This triumph of the Baroque (and popular destination on the Grand Tour) offers a lively sequence of fine mineral and plant environments overlooking a lake, a veritable garden-based Wunderkammer packed with charm and fascinating things to see.

In the late 15th century, Francesco Colonna wrote about a magnificent island-garden in his work of literary fiction, “Hypnerotomachia Poliphili”, which was published in Venice. Almost a century and a half later, Isola Bella made his musings a reality, albeit without the perfectly circular shape in the book. What the island on Lake Maggiore does share with the fictional garden is a desire to bend nature to architectural form, embodying the essence of the Italian Renaissance and Baroque gardens. Carlo III Borromeo began work on the garden in 1630, on a small island with unproductive soil, inhabited by fishermen. He renamed it “Isabella Island” in homage to his wife. The system of ten terraces laid out over the high, rocky part of the island makes gives it the look of a vessel. In part recalling ancient hanging gardens, a stepped pyramid hosts espaliers of fast-growing citrus trees with beautiful blooms, which thanks to the lake’s microclimate grow in the ground rather than in pots that need to be sheltered in a greenhouse over the winter. The complex reached its current configuration after Vitaliano VI commissioned work between 1650 and 1690 to harmonize the large palazzo and the small fishing village. The garden’s terraces and architectural backdrops are packed with sculptures celebrating Vitaliano VI’s personage and lineage, making a perfect place to put on festivals, music and theatrical performances. Over the centuries, the garden’s vegetation, notably its many yews and boxwoods, has been meticulous pruned by the gardeners. The garden has been further enriched with monumental exotic specimens and botanical rarities, some of which grow in its 19th-century greenhouses.