The sunny location of the Brissago Islands, sheltered by the Alps and surrounded by the water of Lake Maggiore, which stores heat during the summer and releases it during the winter, means they bask in a subtropical climate. As a result, species from Asia or parts of the world with a Mediterranean climate – second only to the tropical forests in terms of biodiversity – can be grown outdoors in the Alps.
The exploration of this rich variety of flora begins with Mediterranean Europe at the northern point of the island, with the characteristic aroma of Lamiaceae, surrounded by white cistus. The journey continues with Australian (or mallee) forests, dominated by eucalyptus and acacia, followed by Proteaceae and Restionaceae, which give a taste of the South African fynbos. Walking past the Ericaceae you enter the Americas, with Araucaria, Nothofagus and Jubaea recalling central Chile, while in the distance the large agaves and prickly pears anchored to the rocks transport you to Central America. Finally, the colours of the rhododendrons and camelias, framed by giant bamboo, epitomise exotic Asia.
Ever wondered what forests looked like 300 million years ago, when there was no fruit, and flowers were still rare? At the heart of the island there is a place that resembles this ancient environment. There, in the semi-darkness and amidst the thick green of the ferns, dominated by Dicksonia antarctica, you can still glimpse some living fossils. Explore this and other fascinating sights in the themed and ornamental areas of the garden.
You probably know the names jojoba, guava, argan and lemongrass from trendy bodycare products or exotic cuisine: the baroness’ ancient vegetable garden provides the perfect spot to get up close to these and other medicinal and useful plants.
Other species, meanwhile, are associated with esoteric rituals, hexes, conspiracies and even death sentences – like hemlock, for example. Are you brave enough to venture through the mists in search of these plants that recall symbols, myths and magic?