The Undiscovered Treasure of the Italian Lake Region
Lake Iseo is one Italian lake you’ve likely never heard of – and that’s precisely why we packed our bags and headed there. Shadowed by its more famous neighbors of Lake Como, Lake Garda and Lake Maggiore, Lake Iseo is often overlooked. But those in the know bypass the tourist-filled larger lakes and head to Lake Iseo for a vacation of tranquility and affordable luxury.
Last fall, we spent 10-days off the grid exploring some of the best Northern Italy has to offer. You can read our full Northern Italy Vacation Guide here. Lake Iseo is about a 2-hour drive northeast of Milan, and offers everything you could ever want in a vacation locale. Not only will you enjoy breath-taking views and top-rated meals, Lake Iseo sits on the edge of the Franciacorta Wine Region with vines and tastings a-plenty.
Where to Stay in Lake Iseo
We spent 3 nights on Lake Iseo at the family-run Hotel Rivalagoin the quaint lake town of Sulzano. The Hotel Rivalago sits right on the lakefront and offers sweeping views of Lake Iseo. From the second we stepped into the hotel, we felt welcomed. The hotel’s front desk is run by two sisters, who were beyond helpful and offered some of the best recommendations for the area.
We woke up to the most serene lake views every single morning and spent our evenings sipping prosecco in the hot tub watching the sun slowly disappear behind the lake’s hills. The hotel also has a 5-star complimentary breakfast complete with plenty of prosecco options – because there’s never a bad time for prosecco when you’re on vacation.
What to Do in Lake Iseo
If you can bear to tear yourself away from the pool and outdoor spaces of Hotel Rivalago, there’s plenty to do around Lake Iseo.
Drive the Perimeter of Lake Iseo
One of the best ways to soak up all that Lake Iseo has to offer is to drive the entire lake.
We spent our first day in the area leisurely driving around lake, (which can easily be done in a day) pulling off in little villages to take in the scenery, grabbing a bite to eat and enjoying an aperol spritz. The only thing that would have made this day better was if we had sprung for an upgrade on our rental car to a cute little Italian convertible. – But you know, budgets and practicality and all that.
Explore Monte Isola
Monte Isola is the largest lake island in Italy, and it sits in the center of Lake Iseo. Monte Isola is a quick ferry ride from Sulzano. A trip to Monte Isola is like taking a step back into a slower, simpler time. There are no cars allowed on the island, but you will find the shores lined with fishing boats and the daily catches of sardines set out to dry along the sidewalk. We had originally planned to do an early morning hike to the small church at the top of the island, but the free-flowing wine the evening before won out. However, there are many more productive folks on TripAdvisor who have shared their experiencesof the wonderful hike and views.
Bubbles and Tastings in the Franciacorta Wine Region
As I mentioned earlier, Lake Iseo sits on the edge of the Franciacorta wine region. We all know Italy is famous for its prosecco, but a new Italian bubbly is taking hold called Franciacorta. Franciacorta is created very similarly to the traditional champagne style, and received its DOCG in 1995, meaning Franciacorta can only be called Franciacorta if it comes from this region – much like champagne can only be from France and Cava can only be from Spain.
Our hotel organized a tasting for us at a vineyard + restaurant called Al Rocol. We received a private tour of the grounds where we learned more about the wine-making process and had an extensive tasting with generous pairings of charcuterie. We spent hours sitting on Al Rocol’s patio sipping bubbles and enjoying light bites. I’d highly recommend a visit to Al Rocol.
Pro Tip: Ask your hotel to make Franciacorta tasting reservations for you ahead of time if there are particular wineries you want to visit. Some of the more well-known wineries in the area, like Ca Del Bosco, were already booked up when we arrived.
Water Activities on Lake Iseo
We visited Lake Iseo in October, which wasn’t prime time for swimming or boating, however, Lake Iseo would be a dream to visit in the summer. I’m sure Hotel Rivalago would be happy to help you with boat rental arrangements. Just imagine packing a picnic and popping prosecco as you soak up the sunshine and realizing you have THE coveted piece of undiscovered Italian paradise at your fingertips.
Where to Eat near Lake Iseo
Something to know about the Lake Iseo area is that most of the restaurants feature fresh lake fish with their own elegant, Italian twists. If you are not a fish eater – be warned! However, there are still plenty of your Italian favorites like pasta and pizza.
La Foresta on Monte Isola
Wow! My hubby and I had the most romantic dinner at this family-run restaurant. We enjoyed course upon course of fish prepared in so many different ways! And much to my surprise, the sardines were to die for. I would definitely recommend this spot for a fabulous date night.
I’ll also share that we didn’t eat out a ton during our time at Lake Iseo. We’d start our days stuffed from the exquisite breakfast at the hotel, and enjoy little bites throughout the day. For dinner, the Hotel Rivalago was so beautiful and had a fabulous restaurant that we opted to drink prosecco by the hot tub. However, the sisters who work at Hotel Rivalago made a few recommendations that I’ll share here:
- Trattoria Cacciatore: This restaurant is located in Sulzano near the hotel. Very convenient and a traditional Italian vibe.
- Ristorante Ai Fraiti: Looking at the photos of this place makes me sad we didn’t have a chance to visit. Hopefully next time!
- Da Nadia Ristorante in Franciacorta: If you’re looking for Michelin stars near the lake, this is your spot.
- Trattoria Al Porto: A charming place with great views, and one of the few restaurants that actually offers online reservations!
- Koen: If you want a departure from Italian food, Koen offers upscale cocktails, Japanese and sushi.
Overall, our time on Lake Iseo was pure bliss, and we credit so much of that to our amazing stay at Hotel Rivalago. Even though we visited in October, the weather was still ideal for a lake vacation and the area was bustling, but not overcrowded. Lake Iseo is also very affordable compared to some of the other Italian Lakes, which is also a huge bonus. If you’re thinking about planning a trip to Lake Iseo or if you’ve been, please drop me a note in the comments. I love to connect over shared experiences!