“It is the most voluptuous place I have ever seen in the world”: with these words Gustave Flaubert described Isola Madre in 1845 appreciating the luxuriant vegetation that still today distinguishes this island, with its Eden-like garden home to golden and silver pheasants and white peacocks.

Isola Madre, formerly known as Isola Maggiore, has been a residence of the Borromeo family since the early 16th century and today is mostly known for its gardens and botanical collections. The palazzo was altered in the late 16th century by architect Pellegrino Tibaldi. The first citrus plants from Liguria were imported here on this island, where they found a suitable microclimate favouring marvellous blooms and a luxuriant growth. Already in 1823 the antique citrus groves were transformed into a large 8 hectare landscape garden designed by gardeners Giacomo and Francesco Rovelli from Monza. In the late 18th century, the island had become an extraordinary acclimatization garden, famous for its selection of subtropical arboreal species and camelias and rhododendron collections. Magnolia and bamboo groves, citrus espaliers and the island’s famous wisteria (on the “scala dei morti”, the stairway of the dead), water lilies and lotus flowers in the fishponds complete the picture. Conifers and maples contribute to the landscape, also home to hibiscusand bougainvilleaplants, expanding the ideal boundaries of this site.