THE ISLAND of FISHERMEN, the medieval enchantment an hour and a half from Milan

The gothic structure of the village has remained practically unchanged since 1300

A tiny pearl with a medieval flavor inhabited by just 50 people who for centuries have handed down the traditions that make this island one of the most picturesque in Europe.

THE ISLAND of FISHERMEN, the medieval enchantment an hour and a half from Milan

# The Upper Island

In the Borromean archipelago also stands the Isola Superiore or dei Pescatori (“Seamen Island”). Its name is a tribute to the ancient profession of its inhabitants.
100 meters wide and 350 long, this is the maximum space that Lake Maggiore has granted to this island.
That was enough, since the Middle Ages, for the smallest of the Borromean Islands to be settled by families dedicated to fishing. This long tradition is still preserved today.

The Isola dei Pescatori is the only one, among the Borromean islands, to be permanently inhabited. It is separated from Isola Bella by Malghera, also known as the Lovers’ Rock, and it is also the one that most of all has preserved its medieval essence intact.
Shall we take a tour of its alleys?

# The nets hung out to dry in the alleys of the 1300s

You can arrive on the Upper Island by boat. Perhaps landing on one of the tourist tours that depart from the most beautiful and well-known locations of Lake Maggiore. Seeing it from the lake you don’t realize all its beauty. You have to moor and turn it to discover the narrow alleys, the houses piled up and grown vertically to take advantage of the little space that the islet makes available.
The gothic structure of the village has remained practically unchanged since 1300. Narrow streets do not allow the passage of cars, therefore the island can be explored almost exclusively on foot. In this slow tour you will meet the fishermen’s nets spread out to dry along the walls of their homes, stone arches, stairways and paths paved with cobblestones, in a shady path that seems to seek an outlet to the sun of the lake shores.
The ancient atmosphere has a romantic flavor, the same that is evoked by the scents of the Upper Island.

# Ancient and modern traditions

The occasion must be the right one to visit the Church of San Vittore, a national monument dating back to the 11th century. It contains 16th century frescoes including the famous one dedicated to St. Agata. The church also has wooden busts dedicated to the fishing apostles, a good omen for the activity and the health of the inhabitants of the island.
What was once the island’s primary school is now the Fishing Museum, tracing the trapping techniques developed over the centuries.

This ancient fishing tradition, today also allows you to combine more modern tourist reception activities. In fact, it is possible to intercept the scents of fish-based cuisine. Just choose a restaurant overlooking the lake, to appreciate the recipes based on chub, trout, perch and the inevitable fried bleak.

The most enchanting thing to try is undoubtedly to stay overnight on the Upper Island. Send the tourists away and let yourself be dominated by the slow pace of an island inhabited by 50 people. Enjoy the silence and peace and, after sunset, see the fishing boats leave as they prepare to cast their nets into the water.

# Events and curiosities

Undoubtedly the most famous event on the Upper Island is the procession held every year on August 15th. The Statue of the Assumption is taken around the island, while the boats await the blessing, all illuminated for the occasion.
Carnival is also an opportunity to gather the community outdoors, setting up a table to consume polenta and wine all together.

Another curious tradition is that which leads the children of the island to run through the alleys. On the evening of January 5, with jars and cans dragged to the ground, tied to ropes. The noise is used to wake up the Befana and make her bring the gifts in store for the little ones.

# On the lakeshore

In the small lake chest, a grove of plane trees has also remained intact. It is probably one of the most curious features of Isola dei Pescatori. Surely you don’t expect to find a grove in a space as big as a street in Milan.
It offers shelter and shade and is located next to the small beach where you can sunbathe and enjoy a breathtaking view.

An undemanding part of the trip are undoubtedly the visits to the traditional market which offers local handicrafts and several ceramic workshops.
Just go shopping over a maze of alleys on the smallest island of the Borromean archipelago. Where everything is proportionate to the junior size. A place where the engines are off (apart from those of the boats) and where silence and relaxation are the keepers of ancient traditions that for over 7 centuries have dictated the rhythms.

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Statistician, writer, amateur photographer, radio speaker. Born in Parma, lives in Milanese for almost 20 years. He’s a great lover of travel, minimalist photography, architecture and urban planning. Extreme dreamer, barefooter, out of the schemes, he dreams about ​​a world federation of city states. His main achievement would be to get rid of retrograde implications in today’s society. Favorite quote: Real life is for those who can't do any better