The Brissago Islands are one of Ticino’s most magical places - a small subtropical paradise on Lake Maggiore that is easily accessible by boat. Thanks to their location, the islands benefit from a particularly mild climate that has facilitated the growth of unique vegetation. Recalling enchanted atmospheres, the landscape is covered in rare majestic trees, luxuriant shrubs, ferns and scented flowers. About 2,000 species of plants from the Mediterranean region, Asia, Africa, the Americas and Oceania are cultivated in the botanical garden.
The Island to visit is the Isola Grande (from April to November), also known as San Pancrazio. Particularly striking are the areas with the Roman baths, the panoramic viewpoint at the extremity of the island, the thick reed grove and the small beach. The excursion allows visitors to walk through typical habitats from the Australian, Asian and African continents and, not to be missed, the section reserved for Mediterranean vegetation. Also in the botanical garden are species typical of the Insubrica region that have grown naturally. The park covers a surface of 25,000 square meters and is home to 2,000 species of flora, often unique in Switzerland.
The smaller of the islands called Isola di Sant’Apollinare o Isola dei conigli (Saint Appollinare Island or Rabbits’ Island) is not open to the public. It presents native vegetation and conserves the ruins of an ancient church.
To discover curiosities and legends, both about the wonderful world of plants and the history of the Brissago Islands, short guided tours are included in the admission price. More detailed accompanied tours are also available, for a fee and by reservation; whereas children can discover the island through a treasure hunt called "the search for lost flowers".
The botanical garden was the idea of Russian Baroness Antoinette de Saint Léger who purchased the island in 1885. She transformed the property into her home attracting renowned writers, musicians and painters. The Big Island became an exotic garden where the Baroness planted numerous species of flora until then unknown in the region such as the Chilean wine palm (Jubaea chilensis).
After losing all her wealth, the Russian aristocrat sold both islands to the rich Hamburger merchant Max Emden in 1927. He proceeded to build the imposing palace, the boat house and the Roman baths living a flamboyant lifestyle. The initial design of the botanical garden was generally respected and enlarged. Undisturbed over the years, the plants form groups, backgrounds and captivating perspectives.
In 1949, the Brissago Islands were purchased by a public Foundation and the Big Island became Ticino’s Botanical Park. Since 2020, the Canton of Ticino has taken over the entire ownership of the Brissago Islands and the park is renamed “Botanical Garden”.