Isola del Garda is a place of incomparable beauty, rich in history and landscapes, rendered unforgettable by the crystal clear waters of the lake that surrounds it.
This strip of land over the centuries has welcomed characters such as San Francesco d'Assisi, Sant'Antonio da Padova and Dante Alighieri and has been the scene of fascinating events as a refuge for pirates, a hermitage for monks in prayer and the headquarters of a Savoy garrison at the dawn of the Kingdom of Italy.
It now boasts an important Venetian neo-Gothic style villa built in the nineteenth century and is adorned with Italian and English hanging gardens and a centuries-old park that welcomes essences from the most remote corners of the globe.
Our guides will allow you to discover the details of the island’s history and will accompany you in viewing the most evocative views of the lake seen from a unique perspective.
A devastating cataclysm transformed the Gulf of Manerba and even the neighbouring mountains. Isola del Garda, detached itself from the nearest peninsula and assumed its current appearance. The same happened on the island of San Biagio (near the Rocca di Manerba).
Carloman, king of Italy and Bavaria, donated the island to the monks of San Zeno of Verona. Until 1180, the island became a refuge for brigands and smugglers during an era marked by numerous conflicts between local populations. In 1180 the Emperor Frederick I of Swabia donated it to the nobleman Biemino of Manerba.
Biemino di Manerba, the owner of the island and admirer of St. Francis of Assisi, donated the island to the saint in March 1221, with the hope that it could become a reference point for the members of the Franciscan Order present in the area. The saint recognised the peace and tranquillity of this refuge and founded a simple hermitage in the natural caves facing north.
Having escaped from Florence, Dante Alighieri resided in Verona during this period. It cannot be said with certainty that he was present on the island, but we can say that he was aware of it as he dedicated verses 67 - 69 of the 20th Song of Inferno to the island with these words: “Midway a place is where the Trentine Pastor, And he of Brescia, and the Veronese Might give his blessing, if he passed that way. ”
Saint Bernardino of Siena decided to build a convent on the island after spending time in the hermitage of San Francesco. The caves of San Francesco were left unchanged, and the monastery was added along with three churches. With the construction of the monastery, an important period of the island began with regard to ecclesiastical life.
Father Francesco Lechi, known as "Lichetus", founded the school of St. Mary of Jesus on the island, where about thirty disciples followed the lessons on the teachings of John Duns Scotus. The same year he called on Paganino dei Paganini printer from Venice, who brought his own equipment with him to start a printing house on the island. Lichetus also had the young Pope Adrian VI as a student from Holland. The death of Lichetus in 1520 marked the beginning of the decline of the monastery.
Following Napoleon Bonaparte's Italian Campaign, the Cisalpine Republic was founded. The convent, now dilapidated, and the State expropriated the property from the monks. After a few years the property passed into the hands of various local owners who did not have the time between one passage and another to take care of it.
A few years after Napoleon's defeat and the founding of the Lombardo-Veneto Kingdom under the Austrian Empire, Count Luigi Lechi of Brescia purchased the island. He began important restoration works of the building, and with the help of the well-known architect Rodolfo Vantini, in 1830 he began the construction of the boat house and the turret at the port.
Luigi Lechi ceded the island to his brother, Teodoro Lechi, a former Napoleonic general, who further restored the villa. During the time of the Lechi family, the island became a meeting point for artists and poets, and also for clandestine meetings of the Carbonari (which included the Lechi brothers).
The island was expropriated from the Lechi family, due to its strategic position for the Italian wars of Independence, or the Unification of Italy; the regions of Veneto and Trentino were still under the Austrian Empire and thus the island was on the border between Italy and Austria. After the Third War of Independence in 1866, Austria was forced to cede the lands of the Veneto, and therefore the island lost its strategic importance.
A Genoese Duke, Gaetano de Ferrari, bought the island, and together with his Russian wife, Maria Annenkova, began working on the natural park and the Venetian neo-Gothic villa. The first project was the park: they created containment walls around the southern area of the island, at the time composed almost entirely of limestone, and transported a huge amount of fertile soil from the nearest peninsula. Archduchess Maria Annenkova was adopted as a teenager by Tsar Nicholas I of Russia, and it was she who fell in love with the tranquillity and beauty of the island. With the help of the architect/landscape architect Luigi Rovelli, known above all for his works in Liguria and eclectic style, the current palace was built in Venetian neo-Gothic style built between 1890 and 1903. Gaetano del Ferrari and Maria Annenkova had a daughter, Anna Maria, born in 1874. The Duke died in 1893, ten years before the completion of the works, so he never saw the work completed.
Two years after the Duke's death, his daughter Anna Maria married Scipione Borghese, Prince of Sulmona, of the illustrious family of Pope Paul V and Cardinal Scipione Borghese, who had Villa Borghese built in Rome in the 17th century. Anna Maria had grown up on the island and loved it immensely. She populated the island with exotic plants from her numerous travels with her husband, and the island became known as "the pearl of the lake". She worked as a nurse for the Red Cross in Salò during the First World War and during the period of the Spanish flu. In 1917 she adopted eighteen young Armenian refugees on the island, fleeing the persecutions of the Ottoman Empire. She was also a benefactor of the Municipality of San Felice, to which she bequeathed the nursery building in Portese. On November 24, 1924 Anna Maria disappeared in the vortexes of the lake and she was never found. Here is a sentence from her will left to her husband and daughters: "Love, love, love the island that I loved so much and I come back often, this is my great desire..."
Scipione Borghese was known for his pioneering and adventurous spirit. What made him famous was the Peking-Paris Raid he won in 1907 (accompanied by famous journalist Luigi Barzini and the mechanic Ettore Guizzardi). This incredible journey, made with a car named Itala 35/45 HP (which still exists today in the automobile museum in Turin), covered 16,000 km of arduous and difficult terrain. They arrived in Paris after 60 days, on 10 August 1907. The Borghese couple had two daughters: Gaetana “Santa” Borghese (1897) and Livia Borghese (1901).
After the death of Princess Anna Maria, the island passed to the youngest daughter, Livia Borghese, who married Count Alessandro Cavazza of Bologna. This family became known in Bologna for having founded the Institute of the Blind, the Primodì Institute for orphans and Aemilia Ars, an internationally renowned embroidery school. Together they settled in Bologna and had their first two children there: Novello (1922-2015) and Paolo Emilio (1925-2009). Their third child, Camillo (Rome, 1935 - Isola del Garda, 1981), was born in Rome, where Livia she had moved later. During the Second World War, the island was requisitioned twice; in 1943, shortly after the foundation of the Italian Social Republic, by the nephew of Benito Mussolini, Vito Mussolini; in 1945 for a short time by the American 5th Army, under the Texan general, Lucian Truscott. Like her mother, Livia deeply loved the island, and especially in the post-war years it became her favorite refuge. She spent a lot of time there with her youngest son, Camillo.
Livia Borghese passed away, leaving the island to her youngest son, Camillo. Already in 1965 Camillo had moved permanently to the island with his wife, Lady Charlotte Chetwynd-Talbot. Lady Charlotte, eldest daughter of the Earl of Shrewsbury and Waterford, John Chetwynd Talbot XXI, grew up in Ingestre Hall (the family estate in Staffordshire) with her five brothers and sisters. Over the last twenty years, she has recreated a corner of her homeland on the island, giving life to a remarkable English garden, boasting a collection of colourful flowers that surround the pre-existing box hedges with their bright shades. Camillo concentrated his interests on the businesses that arose on the mainland in front of the island, giving impetus to the development of the farm in San Felice and, above all, carrying out important projects in the field of tourism. Having graduated in forest engineering, he contributed to the beautification of the park on the island.
Camillo died prematurely in January 1981, leaving his wife and seven children with these touching words: "I can look in peace at the glacier that descends towards the sea, ask if I have done my duty and be thankful for what I had and for the strength that has been given to me." The management of family businesses, as well as the island itself, are still in the hands of his wife Charlotte and seven children Sigmar, Livia, Eric, Ilona, Alberta, Christian and Lars.
The family open the gardens of the island to visitors to fund projects for the conservative restoration of the villa and maintenance of the green areas.
In addition to guided tours, the family begin holding concerts, ceremonies, receptions and corporate events.
For twenty years, under the guidance of Alberta Cavazza and her close-knit team, thousands of people have come to discover the magic of the island: a place where the heart of nature and the soul of history beat in unison.