Philip Mallis

Day trip to Lake Iseo

Note: this post was written in August 2017 during my trip to Europe.

My three days spent in the north of Italy were nowhere near enough. But I did spend my second day staying in the city of Bergamo to pay a visit to one of the many nearby lakes.

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I decided against Lake Como on account of the high volumes of tourists. Instead, I had a look at a map and found Lake Iseo not too far away to the east as an alternative – and it turned out to be a good decision!

Getting there

Despite its distance from the centre of Bergamo, the lake is quite easy to reach. There are two practical options.

You can catch a train from Bergamo Railway Station and interchange to reach the towns of Sarnico or Iseo. Both stations are near the lake’s edge.

I elected to take the other option – a public regional bus service that runs to 30-60 minute frequencies throughout the day. Mystifyingly, the last service departs Sarnico at 6:31pm on a weekday. This is also in August, during the height of the tourist season. There might be a good reason, but it is certainly lost on me.

Bergamo Bus Station

Other than the poor frequency and span of service hours, it was a pleasant 50 minute journey through the more-or-less contiguous urban corridor that runs all the way to Sarnico. I got chatting with the only other passenger on the bus who turned out to be from Israel but living in Milan on a working holiday.

Hike up the mountains

The first thing that strikes you about the lake is how everything is so picturesque and perfectly-proportioned; you could hardly imagine a more photogenic scene. Groups of small boats are tied up together, forests run right down to the lake’s edge and small villages and towns are dotted right around the water. It all forms a very nice and welcoming view.

Panorama of Lake Iseo from Sarnico, Italy

Impressed by this scenery, I consulted my map and found that there were numerous hiking tracks leading to some peaks near Sarnico. I spotted a local bakery and bought some lunch to eat later.

The 33-degree heat rather put me off climbing the 1,400 metre peak of Monte Canzano, so I chose Il Colle to climb instead. At 490 metres in height, it seemed high enough to provide excellent views without needing to kill myself with dehydration.

This required finding the start of the path in the labyrinth of streets north of the town centre. The slope is incredibly steep and there are dangerous combinations of blind corners and no footpaths which made me more than slightly anxious.

Street in Sarnico's upper suburbs, Italy

After going down a few dead ends and getting strange looks from locals, the path finally came into view. It was made up of rough rocks along most of the route which was not an easy surface on which to walk. But the local municipality had thoughtfully put some benches along the way which helped to ease the foot pain.

I never made it to the very top as the actual peak is in somebody’s backyard. But I did get as close as was possible without being arrested and the views were well worth every jagged stone and swatted fly.

View of Sarnico, Italy

Finding the shore

On my way back down, I ran into the Israeli man who I met on the bus and was able to help him with directions to the path in the other direction (another plug for The way down was an otherwise uneventful walk.

View of mountains north of Sarnico, Italy

I wound my way back through the streets of Sarnico and reached the lakeside pedestrian promenade which has been quite recently built. Other than some more logically placed trees (they were almost all on the wrong side of the benches to provide shade), it was very nicely done.

The scenery here was no less spectacular than from on high. There were many more birds than I had yet seen in Europe; almost entirely white swans, eurasian coots and other waterbirds. Standing by the side of the main bridge also gives you a great view into the clear waters of the Oglio River and its marine life.

Promenade and riverside gelataria, Sarnico

Crossing the bridge into Sarnico’s sister town of Paratico is also well worth the walk. The promenade continues around the lakeside and includes several small beaches and swimming areas. For birders, there is a large wetland area just outside the town’s boundaries.

The promenade here seems to have been converted from old industrial railyards. They have kept the tracks in the ground and some of the industrial cranes at two small piers that lead into the lake, presumably once used for loading and unloading goods onto boats. Lots of plants and public artworks have been installed which makes the whole area a very nice place in which to walk.

New park on disused railway, Paratico


I can highly recommend a visit to the area if you are anywhere nearby. Choosing Lake Iseo over the more popular Lake Como was a good decision in hindsight. There were some tourists but nowhere near approaching levels where it would be overcrowded. They were also entirely focussed on the area directly adjacent to the lake in Sarnico and Paratico. I saw nobody else on my hike other than my bus companion.

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