ISOLA MADRE BORROMEO ON THE SHORES OF LAKE MAGGIORE
Isola Madre (‘Mother Island’) is a precious jewel literally encased in the waters of Lake Maggiore. Known worldwide for its exquisite botanical collections, it is the largest of the Verbano islands and emerges exuberantly from the water, delineated by lush vegetation that extends over most of its surface and by the imposing shape of its Palazzo, which was built on the southern shore and at the highest point of the island.
Set back from Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori, it was also probably the first of the islands to be inhabited. Complementing the luxurious, flourishing gardens is the ancient Palazzo, inside of which prestigious furnishings from the Casa Borromeo are preserved, and the family chapel with its beautiful façade decorated with terracotta panels.
THE HISTORY OF ISOLA MADRE BORROMEO
The history of Isola Madre has been closely linked to the Borromeo family since 1502, when work first began on transforming the island into a ‘place of delight’ and a private residence at the behest of Lancillotto Borromeo. By 1542, the island had already started to take on the appearance of a garden, and about forty years later, Renato I Borromeo began work on transforming the Palazzo, entrusting its direction to Pellegrino Tibaldi, a prominent figure in contemporary Lombard culture and a trusted architect of San Carlo.
By the end of the 1700s, the island essentially appeared as it does today and began to be considered a place of peace and rest, thanks to its mild climate and verdant nature. Greenhouses were subsequently built (1826), followed by the family chapel (from 1858), which was erected on the eastern side of the large square and to which it gave its name.
The name 'Madre', still in use today, is considered by some to be a tribute to the island's historical supremacy in the Verbano basin, while for others it is a memory of the benevolent disposition of Count Renato's mother, Margherita Trivulzio. The collections of porcelain, displays of coats of arms, family paintings, tapestries and four-poster beds decorated with sumptuous brocades on show all compose a fascinating fresco of courtly life that cannot fail to amaze visitors. The Palazzo of Isola Madre has in fact been open to the public since 1978 and is decorated throughout with precious furnishings from various residences of the Borromeo family across the generations, providing an evocative itinerary as guests walk through rooms that reflect the lifestyle of the 16th and 17th centuries.
The Venetian drawing room, with walls decorated in trompe l'oeil that are reminiscent of a flower-filled gazebo, are particularly beautiful. Unmissable, too, is the section devoted to the puppet theatres belonging to former members of the Borromeo household. Primarily intended to entertain and amuse family members, friends and even the servants during their leisure time, they date from the mid-17th century onwards. Finally, the view to be seen from the large windows on the ‘piano nobile’ floor of the Borromeo Gulf, including Isola Bella and Isola dei Pescatori, is so spectacular that no one could fail to be captivated by its sheer beauty.
In 1500, the island was redeemed by the Curia of Novara, and just two years later work began on transforming the largest of the islands in the Borromeo Gulf firstly into an orchard, then an olive grove and finally a citrus grove. Today, Isola Madre's botanical garden is unique, due to the rare plant species originating from all over the world and preserved here. This English-style park offers shaded paths where one can stroll freely, and splendid viewpoints over the lake to admire the panorama. Botanists can discover ample study material amidst the gentle green slopes, while tourists can admire a profusion of exuberant blooms, the result of the work of many extremely skilled hands.
FACILITIES AND SERVICES ON ISOLA MADRE BORROMEO
Opening dates: Isola Madre is open every day from April to October.
Visiting hours: Every day from 9 a.m. to 5.30 p.m. (last admission). Please check the website for details.
Isola Madre has a bookshop where you can purchase books and guides, postcards, prints and souvenirs, and a cosy, panoramic cafeteria.
The restaurant "La Piratera" is located in the ancient Torrione della Noria tower and is the perfect place for those wanting to enjoy the flavours of Italian cuisine, and indulge in a luxurious moment of peace and tranquillity.