Brissago Islands

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Brissago Islands
Native name:
Isole di Brissago
Aerial view of the Brissago Islands
Lake Maggiore map-fr.svg
LocationLake Maggiore
ArchipelagoBrissago Islands
Total islands2
Major islandsSan Pancrazio
Highest elevation200 m (700 ft)

The Brissago Islands (Italian: Isole di Brissago) are a group of two islands located in the Swiss part of Lake Maggiore close to Ronco sopra Ascona and Brissago. Both islands belong to the district of Locarno, in the canton of Ticino.

San Pancrazio (also known as Grande Isola) is the larger and is well known for its botanical garden. On the smaller of the islands, known as Isolino, or Isola Piccola or Isola di Sant’Apollinare, the vegetation is allowed to develop naturally. Both benefit from the mild climate provided by the lake. The minimum distance from the shore is 1,040 metres for San Pancrazio and 930 metres for Sant'Apollinare, making them the farthest islands from the shore in Switzerland. Both islands culminate at 200 metres above sea level or 7 metres above lake level (193 m).


Roman remains have been found on San Pancrazio. The islands were used as a refuge by early Christians. In the thirteenth century nuns of the Humiliati order built a monastery on San Pancrazio, while the local parish also built around this time the Church of S. Pancrazio. After the suppression of the Humiliati in 1571 by Pope Pius V, the order's property was given to the hospital in Locarno and the islands became uninhabited.

St Leger[edit]

In 1885 an Anglo-Irishman of the St. Leger family, Richard Fleming, and his Russian-born wife, Antoniette (née Bayer, 1856 to 1948) purchased the Brissago Islands.[1]

On San Pancrazio they constructed a large house and then began to create a botanical garden, which required bringing by boat to the island earth and manure. In 1897 Richard Fleming left the islands for Naples where he worked at the British Consulate and died in 1922.[1] Antoniette remained and continued to develop the garden.[2] During this later period the writer James Joyce visited the island and stayed at her house. Between 1886 and 1914, Antoinette de Saint Léger (as she called herself) hosted on the island the painters Danielle Ranzoni, Filippo Franzoni and Giovanni Segantini and the composer Ruggero Leoncavallo. After the end of World War I she also hosted James Joyce, Rainer Maria Rilke and Harry Graf Kessler.

After the First World War, due to poor investments she was deeply in debt and in 1927 she was forced to sell the property.[1] She moved first to Ascona and then to Intragna, where public assistance supported her until her death, on 24 January 1948.

Max Emden[edit]

In 1928 Hamburg department store king Max Emden purchased the islands, demolished the existing house and replaced it with a neoclassical villa.[1] The villa had 30 rooms, a conservatory and a 33 metre long swimming pool. While not really into botany and gardening he retained the existing garden and vegetation, while at the same time undertaking all the necessary the maintenance. Emden lived on the islands until his death in a clinic in Locarno in 1940.[2]

Purchase by the public[edit]

In 1949, Emden's son Hans Erich, who had emigrated to Chile accepted an offer from a consortium consisting of the Canton Ticino, the municipalities of Ascona, Brissago and Ronco sopra Ascona, plus the Swiss Nature Protection League (known today as the Swiss Heritage Society) to purchase the islands. The purchase agreement was signed on 2 September 1949.[2]

On the morning of 2 April 1950 the Brissago Islands were opened to the public.

Parco botanico del Canton Ticino[edit]

While the smaller island has been left in its natural state, the botanical garden (Parco botanico del Canton Ticino) on San Pancrazio is home to approximately 1,500 plant species, among which are azaleas, rhododendrons, Japanese palm trees, numerous camellias, Japanese banana, bamboo, magnolia, agaves, cypress, yucca, California poppies. The garden today covers 2.5 hectares and receives more than 90 000 visitors a year.

Today the villa contains a restaurant and the administration offices of the Botanical Park of Canton Ticino.

The Brissago Islands are part of the Gardens of Switzerland network.


  1. ^ a b c d Desmond, Steven (2016). Gardens of the Italian Lakes. London: Frances Lincoln. ISBN 978-0-7112-3630-1. Archived from the original (Hardback) on 16 April 2017. Retrieved 15 April 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Isole di Brissago - History". Parco botanico del Canton Ticino. Retrieved 15 April 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 46°08′00″N 8°44′06″E / 46.13333°N 8.73500°E / 46.13333; 8.73500