Paradise is an island. Cut off from the mainland and the rest of the world, paradise can flourish. It is untouched and preserved in perfection. Paradise can maintain its charm, its beauty and its mystery easily on an island. Welcome to Isola Bella! A paradise retreat in the heart of the spectacular Lake Maggiore in Northern Italy, close to the Swiss border, by the lakeside town of Stresa. Isola Bella is a magnificent villa accompanied by truly one-of-a-kind, spectacular gardens and its own mini village (many former residents were the actual servants and workers for the villa and the grounds). It has all the attraction of a tiny Italian fishing village. Rustic charm. Romantic architecture and ornate, lush gardens. Wonderfully twisting stone walkways. It is enchanting, that’s my word to describe this garden paradise- ENCHANTING. Like out of storybook. You half expect Juliet to be waiting on her balcony for her dear Romeo any second. The villa itself, which the whole island is centered around, is grandiose in every way, a true architectural masterpiece. Isola Bella is a must to visit if you’re in the region, your expectations will be especially exceeded in every way.
A short little history of this heavenly retreat, in the 17th century, Carlo Borromeo III constructed this grand residence for his beloved wife Isabella (talk about a generous gift!). It took multiple generations of the Borromeo family to totally complete the island getaway. It began with the construction of the grandiose estate and spread into creating an ornamental (and completely fabulous) garden and walking grounds. Many years of passion and architectural ingenuity went into creating Paradise on the Maggiore (I am giving it that nickname, it is not official or anything). Isola Bella is a remarkable gem. Lake Maggiore and the town of Stresa are, in themselves, genuinely spectacular. What I love about this area is the impressive variety and abundance of flowers. I am a total sucker for a garden, I can spend all day walking in a garden, laying on the soft grass, admiring each and every bloom. The colors are so vivid and joyful, gardens come most alive the more vibrant their color arrangement. And vibrancy is in absolutely no short supply whatsoever in these gardens. After admiring and falling completely in love with Lake Maggiore and Stresa, we take a boat ride to Isola Bella. The water on Lake Maggiore isn’t blue, it’s more like a green, a bright teal or aqua color. The teal color makes the color of the flowers pop even more and, likewise, the liveliness of the flowers highlights the bright color of the lake. They are in total, complete harmony with one another, emphasizing each other’s natural beauty even more. In the distance you see what looks like a hill in the middle of the lake (our destination!), a pile of rocks at one point in time before Isola Bella came to be. For the boat ride, we admire the scene- the mountains in the distance are truly majestic. Mmmmm… breathe in that warm air! It’s gonna be a great day!
We arrive on the shore and before us lies the expansive villa. Even though it is quite large, it still comes off as beguiling rather than intimidating or pretentious. The tour of the home is stunning and out-of-this-world. This is more like a palace than a villa. Every room is bright and cheerful. There is so much natural light throughout the villa and every window gives the most incredible views. If I lived here, I would never leave or have a reason to go to the mainland. I can have my groceries and such delivered no problem. I’d just get a bunch of friends and family and we’d live on this island together as our personal commune dedicated to beauty, art, wine, deep conversation and enjoying life! The estate even had a wine cellar, so it checks off all my “wants” on my “House Hunters” list! The artwork throughout is refined and impressive. The estate is so lovingly designed by countless artisans, their work is greatly appreciated by all who come to admire it. You can see the enormous attention to detail in the architectural features, no matter how small the room it is designed to absolute perfection. Walking through, I can feel the love and passion of these artisans in every pillar, every painting, every tapestry, every stone in the floor, every window and balcony and every hand-carved door. Every direction you look in there is beauty and craftsmanship to appreciate.
This place is designed with such beautiful intention and purpose, it feels like every inch of the villa was designed to elevate all who walk in to a higher plane of existence- a place of art, beauty, passion, enthusiasm, romance and a connection to something divine. The architecture, design, artwork and tiny details are all meaningful. While touring the wine cellar (I mean, of course my favorite room) I marveled at the stonework on the floor. Perfectly placed and colored pebbles are placed perfectly in the most intricate and outstanding patterns and designs. From floor to ceiling, the estate never ceases to inspire and elevate the energy of the visitor. I also loved the large, dreamy windows which led out to a romantic balcony with views of the lake, the gardens, the courtyards or the tiny village. I mean, if I lived here, THAT is where I would be drinking my morning espresso or sipping my glass of wine in the evening. The villa reminds us all to take a deep breath, sit back and enjoy life. Enjoy the beauty of your surroundings, the company around you and let yourself be inspired. Look forward to life and follow what inspires you, what awakens your senses, your spirit and your heart the most- that’s what Isola Bella said to me. Love where you are, who you’re with and what you’re doing! I know, to some, this may seem ridiculous that I felt all this just walking through a villa and the gardens but, as I said in a previous post, when you travel you’ve gotta take it all in. Listen to the story of the place you are immersed in, let it inspire you and open your heart, mind and eyes. Whatever inspires you, whatever wells up in your heart and your imagination- let it. This is ESSENTIAL to travel. Let the scene move you and embrace whatever it is it makes you feel, let it inspire you and lift your spirits. This is why traveling is my greatest passion. Isola Bella is just one of the many amazing places that reminds me who I truly am, why traveling elevates me to my highest plane of existence and what a truly remarkable world we live in with so much to explore and appreciate, to take fully in.
Eventually I make my way into a courtyard which leads me to the sprawling gardens. I was awe-struck. This isn’t your typical garden, it’s a horticultural masterpiece! The landscaping is divine how it combines spectacular local flora with architectural elements such as stone walls, fountains, walkways and various structures. Oh, there are also white peacocks! The white peacocks against the gorgeous, rich colors of the gardens is so thoughtful and ties the entire scene together perfectly. They’re also super cute and sassy, which I loved! There is also a large structure as a focal piece of the grounds that I’m struggling to describe but it appears to be a large building-sized altar adorned completely with flowers. An immense floral altar if you will. All over there are walls of festooned with flowers. Amongst this “altar” are gothic statues which add an element of mystery to the garden which I enjoyed. It almost feels like a garden temple of sorts. Like a gift to the gods thanking them for creating such a perfect slice of heaven in Lake Maggiore. Standing in front of this awe-inspiring edifice, I find myself thanking a higher power for creating such wondrous natural beauty and also enlightening mankind with the inspiration to create beautiful places like this. It is incredible what mankind can do when we allow inspiration and genuine passion to guide us. We can be capable of such incredible feats, such as Isola Bella, when we choose to create from the heart and spirit within us all. I can imagine myself sitting out in these gardens for hours sitting on the grass eating good food and sipping wine (yes, it typically comes back to me enjoying a glass or 5) surrounded by loved ones laughing and enjoying great conversation. I will absolutely never forget the gardens and grounds at Isola Bella! It will forever be a warm place in my heart.
Afterwards, we walk around the tiny village and stop for lunch. Of course, we eat lakeside with a stunning view (and we drank wine). There are a lot of local artisans selling their labors of love on the road (there are no cars here and it purely pedestrian friendly). I bought a handmade dress from a local designer from Stresa. If you have the chance to support a local artist, I say do it! There’s a wonderful feeling in being able to own something special, one-of-a-kind and handcrafted by someone following their dreams. I straight up wanted to move to this island. So at this point, I’ve already decided I want to buy a home in every place I’ve visited so far in Switzerland (spoiler alert: I end up feeling the same way in every place we visit for the rest of the trip). Isola Bella is like a dream world. A place that combines refinement with simplicity. It is a joyful place; you can’t feel anything but happiness when you are here. Your heart is instantly lifted in a place like this. It’s a place that inspires and will rest pleasantly in your heart and mind for all time. It’s a place you’ll find your mind drifting back to often. And as you drift back, you’ll once again feel the warm sun on your face, the cool breeze from the water, you’ll once again see the liveliest colors in your minds eye of the turquoise lake, the robust and rich colors of the gardens and the villa artwork and architectural features and you’ll once again feel the joy you felt as you landed on Isola Bella’s shores before. Isola Bella will be a happy place in your heart you will want to revisit often, and you’ll definitely want to revisit again in person. Paradise IS an island, an island of inspiration, beauty, creativity and lifted spirits and it is found here in Isola Bella, the crown jewel on Lake Maggiore. 😊