It’s a weekday in early autumn and the mediaeval fishing hamlet on the southern shore of Monte Isola is tranquil. Only 12.8 sq km, the island is the primary attraction of Lake Iseo, Italy’s hidden jewel that is 100km north-east of Milan.
Most of the villages in Monte Isola, which is largely a wooded mountain, and those around the lake, have been around since the 15th century at least. Yet, despite the beauty on offer, the picturesque towns largely escape the radar of the hordes of tourists that invade Italy every year.
But the charming lake is not all absent from the mind of the world, at least for boat aficionados. Amid the serenity, a legend, the Riva, was born 175 years ago. It lives on today at the tail end of the lake at Sarnico. The story goes that in 1842, a storm damaged the local fishermen’s boats, and their livelihoods along with it. The situation spurred Pietro Riva, a young shipbuilder and craftsman who had just moved from Laglio, to repair most of the vessels.
He went on to build his own boats. Business flourished and in the 1950s, it reached mythical heights under his great-grandson, Carlo. It was Riva’s second coming.
BOAT OF THE JET SET
The heir to the throne stamped his reign with the boatyard’s most illustrious creation in 1962. It came in the decade when the preoccupation with speed birthed the Porsche 911, Aston Martin DB5, Shelby Cobra and Maserati Ghibli Spyder, and the 40-year-old Italian had the presence of mind to hitch a ride on the momentum.
Out of that dizzy spell, he crafted the lines of the Aquarama, a luxury wooden runabout that had a hull of up to 8.3m in length, as the Ferrari equivalent of the waters. With the slogan “Sun, sea, joy of living!”, Carlo created an aura around his boat and it rapidly captured the imagination of the jet set along the riviera.
From Monaco to Cannes and Saint Tropez, the likes of Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot, Anita Ekberg and a host of blue bloods craved the Aquarama that had a top speed of 40 knots. During its production years until 1996, other luminaries such as screen goddess Elizabeth Taylor, King Hussein of Jordan and James Bond star Sean Connery also owned variants of the boat.
It was on one of these vintage classics, Happy Days, that The Peak sailed in September from Monte Isola to Sarnico. Fired up by two V8 engines, the Aquarama easily cut the waters of the enchanting lake in the 9km hop to Riva’s headquarters.
A mythical air enveloped the boat’s birthplace. Carlo had died fi ve months earlier, on April 10 this year. In the era of Carlo, says Stefano De Vivo, chief commercial officer of the Ferretti Group that now owns the boat maker, Riva became synonymous with elegance, status and perfection.
“He selected materials of the highest quality and was meticulous, even down to the tiniest details, which is today the hallmark of Riva’s craftsmanship,” explains De Vivo.
MAKING A STATEMENT AT CANNES
The Ferretti Group arrived at the 40th Cannes Yachting Festival in September with 25 yachts. We pick the best.