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Lake Iseo is the Italian lake ‘no one visits’ – and really should. It’s on the German & Dutch tourist circuit, but we saw few from anywhere else. It’s not fancy, not particularly busy, and is geographically blessed with steep peaks and excellent views. The northern Italian lake made big news in 2016 with the unveiling of Bulgarian-American artist Christo’s temporary Floating Piers project, but it still remains far less crowded than Garda and has just as stunning scenery. 

The proximity to the Alps delivers a slightly cooler climate (don’t expect palms), but it’s still a lovely summer destination. With advance planning, the surrounding area is a major wine tasting region (reservations required), focused on Italy’s bubbly Franciacorta. We spent 2 days, and would have happily stayed another.

We stayed in Sulzano, which was a good choice – walkable, lots of ferries, excellent hotel, great views. 

Food and Lodging:

  • **Trattoria Cacciatore, in Sulzano, is a pleasant family run place with excellent views of the lake. Not particularly formal, but the food is well-prepared and locally sourced.
  • **Ristorante Zu, on the West side of the lake, was very good. Formal service, well prepared and plated seafood, beautiful views. You’ll need a car, not particularly accessible otherwise.
  • ***Hotel RivaLago was great. Rooms are small but nicely decorated in classic style, it’s right on the lake and has a pool, parking, and a really good location. The food is expensive and the service a little bumpy (under separate management), but regardless I’d recommend this hotel strongly.

Sites:

  • Drive, or ferry around the lake. No major sites, but it’s pretty and pleasant.
  • **Monte Isola is quite accessible from various parts of the lake, and worth a visit. Rent bikes, ride counter-clockwise. There’s not a ton to see, but it’s a pleasant journey. The prettiest towns are on the south side. 
  • **Basilica di Santa Maria di Valvendra: Surprisingly large, St. Peter’s scale big. It’s impressive and worth a stop if you’re in the area.

**Santa Maria della Neve: described in my guidebook as “the poor man’s Sistine Chapel,” this museum features rather rustic frescos featuring “common folk” alongside religious figures. It’s said the painter used his neighbors as models. It’s worth a stop, if not a major detour. No longer functioning as a church.


Franciacorta

Just South of Iseo is the Franciacorta region – a small area that produces Franciacorta (Italian Champagne). Wine has been made in the area for centuries but producers didn’t start making sparkling varieties until the 1960s. By 1995 this wine had been awarded Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) status, making it one of the most strictly regulated wines in the country. Franciacorta wine is made in the same metodo classico (with a second fermentation in the bottle) as champagne and cava, so the bubbles are smaller and last longer than in prosecco or lambrusco. 70% of Franciacorta’s wine is organic. 

We toured **Ricci Curbastro. Ricci Curbastro’s family has been farming in Franciacorta for 18 generations and his father was one of the founders of Franciacorta as a designated wine denominazione in 1967. His winery was one of the first in the region to be completely sustainable, and is in the process of going organic. There’s also a small museum for historic farming equipment. Our tour guide was charming and we learned a lot about the production, region, and variations of Franciacorta.

https://www.theguardian.com/travel/2019/may/16/italy-sparkling-wine-route-franciacorta-vineyard-visits

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