#63 / Isola Madre, a real rare gem!

#63 / Isola Madre, a real rare gem! - Marco Moreo Milano

After Isola Bella, today we’re enjoying Isola Madre and its Botanical Garden: a real rare gem! 

I have to confess that I adore Lake Maggiore and the Borromean Islands: I’d be there tomorrow, and next Sunday, and then the one after that as well... 😉


Apart from the family’s palace (the Borromeo family have owned the island since 1501), there is no concrete on the eight hectares of land, just a thick carpet of vegetation that stretches practically all the way down to the water: tall trees, evergreen plants and unique botanical collections. 

So let’s dive into this paradise of rare plants!


Over five hundred years, the island has been transformed into a botanical laboratory tended to by a succession of experts and passionate naturalists. 

The Borromeo family’s idea, particularly from the nineteenth century onwards, was to take advantage of the lake’s mild climate to cultivate rare seeds from all around the world on the island: today they have been transformed into a priceless park that’s a treat for experts but also for us laypeople.

It’s impossible not to be enchanted by the bougainvillea, giant bamboo, and palms of every shape and size – the most impressive can be found along the aptly named Palm Avenue. Plus there’s agave and prickly pear, Collections of South African protea, of hibiscus, not to mention of magnolias, rhododendrons, camellias... 

As you wander from one corner to the other, you come across the water lily pool. The flowers sprout between June and September – lush, white, and perfect. Everywhere, the myriad colors (and scents!) of roses, azaleas, oleanders, daffodils... A pergola covered in lilac-coloured bunches stretches over the Wisteria Steps: mmm, it’s an enchanting spot! 

Just like on Isola Bella, white peacocks stroll around, serene and undisturbed. What’s more, there are parrots and silver and golden pheasants here. 

Even the names of the streets are a tribute to the flora and fauna of the Botanical Garden: in addition to Palm Avenue, there’s Protea Terrace, Parrot Square, Camellia Avenue... 


In 1862, a packet full of fresh Kashmir cypress seeds landed on the island. They came from the Himalayas and were immediately planted on the advice of the botanist Pentland, who claimed that the plant would be “opportune for all the lake’s vegetation”.

And it was in fact an excellent idea. Today, this cypress is not only an imposing giant – twenty-five metres tall and almost eight metres wide (just the trunk!) – but also the oldest specimen of this rare species in Europe. In Tibet, the plant is actually becoming extinct.

And this specimen had a tough time at one point as well: in 2006, it was uprooted by a tornado. 

Saving it required a delicate operation of complex botanical engineering involving a helicopter, a crane and metal rods. 

Thanks to its size, its rarity and its trials and tribulations, this mammoth cypress has become the symbol of the island and the whole garden. And a great story with a happy ending!