June 24, 2016 – Just saw on the Floating Piers Facebook page that they are now closing the piers between midnight (last entrance 10PM) and 6AM. I imagine this will create quite a queue in the morning.
Written June 23, 2016
This quick post is for those planning on visiting Christo’s Floating Piers running through July 3, 2016. Since I found very little practical information on how best to reach the installation or manage the crowded conditions I thought I would outline our experience.
I’ll skip the information about what the project is, you can find that here, and focus on the logistics of how to best manage your experience.
We had a hotel room (which we had booked back in mid- January) in Iseo, about 4 kilometers south of Sulzano, the main entrance to the piers. Consequently the information here is mainly based on observations of the transportation between Iseo and Sulzano.
When should you go: We found that the piers were the prettiest in the early morning light when the fabric on the walkways shimmers gold as if an extension of the surrounding lake.
The piers are supposed to be open 24/7. It’s very busy at most hours except very late, after 10PM or so, or very early, before 7AM. It is best to get there as early as possible. Sunrise is around 5:30 and this is not too early if you are looking for a little space on the piers. The evenings are quite busy as people go to enjoy sunset (about 9:15) or for an evening stroll.
When portions of the walkways are closed due to weather or repairs the front section becomes more crowded and I believe they limit access in general to the installation. The back triangle, i.e., from the island of Monte Isola to the little island, which is at least 2/3 of the project, was closed for repairs from the evening of June 21st until nearly 8AM the next morning. At 7:30 AM there was a mob waiting at the entrance of this section for it to re-open. When everything is normal this back section does seem to have more breathing space even at the busiest times. You can find their Facebook page here for updates on closures.
Transportation to the Piers – Official information can be found here. This is the biggest headache. Once you get to Sulzano there are a few queues but it seems to go relatively quickly.
The local roads leading to Sulzano are closed to regular traffic. Those coming by car are expected to park at one of the many lots around the lake and take a shuttle or train to Sulzano. Here is a map of the parking options. I can’t really offer much advice on parking. Traffic in Iseo was not too hectic and we had little difficulty driving to the hotel.
From Iseo and the other towns around the lake there are 4 options to reach the piers – shuttle bus, train, ferry and by foot.
The shuttle bus has the best schedule, running from Iseo every 10 to 15 minutes between 7AM and 11PM and every 25 minutes at other times, including all night. That is the posted schedule. The reality is the buses don’t seem to run that frequently and are often full by the time they reach the north end of Iseo, the side closest to Sulzano. We tried to take a shuttle around 5:30AM waited for 30 minutes as an empty bus and then a full bus passed us by. As more and more people arrived at the bus stop, we decided to walk instead.
The trains from Iseo to Sulzano are supposed to run about every 30 minutes, but there is only one track between the towns so they too were backed up with long delays. We sat on one train for over an hour before it finally left Iseo. Our friends coming from Bresica at 7AM on June 22nd stood in line while several trains left, finally getting a place on one that eventually reached Sulzano around 11:00. A total of 4 hours for the trip. They were told that their train was the last that would stop in Sulzano and subsequent passengers would have to get off either before or after the town and take a shuttle in.
Ferry seems to be the most reliable form of transport. They leave more or less on time. The ferry from Iseo runs directly to Peschiera on Monte Isola island starting at 9:30AM and running every half hour to every hour and half depending on the time of day. You can make online reservations here for departures but they must be made at least 3 days in advance. 70% of the seats are open to reservations while 30% are held for walkups. Passengers with reservations have priority when boarding.
In Iseo we noticed that at busier times, which is most of the day, there is a queue for the passengers without reservations. Not all of these people made it on the first ferry they were waiting for and had to wait for the following ferry. Returning from Peschiera to Iseo it seemed there was less of a queue and we were able to board on the next departure both in the early afternoon and at around 9 in the evening.
Walking is also a possibility. It’s about 4k from Iseo to Sulzano but they have the road closed to pedestrian traffic near Pilzone, about halfway there. If you want to walk from where it is blocked off you have to climb up a good trail that bypasses the road. If you are used to hiking and walking it’s not so difficult. The initial steep climb takes about 10 minutes. After that the trail is relatively level with a few short additional climbs. This is also an opportunity to see the piers from above although they are pretty far away for a really good view.
My advice is if you are a walker or hiker walk to the piers early, preferably arriving before 7AM, and then take the ferry back. This way you will encounter the fewest crowds and see the Floating Piers in the best light.
Services: Once out of Sulzano town and actually on the piers there are limited food and drink options. On Monte Isola there are a few cafés, generally full, and a larger “food court” past the ferry stop towards the walkway leading to the small island. Toilets are also available near here.
Sun and Heat: There is very little shade and the walkway fabric is very reflective, intensifying the sun’s rays. Therefore sun protection and water are essential.