The island of Garda, also known as the Borghese island or the island of the Friars, is the largest island of the homonymous lake. Just over 200 meters from Capo San Fermo, a promontory that divides the Gulf of Salò from the Emerald bay, is about one kilometer long and is about 600 meters wide.
Isola del Garda History
The Island is located on the Brescia side of Lake Garda, just a few feet from San Felice del Benaco. Today it owes its charm to the extraordinary Venetian neo-gothic style villa, designed by the architect Luigi Rovelli in the early 1900s; an imposing harmonic construction, rich in surprising architectural details.
At its feet terraces and Italian gardens slope down to the lake. All around the vegetation is lush and intact, rich in local plants, exotic plants, rare essences and unique flowers. Over the centuries the island of Garda, currently owned by the Cavazza family, had various names almost always linked to the different owners: insula Cranie, island of the Friars, Lechi island, Scotti island, island de Ferrari and later Borghese island.
The 130 Gallic-Roman stones found there and donated to the Romano museum of Brescia by Count Luigi Lechi prove that the island was inhabited already during the Roman times. Abandoned to itself in the centuries of decadence of the Roman Empire, it was used as a hunting reserve until 879. The first historical mention is found in a decree of Carlomanno of 879 which documents the donation of the island to the friars of San Zeno. of Verona. Around 1220 Francis of Assisi visited many places in northern Italy including Lake Garda, formerly called Benaco.
So far from the world the island seemed to S. Francesco an ideal place for its friars; Biemino da Manerba, attracted by the charisma of the saint, gave him part of the island. St. Francis instituted a simple hermitage in the rocky part to the north. The friars never abandoned this lonely place despite the continuous raids by soldiers from Bresciane, Verona and Mantovane. In 1429 with the arrival of S. Bernardino da Siena, the old monastery was renovated and enlarged; the island became an important meditation center that hosted illustrious religious figures, like father Francesco Licheto of the noble Lechi family of Brescia, who from 1470 established a school of theology and philosophy. The death of Father Francesco Licheto marks the beginning of a period of decline for the religious community of the island. From 1685 to 1697 he was a novitiate where the friars retired.
In 1797 the bygone monastery was definitively suppressed by Napoleon who acquired the property right on the island with the Cisalpine Republic. Later it became property of the state and in the following years it had several owners: Gian Battista Conter (1800), the Benedetti brothers of Portese (1803), Giovanni Fiorentini of Milan (1806) and the Count Luigi Lechi of Brescia (1817). Luigi Lechi ordered important works of restoration and construction and then sold it to his brother Teodoro twenty years later, a former general of Napoleon's army who made further changes with the addition of the terraces in front of the villa.
In 1860 it was expropriated by the state and assigned to the army. The idea of building a fortress was however abandoned and the auction was decided; the property was awarded to Barone Scotti who sold it to the Duke Gaetano de Ferrari of Genoa and his wife, the Russian Archduchess Maria Annenkoff. Between 1880 and 1900 the new owners dedicated themselves to the design and construction of the park, building containment walls towards the lake and importing fertile land and exotic plants. The palace was enriched by terraces arranged in an Italian garden with elaborate drawings of hedges and flowering shrubs. Before the death of the Duke in 1893, the two together conceived the project of a building to be built in place of the old villa Lechi. The villa in neo-Gothic-Venetian style was built between 1890 and 1903, designed by the architect Luigi Rovelli.
The extremely complex building has its own stylistic unity and a rare grandeur. The façades are decorated with high arched windows and in the southwest corner there is a tower crowned with crenellations in stone embroidery with neo-Gothic style floral decorations. After the death of the Archduchess, the island passed to his daughter Anna Maria, wife of Prince Scipione Borghese of Rome. Anna Maria loved the island and made her home until the end of her life, taking care of the park and family memories.
In 1927, at the death of the Prince, the island passed to his daughter Livia, married to Count Alessandro Cavazza of Bologna, keeping it in good condition to leave it to his son Camillo, who left it to his wife Charlotte and his seven children. These today continue to take care of the park and the building they live with passion.
On the central terrace in front of the Villa, the garden is in classical Italian style with skilfully shaped hedges that represent various figures including the emblem of the De Ferrari family that gave life to the garden.
Next to the villa, palm trees from the Canaries grow. On the lower terrace, by the lake there are fruit trees such as khaki, lemons, pear trees, pomegranates, olives, oranges, grapefruits, prickly pears, jujubes and capers.
Rose china roses, rose Lady Hillingdon, yellow Banksia rose, valerian, bougainvillea and many other plants and flowers of rare beauty are also grown here.
The most striking and wild part is found in the flat area of the Island, where cypresses are always green, cypress trees of marsh, deciduous oaks, cedars, poplars, laurel, plane trees, firs and pines of various species mixed with shrubs and essences more typically Mediterranean.
This park is still a well-kept secret, only recently opened to visitors' sensitivity. The most striking and wild part is found in the flat area of the Island, where cypresses are always green, cypress trees of marsh, deciduous oaks, cedars, poplars, laurel, plane trees, firs and pines of various species mixed with shrubs and essences more typically Mediterranean.
It is possible to visit the island of Garda by booking the visit. It is also possible to rent part of the villa as an ideal location for weddings, business meetings, private parties and photo shoots.