Wandering to discover Tuscia you will be fascinated by the stunning beauty of Lake Bolsena (Lago di Bolsena). It is not just a lake but the apotheosis of nature that offers breathtaking scenery, such as the one you can admire from La Rocca dei Papi (popes’ stronghold) in Montefiascone where you could run the risk of being affected by Stendhal’s syndrome.
It all started hundreds of thousands of years ago. A volcanic explosion threw out lapilli, pozzolana, and lava, emptying the underlying area. The surface crust sank forming a caldera. In the course of tens of thousands of years, the rain filled up this huge crater creating Lake Bolsena. Volcanic activity continued and other explosions inside the lake led to the formation of two marvelous islands: Martana and Bisentina.
Nowadays, Lake Bolsena, with its 13.5 km (8.4 miles) in length and 12 km (7.5 miles) in diameter, is the largest lake of volcanic origin in Europe, and one of the main travel destinations for nature lovers.
A Big Container of History
When you think about Lake Bolsena you can also imagine a large container that hides inside its waters stories of ancient civilization up to more recent events.
In fact, archaeological finds, such as Neolithic and Eneolithic objects, have been found on the lake bed, and more interesting discoveries that come from the lake dwellings dating to the Iron and Bronze Ages were found in the locality so called Grancaro.
But pieces of more recent history have also been brought to the surface from the lake, such as the wreck of a US bombing plane that crashed in January, 1944. Thanks to the name of a woman written on the side of the plane’s turret, Ileen Lois, a scholar from Viterbo was able to trace the name of the machine gunner, Sergeant Rulf Truesdale, and that of the entire crew, ten soldiers in all. It is a very touching story that in 2013, brought the family of the American sergeant to visit Lake Bolsena at the invitation of the local authorities. The family has formed such a deep bond with the lake that they often return to visit it. The plane turret is now kept in the Bolsena Museum.
Martana and Bisentina Islands
Another important landscape aspect that makes Lake Bolsena absolutely unique is the two islands that stand more or less in the center of its surface. The island of Martana is harsher but the colors and shapes of the rocks are particularly enchanting. Bisentina, the larger of the two islands, hosts a vast natural park with flourishing vegetation, consisting mainly of holm-oaks. Both islands are rich in history that dates back to the archaic era and go through the centuries under the rule of cardinals and popes. Seven small chapels are scattered around the Bisentina island. The finest one is the Tempietto di Santa Caterina, octagonal in plan and visible from the shore.
Martana and Bisentina are on the migration route of the birds. It is a unique spectacle to see these birds crowded on the rocky spurs of the islands, or dancing in the sky as in acrobatic flights. Other bird species live permanently on the islands, such as colorful ducks accompanied by cute ducklings.
Both islands are privately owned and a special permit is required to visit them. However, it is possible to enjoy their shore by swimming in the fresh and pristine water.
From the Volcanic Eruption to the Table
The volcanic eruption of hundreds of thousands of years ago that gave rise to the lake, brought also the soil rich in minerals that characterizes the surrounding slopes. Cultivations such as olive groves, vineyards, fields of legumes alternate with woods of turkey-oak and downy-oak.
A constellation of small villages overlooks the shores of the lake, taking many benefits for the local economy from its waters. Just think of Bolsena, Marta, Capodimonte and Montefiascone which owe much of their beauty and prosperity to the presence of Lake Bolsena. Fishing is just one of the advantages that the lake offers for the local economy and still employs 90 people in Bolsena alone. Each night, they set out in their traditional boats with centrally mounted engines and an attractor lamp. The best-known species of fish in the lake is the coregone (lavaret), a whitefish very popular with locals and tourists at local restaurants. However, the freshwater fish of Lake Bolsena, which is prized, tasty, and famous from ancient times, also includes eels, perch, tench, pike, whitebait, and mullet.
The fish may be the lords of the local table, however, in winter the cuisine gives preference to another product offered by the generosity of the volcanic soil, which is dry legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans that are ideal for those who follow a Mediterranean diet.
Naturally, each of these local specialties has to be accompanied by a local wine, from Est! Est!! Est!!! of Montefiascone, dry and semi-sweet, to the robust wines that come from the union of various types of grapes that prosper on the slopes that surround the lake, ranging from the red Cannaiola of Marta to the aromatic Aleatico of Gradoli.
A curiosity, Cannaiola and Aleatico must be appreciated by dipping the tozzetti, traditional local biscuits made of flour, hazelnuts, extra virgin olive oil, eggs and sugar. A real treat!
Hospitality and Fun
Over the years, the town of Bolsena and the other small towns along the lake have created efficient tourist facilities for those who come to enjoy the splendid uncontaminated natural environment. Many campsites, located above all in Bolsena, Montefiascone and Capodimonte, host foreign and Italian visitors, many of whom come back year after year. There are also a number of qualified hotels and historical palaces that offer accommodation. For those who prefer to stay in houses and apartments, even for short periods, there are specific real estate agencies.
Coming to Lake Bolsena you will be surprised by the choice of restaurants, trattorias, and pizzerias that offer the delicacies of the area, not to mention all the sports that can be practiced on the lake and that include sailing, motor boating, water skiing, and windsurfing.
All the Splendor of Lake Bolsena in a Single Experience
One of the ways to experience the best of Lake Bolsena is for sure a private cruise in a small boat. Better if you leave from the marina of Bolsena since the stretch that leads to the islands is longer. You can swim close to the islands and also have a special dinner on board with local products and good wine, in the company of your family or a small group of friends.
If this idea tempts you, be ready to enjoy the play of lights on the water, flocks of birds dancing in the sky, small fish waiting for the crumbs of your bread and the gentle rocking of the boat that cradles you until sunset.
Are you already dreaming of it? So, visit Lake Bolsena and let your dream come true.