Lake Bolsena, land of popes' choice.
The body of water of Bolsena is the largest volcanic lake in Europe. Surrounded by a crown of hills, its shores are dominated by magnificent medieval villages, rich in important works of art, a legacy of the Farnese seigniory and the many popes who loved this area. Two islands of lush nature, Bisentina and Martana, rise out of the lake. Its crystal-clear waters are an invitation to enjoy various water sports, including swimming.
Scenery and great food.
The area around Lake Bolsena is one of the most fascinating in Lazio, the ideal place to spend a weekend, or even a whole week, enjoying nature, art, beautiful landscapes and great food. The lakeside village of Bolsena is dominated by the Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara, which houses a regional museum, and is rich in palaces, squares and churches, including the Baroque Cappella del Miracolo, and restaurants, where you can try dishes based on the lake's fish, eel and whitefish. Going on with the tour, clockwise, on a promontory rises Montefiascone, another beautiful Renaissance town, dominated by the imposing Rocca dei Papi (12th century), where the best view of the lake is a must. Here we drink white wine, the famous Est Est Est!
Back on the shore, you go through Marta, a fishing village with colourful boats moored on the banks, arriving at the Capodimonte promontory, dominated by the Rocca Farnese (the work of Antonio da Sangallo the Younger), with a beautiful little harbour from where you can sail to the islands, and beaches to relax. Valentano is another must-see promontory. It is a village where the Farnese family settled, embellished with a majestic fortress, monumental gates (Magenta and San Martino) and many palaces. Also in Gradoli, a pretty centre rising on a spur of tufa rock, is a Farnese palace, built by Pope Paul III, who had elected the village as his summer residence.
Down the Brigands Trail
The western shore of Lake Bolsena, from Gradoli to San Magno, the greenest and most wooded, is bordered by a section of the Sentiero dei Briganti, a 100-km itinerary that can be travelled on foot, by bicycle or on horseback. The trail runs from the Monte Rufeno Nature Reserve, on the border between Lazio, Tuscany and Umbria, to the village of Vulci in the Latium Maremma.
This is a route that today has great naturalistic value, but at the end of the 19th century was among the most marginal and isolated areas of the country, where Brigandage, the phenomenon that spread among armed gangs and dedicated to robbery and murder, had fertile ground. Modern brigands travel through it to discover an unspoilt Italy, where there is still so much to discover.
The island of Bisentina, a sweet spot
Bisentina Island, the largest (17 hectares) of Lake Bolsena, is part of the municipal territory of Capodimonte: its name comes from a nearby hill, Mount Bisenzio. Inhabited since time immemorial, the island was a place of refuge for the coastal populations during the barbarian invasions, and later became a sweet spot when it was acquired by the Farnese family around the 15th century.
There are records of numerous popes who spent their holidays here. That explains the presence of various chapels and religious buildings dating back to the 15th and 16th centuries, the most important of which is the Church of Saints James and Christopher, built around 1500 with a dome by Vignola, one of the greatest architects of the time. The island is still private and not open for visits, except during FAI (Fondo Ambiente Italiano) days.
The Mystery of the Martana Island
The island of Martana, with its characteristic half-moon shape, measures about 10 hectares and takes its name from the nearest coastal town, the village of Marta, about 2 km away.
The history of this island is linked to two tragic events: the martyrdom of St. Christine and the murder of Amalasunta, a queen of the Goths, daughter of Theodoric, are said to have taken place here. Over the centuries, the island was inhabited by various monastic communities and disputed between the Holy See, Orvieto and Viterbo, then owned by the Farnese family, who preferred the Bisentina for their leisure activities, and gradually abandoned.
Martana Island is also private today and mooring is not possible, but it can be seen externally thanks to the public lake navigation service, which offers excursions from the port of Bolsena, circumnavigating both islands and the promontory of Capodimonte.