Another Italian lake district, offering a relaxing escape without the crowds

Trasimeno in northwestern Umbria is the largest lake in Italy – alamy

A generous sprinkling of scenic lakes in Italy can be found across the famous northern destinations. Many, including beautiful Lake Bracciano and Lake Bolsena in Lazio and Lake Trasimeno in Umbria, are concentrated around the heart of the country.

Each is suitable for an independent trip or as part of a travel holiday, and while each has its own appeal, they offer water sports and swimming, cycling and walking. If you enjoy a good castle, look no further – almost all of the pretty lakeside towns and picturesque villages have one, with stunning views across the water.

Fishing traditions are deeply rooted and local chefs make good use of the lake’s fish, with perch, thorn, carp, whiting and smelt commonly found on grilled, fried menus, with pasta or in soups. Roman and Umbrian specialities, including artichokes, porcini, pecorino cheese and delicious pasta and pulse-based dishes also feature heavily and there is an attractive selection of local wines.

Although the lakes can be busy in the middle of summer with city dwellers fleeing the heat, at other times they are peaceful havens. Here’s my pick of the best:

Lake Bracciano

The smallest of the three lakes, with a circumference of around 22-circular miles, Bracciano is only an hour by train from Rome and although day-trippers come from the capital, you can make it your base to enjoy for peaceful lakeside evenings. The ancient Romans built villas by the lake which today are surrounded by wooded hills, olive and reed groves and sailing schools and campsites between the three main settlements in the lake.

Bracciano is only an hour by train from RomeBracciano is only an hour by train from Rome

Bracciano is only an hour by train from Rome – alamy

On the northern shore is Trevignano Romano, a charming village with cobbled cobbled lanes made of local volcanic stone and Blue Flag status for its beaches. The ruins of a 13th century castle above the lake are free to explore and are reached by well-preserved steps. Freshwater fish, home-made pasta and seasonal vegetables are among the specialties served in restaurants including the excellent Il Porticciolo, set in a secluded bay with a lakeside garden and shady pergola, a short drive from the centre.

The lively town of Bracciano, on the west coast, clusters around the magnificent and imposing 15th-century Castle of Odescalchi, often chosen as a wedding venue by international stars. The castle’s impressive interior hosts Renaissance art and richly decorated rooms, and the towers offer stunning lake views. Just outside Bracciano, the collection at the Italian Air Force Museum includes many historic aircraft.

Anguillara Sabazia, on the south shore, has a wide seafront promenade and a maze-like historic center with remains from ancient Roman, medieval and Renaissance times and narrow streets opening to a striking panorama over the lake. The town’s favorite vegetable – broccoletti – is celebrated at an annual festival: Broccoletti in Piazza (in 2024 on April 14).

Lake Bolsena

Romantic scenery, beautiful villages, beaches of black volcanic sand, colorful traditions and fine wines in the age of ancient caves make Lake Bolsena wonderful. The lake, the largest of volcanic origin in Europe, is located in the north of Lazio, within the area of ​​Tuscia, where there is a dense concentration of evocative Etruscan sites.

Bolsena itself has an attractive stone center that slopes up to a majestic medieval castle and, five minutes further on, the magnificent Etruscan-Roman site of Poggio Moscini. The festival of Corpus Domini, celebrated with intricate flower-petal designs through the center (June 2, 2024) came at the basilica of Santa Cristina, which has atmospheric catacombs.

Bolsena has an attractive stone center and slopes up to a majestic medieval castleBolsena has an attractive stone center and slopes up to a majestic medieval castle

Bolsena has an attractive stone center and slopes up to a majestic medieval castle – alamy

While Bolsena’s lakeside trattorias specialize in freshwater fish, the center’s delis, Antica Norcineria Morelli and Retrogusto, are perfect for connoisseurs of local produce.

On the western shore are the attractive villages of Marta and Capodimonte, a starting point for boat trips around the island, while Montefiascone straddles the southern shore, a main route on the Via Francigena pilgrim route to Rome.

The highest point in Montefiascone is its sculpture fortress, the dome of the town’s cathedral is a landmark seen for miles and San Flaviano has some wonderful frescoes and hosts the tomb of Johannes Defuk, a 12th century wine lover thanks to catch from the strange name of the famous white wine Montefiascone. , ‘Est! But!! But!!!’ Try some at the Fiera del Vino festival (August 1-15, 2024), with tastings on the panoramic terrace at the Stefanoni family or with typical dishes at trattorias such as the simple Dante. The specialty wine on the northern edge of the lake is semi-aratic red Aleatico; Antonella Pacchiarotti, whose tiny historic winery in the village of Grotte di Castro, makes six different versions.

Lake Trasimeno

With a circumference of 36 miles and a cycling path behind it, Trasimeno in north-west Umbria is Italy’s largest lake in the center. On a headland on the west coast, close to the Tuscan border, is Castiglione del Lago, the main center, with a variety of restaurants, including Slow Food-endorsed L’Acquario. In addition to delicious fish dishes, try the special fagiolina del Trasimeno beans and fine wines made with Trasimeno gamay, the local name for grenache.

On the northeastern shore, Passignano sul Trasimeno has the feel of a charming fishing villageOn the northeastern shore, Passignano sul Trasimeno has the feel of a charming fishing village

Passignano sul Trasimeno, on the north-east coast, has the feel of a great fishing village – alamy

For more of the area’s wines, book a tasting at the nearby Madrevite winery. Come if you can for the Trasimeno rosé festival, held during the annual Castiglione tulip festival (25 April-1 May 2024) or for the Castello di Vino event at Corciano (early October).

Castiglione’s highlight, the richly frescoed Renaissance Palazzo della Corgna, is linked by a 180m passage to a medieval fortress overlooking the lake; there are great views from the ramps. On the northeast shore, Passignano sul Trasimeno has a charming fishing village vibe, with its own panoramic castle, while at San Feliciano the historic Cooperativa Pescatori del Trasimeno offers fishing trips and a lakeside restaurant. Ferries leave from here to Isola Polvese, one of the lake’s three islands, which houses an environmental research centre. Isola Maggiore has a tiny community and sights include a museum dedicated to the island’s lace-making tradition; ferries here from Tuoro sul Trasimeno take only ten minutes.

A lovely place to stay near Tuoro is Montemelino, an award-winning olive oil and wine estate with attractive accommodation in restored stone farm buildings. Also exuding rural charm characteristic of Umbria the winery Podere Marella is a delightful, self-catering secluded five-room stone farmhouse, surrounded by woodland and vines.

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