The Brissago Islands, an exciting story

Two green jewels in the middle of Lake Maggiore: not only Switzerland's only Botanical Garden on an island, but also a landmark of the region. Around 1,700 plant species from the Mediterranean and subtropical regions of all five continents grow here. Thanks to this diversity and its uniqueness, the Botanical Garden of the Brissago Islands is a member of the Gardens of Switzerland, which includes the most beautiful gardens. The islands are a popular destination for boat trips, families and a sought-after venue for wedding celebrations in a charming surrounding.

A love story

She provided the inspiration for the Botanic Park on San Pancrazio island: Antoinette de Saint Léger, born in Russia on 20 June 1856. She married 1881 a wealthy Anglo-Irish Lord called Richard Fleming. The young couple moved to Lake Maggiore in 1885 and acquired – thanks to a large inheritance left by one of Fleming’s uncles – the (as they were known then) Isole dei conigli,

which had been abandoned for years and were sporadically covered with vegetation and the remains of an old convent. The couple renovated the convent and set themselves the task of transforming the Isola Grande into a park, thus laying the foundations of what is now home to many rare subtropical species, thanks to the special microclimate on the Brissago Islands. In 1897, the Baron left his wife, that’s when she decided to dedicate her life to botany and culture. Her home became a centre of cultural activity with visits from painters, sculptors, musicians and famous writers.

The story continues

The First World War also changed the state of play for the Brissago Islands: compelled by debt and finding herself in a precarious situation, the Baroness Saint-Léger sold the islands to a rich merchant from Hamburg in 1927.
However, Max Emden did not have the same love of botany and gardening as the baroness. He instead cultivated opulence and the art of living on Isola Grande. He was responsible for building the palace we can admire today, sacrificing the construction built by the baroness and the small church of San Pancrazio. He also added the Roman bath, the orangery and the dock.

Thanks to his encouragement, a world that worshipped splendour and feasts evolved, bringing new people and life to the Brissago Islands in a way that was not unlike the patronage of the baroness. But if back then the atmosphere had been populated by those who produced art, until 1940, the islands were the realm of those who instead bought art: the new, wealthy Germans of the post-war period.
In 1949, the Canton of Ticino acquired 50% of the property, while the remaining 50% was split between the three municipalities of Ascona, Brissago and Ronco sopra Ascona, the Swiss League for the Defence of National Heritage (now Heimatschutz Svizzera) and that of the protection of nature (now ProNatura).
The following year, on 2 April 1950, the gates of the Brissago Islands Botanical Park were opened to the public for the first time.
Visit the Brissago Islands and dive for a few hours into this tropical paradise. Whether with the family to visit the Botanical Garden or spend a romantic weekend at the Hotel Villa Emden.

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