The islands of Lago Maggiore, near Stresa, are owned by a very influential family, the Borromeo’s – one of their most famous ancestors was St. Charles Borromeo, or San Carlo Borromeo as he is known throughout most of the Latin world, and he is the favorite saint of Lago Maggiore. His giant statue in Arona stands high above and watches over the Lake. He is buried in Milan’s Duomo and his holy day is celebrated with much fan fare in the Cathedral and beyond. I find it intriguing that one of the California missions closest to me here in the San Francisco Bay Area is named after him – Mission San Carlo Borromeo in Carmel! It seems like he has followed my family’s destiny – even though he came long before my family left the beautiful shores of Lago Maggiore and settled in San Francisco!! But I like to believe that it is the other way around 😉
The Borromeo Family acquired much fame and fortune around the 15th century when Vitaliano I, treasurer to the Duke of Milan, began accumulating much property in Northern Italy. The Borromeo State was established in the 16th century and the family had complete rule over this area. Lago Maggiore was right in the middle of their state – a strategic position between the Alps and Lombardy, and a beautiful oasis for their enjoyment. In the 16th century, the rocky island of only an acre in size, was transformed into a wonderous palace and garden masterpiece. For centuries, many aristrocrats of European society visited the island, including the likes of Napoleon and Josephine!
Today, Isola Bella is open to the public allowing access to parts of the palace and most of the gardens. The Borromeo Family still resides there (when they are not in Milan tending to their business dealings), and the upper three floors of the Palace are their private quarters. Amazingly enough, they are not bothered by the thousands of tourists that stroll through their property every day. Their privacy is very well maintained. They even have a walled garden that is all their own. Their families spend much of their summers there, with the younger ones partaking in all the water activities like water skiing and jet boating. The senior members of the family, the Principessa Bona Borromeo and her husband, Principe Giberto VIII, do not like being in the public eye. They prefer to live a quiet life, even though their many relatives are part of the European social scene. For them, it is enough, to be able to reside in one of the most beautiful locations in all the world – a stunning view always in front of them!!