An enchanting archipelago seemingly untethered more than physically from its environment, Isole Borromee in Italy has been an inspiration and sanctuary for many artists such as Ernest Hemingway, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Stendhal, to name a few. It was acquired by the Borromeo family in the 12th century, who oversaw its expansion and transformation into an island group.
In this edition of Around the World in Analogue, community member Simone Cilli walks us through his most recent visit to the dreamy and historically-rich islands.
Name: Simone Cilli
Social Media: forgotten.films_ (Instagram)
Camera: Yashica FX-3 Super
Film: Ilford HP5+ developed at home with Ilfosol 3 (1+9)
Location: Isole Borromee - Stresa, Lago Maggiore (Italy)
The archipelago of Isole Borromee, a wonderful and enchanted place, includes Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori, where there's an old fishermen's village.
I reached the islands on a small boat owned by locals. The gardens of the villas are embellished with labyrinths, a huge variety of flora and birds (especially white peacocks) and a grotto with walls covered with shells.
The enchanting and mesmerizing lake landscapes that can be enjoyed in the great lakes regions of northern Italy inspired one of my favorite artists, Hayao Miyazaki, to create his movies for Studio Ghibli. Reliving those atmospheres made me feel the magic of a life suspended on the water's edge.
I chose to use an Ilford HP5+ black and white film to be able to take care personally and entirely of the whole photographic process, since I developed it at home with Ilfosol3. The flexible exposure latitude of the HP5+ allowed me to get versatility in all light conditions.
I focused my shots on the sculptures and architectural elements that dominate the sumptuous gardens, like sleeping giants of stone, and on the lake landscapes perfectly enhanced by that grainy black and white.
It's hard to describe what I felt while I was visiting this place and wandering around those gardens, villas and islands. It's a subtle sense of wonder for a place which appears to be suspended in time. While entering each one of those hundreds of rooms, door by door, with their architecture, sculptures and paintings you feel like you are penetrating into something enigmatic, an inland empire which is definitely linked to your own self.
The splendor of those gardens and labyrinths, greenhouses, the perfume of those rare and exotic flowers, the clean waters mirroring your own image, it's something poetical and yet disorienting, like a vertigo; a locus amoenus that you will glimpse in your dreams for a while, sometimes even haunting you with the weird puppets and masks of the theater inside the villa, and the deep cave covered by millions of real shells which feels like an abandoned underwater realm, or being in the belly of a whale like Pinocchio.
Among the three islands, Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Isola dei Pescatori, only the last one is still permanently inhabited. There is a small village and mostly fishermen live there. Walking by a maze of tiny alleys you can reach the local market and see some typical products.
There's even a small cemetery which I really loved to visit. I think that visiting those islands is a deeply poetical experience, and that's why artists like Hemingway or Miyazaki were heavily inspired and fascinated by it. It's a whole sensorial experience.
Start your trip from Stresa, a town on the lake's shore. If you want to travel on a budget and move from one island to the other, buy a daily ticket and take the public ferries, avoid the private companies. Go visit the islands early in the morning to avoid crowds and wait until the sun sets to enjoy some amazing views.
The best period for visiting Isole Borromee is spring, when the flowers bloom in the big gardens of the villa. Going there in summer is not a clever choice, it can be really torrid in Italy, even if the lake environment is pleasantly windy.
If you are looking for some good food try Isola dei Pescatori, where you will find some local dishes, mostly lake fish. Always check the official website, the islands are usually open from March to November, in some months on weekends only. And remember the ferries are only travelling anticlockwise around the islands: Stresa-Isola, Madre-Isola, dei Pescatori-Isola, Bella-Stresa.
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