The islet of San Giovanni has none of the opulence or fame of the other Borromean Islands, but it still intrigues visitors strolling along Pallanza lakefront, from where you can see it quite close up, as only a few dozen metres separate it from the shore.
The history of the island is linked to the lives of a number of eminent figures; one of these is the great conductor Arturo Toscanini, who lived in this “place of peace and hospitality” from 1927 to 1952, surrounded by a close circle of friends.
The island is first mentioned as “Isola di Santo’Angelo” in a document drawn up by the Emperor Otto III in 999 AD; at this time a castle and a church dedicated to St Michael the Archangel stood here, hence the name. When the church was demolished the name of the island changed to “San Giovanni”, from the oratory where a baptismal font dedicated to St John the Baptist still exists.
In the 17th century the Borromeo princes acquired the property, improving the gardens and restoring the houses. The palazzo shows resemblances to the one on Isola Madre, but was altered over the centuries, taking on its present appearance in the first half of the 19th century. Once planted with citrus orchards, the large park is now densely wooded throughout the island.
The islet of San Giovanni and its palazzo are not open to visitors, but you can look at this attractive outpost of the Borromean archipelago from the lakefront promenade of Pallanza.