Isola del Garda

Posted by Laney Sachs on February 09, 2012 0 Comments

In the middle of Lake Garda, there's an island - actually, not surprisingly there are a number of islands but Isola del Garda is the largest and most spectacular one. Located off of the western shore near San Felice del Benaco, the only arrival mode of transportation is by boat. And only recently the Borghese-Cavazza family opened it to the public for limited guided garden and villa tours from April to October. 

The history of the island dates back to 878 when Charlemagne, king of Italy and Bavaria donated the island to the monks of San Zeno of Verona. And sometime in the 13th century, St. Francis of Assisi founded the first retreat using the natural grottos on the island and the spot became the Island of the Monks. In 1437, two churches were constructed on the island and for hundreds of years, Isola del Garda existed as a sanctuary for the study of theology and philosophy.  In the late 1700s, under a Napoleonic proclamation, the monastery was abandoned and the island deserted except for hoodlums and criminals. A few years later, the government conceded it to the Conter family of Salò who then sold it to the Benedetti family of Portese in 1803. Changing hands several more times, the island has been in the current ownership of the Borghese-Cavazza family since 1870. 

When we arrived for our private tour, Contessa Alberta Cavazza one of the seven children of Contessa Charlotte Cavazza, welcomed us at the ancient dock where we started our tour.


Magnificent trees, hundreds of years old surrounded us and all I could think about were the monks wandering around contemplating life and God.


After years of living in grottos, the monks occupied small stone cells with heavy wooden doors.

Since the area encompassing the lower part of Lake Garda is a micro climate, exotic and tropical plants thrive in the lovely Italian and English gardens. Everything from orange trees, roses and cacti to hydrangeas, acacia and magnolia trees grow in these spectacular gardens. 

The current palazzo is a Venetian neogothic castle built between 1890 and 1903 and designed by the Genoese architect Luigi Rovelli. Several members of the Cavazza family live on the island year round and others join them to spend the summer on this glorious property.  Contessa Alberta, who speaks several languages, was gracious, interesting and informative while leading us through the villa describing the history of the beautiful paintings, elegant furniture and exquisite architecture.

The weather was spectacular on the day of my visit, and we were treated to a lovely lunch on the terrace overlooking the lake. The marvelous selection of local pecorino cheeses, fantastic salumi, amazing extra virgin olive oil and wine only added to my memorable visit to Isola del Garda.  And the olive oil and wine come from the Cavazza family's olive grove and vineyard, Novello Cavazza in Manerba del Garda on the West coast of Lake Garda. 

Off the beaten path, a visit to Isola del Garda is a must-see on your Lake Garda tour.

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