Isola Bella is one of the Borromean Islands of Lago Maggiore in north Italy. The island is situated in the Borromean Gulf 400 meters from the lakeside town of Stresa. Isola Bella is 320 meters long by 400 meters wide and is entirely occupied by the Palazzo Borromeo and its Italianate garden.
Until 1632 the island—known only as l’isola inferiore or isola di sotto—was a rocky crag occupied by a tiny fishing village: but that year Carlo III of the influential House of Borromeo began the construction of a palazzo dedicated to his wife, Isabella D'Adda, from whom the island takes its name. He entrusted the works to the Milanese Angelo Crivelli, who was also to be responsible for the planning the gardens. The works were interrupted around middle of the century when the Duchy of Milan was struck by a devastating outbreak of the plague.
Construction resumed when the island passed to Carlo’s sons, Cardinal Giberto III (1615-1672) and Vitaliano VI (1620-1690); the latter in particular, with the financial backing of his elder brother, entrusted the completion of the works to the Milanese architect Carlo Fontana and turned the villa into a place of sumptuous parties and theatrical events for the nobility of Europe.
The completion of the gardens, however, was left to his nephew Carlo IV (1657 -1734). They were inaugurated in 1671.
The island achieved its highest level of social success during the period of Giberto V Borromeo (1751 – 1837) when guests included Edward Gibbon, Napoleon and his wife Joséphine de Beauharnais, and Caroline of Brunswick, the Princess of Wales. It is said that Caroline, having fallen in love with the place, did her best to convince the Borromeo family to sell her Isola Madre or the Castelli di Cannero islands; in the event she established herself on the banks of Lake Como at Cernobbio in the Villa d’Este.