Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Floating Piers Unplugged: Enjoy Christo's Art without waiting in line

We just visited The Floating Piers, a collection of interlinked floating docks wrapped in yellow-orange fabric connecting the east shore of Northern Italy's Lake Iseo to the island of Montisola and surroundings. AMAZING!

Created by Bulgarian-born American artist Christo, The Floating Piers is as close to waddling on water as you'll ever get.

Suntanning on The Floating Piers. Thank you, Christo, for thinking this one up!

You may have heard of the epic lines to get to The Floating Piers, and it's true. Most people face daunting waiting times under the scorching sun after facing a hellish journey to wade through the insane congestion in the Lake Iseo area. You can avoid all that by following our special tips based on our visit of the past couple of days.

Basic orientation. The Floating Piers includes about 2 miles of floating docks and 1.5 miles of land segments. There's one floating dock connecting Sulzano on the mainland (east entrance) to Peschiera Maraglio on Montisola. Then there's a system of floating docks connecting the small island of San Paolo to Montisola (Sensole and Peschiera Maraglio). Finally, the land segments: Christo's magic fabric also covers a number of pedestrian streets both on the mainland and on the island and the road link from Sensole to Peschiera Maraglio.

The west entrance in Sensole is much quieter than the busy Peschiera entrance and the hellish Sulzano entrance. It's only a 20' walk from Menzino, which you can reach by bus from Carzano. Or you can walk the whole way along the west shore of the island, like we did.
The west entrance in Sensole is much quieter than the busy Peschiera entrance and the hellish Sulzano entrance. It's only a 20' walk from Menzino, which you can reach by bus from Carzano.

Let's begin with five tips on the most arduous task: how to get to The Floating Piers without getting stuck.

The west entrance in Sensole (on Montisola) is by far the quietest entrance to The Floating Piers.

Tip #1: avoid Sulzano. Sulzano is home to the only mainland entrance to The Floaring Piers and you should avoid it like the plague. Trains to Sulzano are packed beyond imagination (extremely unsafe for dogs), while cars and even bikes are not allowed into Sulzano. The lines to get onto the docks in Sulzano can be unreal.

Most folks don't seem to realize there are two other entrances in Peschiera Maraglio and Sensole, both on the island of Montisola.

Tip #2: use the west entrance in Sensole.  The Sensole entrance is by far the quietest and has virtually no congestion. You can reach Sensole by bus from Carzano in the northeast corner of Montisola; get off in Menzino and walk 20'. You can also walk all the way from Carzano, like we did: just follow the road on the west side of the island. Cars are banned (other than public utility vehicles) but watch for locals zipping by on their mopeds.

The quietest area of The Floating Piers (at 6:00 a.m.) is the dock jutting out from Sensole toward San Paolo Island.

Now you're probably wondering how to get to Carzano (on Montisola itself). Read on!

Tip #3: access the island from Sale Marasino. Sale Marasino is the town just north of Sulzano. From there, you can board a ferry to Carzano, on the north shore of the island. Most people don't realize how easy it is to get to The Floating Piers from Sale Marasino, which means you'll be mostly sharing the ferry with locals. Ferries from Sale Marasino operate on a first-come, first-serve basis (reservations are not possible) but travel frequently (every 20' at peak times). We had a bit of a wait (40'), but it was fun because we got to make new fur friends.

Waiting for the ferry in Sale Marasino with a fluffy friend.

The catch: Sale Marasino is off limits to cars, unless you spend the night in the area and can show a reservation when you drive up to the police checkpoint.

Tip #4: spend the night on the island. It's a lot easier and cheaper than people realize, and you can find enough workable options with some basic googling. If you spend the night, you get to see The Floating Piers both in the evening and early in the morning. You also get to drive straight into Sale Marasino, where you'll find plenty of cheap parking. (You need to buy a scratch-off card called Gratta e Sosta, literally Scratch and Park, sold by several of the town businesses. The friendly folks at the Visitor Center can help you figure it out.)

This friend of mine lives near the Sensole entrance... and welcomes everyone to The Floating Piers, day and night.

Tip #5: if all else fails, find a private boat. We've met people who day-trip to The Floating Piers by paying a random boat owner to dump them on Montisola and pick them up at a predetermined time. It may cost a lot (more or less depending on how non-Italian you look or sound), but it seems to work. The best route is from Sarnico at the southwest end of Lake Iseo to Sensole on Montisola. Sarnico is accessible by bus from Bergamo.

There are also public ferries from Sarnico to Sensole and from the north shore (Lovere and Pisogne) to Carzano, but they travel relatively infrequently and most tickets can only be bought online up until three days before the travel date. It may be difficult to get on if you haven't reserved.

Taking a break while taking in the view due west. Mom is wearing boots, but you'll be fine with tennis shoes.

Now stay tuned for our briefing on crowd avoidance.

Roughly 90% of the visitors arrive from the east entrance on the mainland (Sulzano), so foot traffic is much thinner at the west end of The Floating Piers (Sensole). The floating docks are over 50 feet wide and there's generally plenty of room for everyone. The land segments vary in width and can get much more congested. The land segment in Peschiera Maraglio between the dock to San Paolo Island and the dock to the mainland can be extremely congested, but alternate routes exist through Peschiera Maraglio and you can easily figure them out.

And now let's wrap up with five tips on how to enjoy your time on The Floating Piers once you're there.

Tip #1: beware of the sun. Wear sunglasses, a wide-brimmed hat, and lots of sunscreen. Avoid walking on the docks in the middle of the day; the best times are early morning (as soon as they open at 6:00 a.m.) and evening. Carry a lot of water and keep yourself hydrated. There is an excellent public fountain in Sensole.

Tip #2: spend your time on the floating docks. The streets covered in Chisto's fabric are neat, but you came here to waddle on water, so spend most of your time on the docks. The docks from Montisola to San Paolo island are the most amazing, and the dock from Sensole is the least crowded.

Tip #3: avoid Sulzano. We already told you to steer clear of Sulzano en route to The Floating Piers, but you should also avoid it once you're there. If you walk the dock from Peschiera to Sulzano, do not get off the dock in Sulzano or you may have to face a long wait on the mainland to get back on.

Tip #4: keep your socks on.  Christo recommends walking barefoot, which works well if you're a dog but not as well if you're a human who worries about warts and athlete's foot. Keep your socks on!

Tip #5: bring a muzzle. Leashes and muzzles are required. Keeping dogs leashed is common sense and all dogs we met were on leash, while the muzzle requirement is not strictly enforced. None of the little dogs we saw had a muzzle on, a few of the midsize dogs carried one around their neck, and most big dogs wore one. On the ferry, your dog must wear a muzzle or be inside a pet carrier, like I was.

Bring a muzzle like we all did.

I sure hope these tips will be helpful to anyone who wishes to see The Floating Piers in the next four days before it closes.

Buon viaggio!

Tootsie & Renée at the top of Montisola with a view of The Floating Piers.


  1. How do you get to Sal Marisino? I going on Saturday/Sunday and I'll have a car, but I expect parking will be a nightmare...

    1. First of all, remember you'll need to show a hotel reservation at the police checkpoint between Marone and Sale Marasino. Your best bet is to approach Sale Marasino from the north: from the Seriate exit of the A4 tollway, follow the signs to Lovere and Valle Camonica. Drive past the Lovere exit and follow the signs to Brescia/Pisogne, then head south along Lake Iseo and exit at Vello. Follow the lakeside road through Marone and past the police checkpoint. In Sale, follow the P signs to find the long-term parking lots (ours was next to the town hall).

      On Saturday, things will be more hectic than normal, so you should plan to arrive as early as possible. If things get too hectic, the Police may restrict car travel into Marone, but they should still let you through if you have a reservation.

      Contingency plan if they don't let you past the checkpoint with your reservation (also applicable if you don't have a reservation): park in Marone, Pisogne, or even Darfo Boario Terme, and ride a train south to Sale Marasino. It will be packed, but nothing like the trains from Brescia. Marone is 5' from Sale by train, Pisogne is 15', and Darfo Boario Terme is 30'.

      We hope this helps; feel free to ask more questions!

    2. Great Tips thanks! what about going through a checkpoint in the south with a reservation ?

    3. I wouldn't try that. I don't know whether they would let you through, but the problem is the traffic congestion southwest of Sulzano. The northern approach is much safer and it's a fun drive ;)

  2. Amazing ! Those are great tips to enjoy the visit, thank you ! Purrs


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