Tiny in size, Isola Bella was once just a barren mount of sharp rocks. But through a marvelous combination of imagination, engineering and wealth, the 16th-century Borromeos transformed it into a bijou fantasy. While their gray stone palazzo houses a magnificent collection of paintings, the real attraction has long been the garden, a series of 10 terraces that rise like a pyramid and are accented by statues, niches, pinnacles and other fanciful constructions. Recognized as a masterpiece of baroque garden design, the confection remains miraculously intact.
For centuries Isola Bella was an obligatory stop for aristocrats on their grand tours. Artists and writers flocked there too.
Isola Pescatori (Fishermen’s Island or Isola Superiore), is the most picturesque of the Borromeo Islands, as well as the only one to be permanently inhabited. Distinctive features of its ancient little village are narrow lanes with characteristic two-storey houses, with long balconies traditionally used for drying fish; the island’s inhabitants earn their living mainly by fishing and tourism. Today there are plenty of shops and restaurants.