’s time to start planning your getaway, romantic or otherwise, to the Italian lake for the discerning traveller. 

Thanks for reading my Lake Iseo travel guide

So, what did you think of my Lake Iseo travel guide? Have you been to the Italian Lake District? Is there anything I left out? I’d love to hear from you in the comment section below.

If you liked this Lake Iseo travel guide, you might also like my review of the Cocca Hotel Royal Thai Spa in Lake Iseo. If you are visiting the Lombardy, have a read of my guide to the best things to do in Brescia and things to do in Bergamo.

You might also like my Franciacorta Wine Guide to learn more about the local sparkling wine. If you want to visity a winery in Lombardy, then have a read of my taste and tour experience at the Guido Berlucchi Winery in Franciacorta.

If you are looking for another great destination for food lovers, have a read of my guide on how to eat and drink like a local in Madrid.

Looking for more dining indulgences? Here is my list of Dublin hotels with posh afternoon tea.

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