I love water. Seas, lakes, rivers. I even drink the stuff. Umbria is landlocked, so there is no possibility of trips to the seaside, but it does boast 2 lakes: Lake Trasimeno and Lake Piediluco.
Lord Byron described Lake Trasimeno as “a silvery veil” and Goethe as “an unforgettable vision“. It is the 4th largest lake in Italy, covering an area of around 126 square kilometres (48 square miles) with a perimeter of around 60 kilometres (37 miles). It has none of the glamour of Lake Garda, and is all the better for it; quiet and peaceful, blue and green, green and blue, surrounded by low hills peppered with castles, villages, towers and churches.
We decided to spend 2 days at Lake Trasimeno and found a quirky B&B In Castiglione del Lago, the principal town on the western shore. It is a charming little town, surrounded by ancient walls breached by imposing gates.
Castiglione del Lago is built on a rocky promontory, giving expansive views of the Lake. Because of its strategic position, the town was fortified first by the Etruscans and then by the Romans, and was fought over, destroyed and rebuilt throughout the centuries. Today it is a small town unspoilt by excessive tourism, full of friendly people.
The shops are full of local products, including the many-coloured beans which looked so very attractive.
We couldn’t resist capturing these two chatting ceramic figures sitting on a window ledge.
Dominating the town is the Rocca del Leone (Lion Fortress), completed in 1247 by Frederick II. It is built to a pentangle design with 4 corner towers and, unusually, a triangular keep.
It is one of the finest examples of military architecture in Umbria, and in the 16th century was considered to be one of the most impregnable fortresses in Italy.
From the fortress, a narrow covered passageway inside the wall leads to the Palazzo della Corgna, an imposing palace built for the della Corgna family. An earlier building on this site was owned by the Baglioni family who hosted Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci there.
The 16th century palazzo is remarkable for its extensive, well-preserved and brightly coloured frescoes, attributed to Pomerancio and unknown others. The subjects include scenes from the Aeneid, the military exploits of the founder of the dynasty, Ascanio della Corgna and depictions of the seasons.
In early May, Castiglione del Lago hosts the “Colour the Skies” festival with light aircraft, hot air balloons and kites. The palazzo housed a display of some of the kites from former years.
There are 3 islands in the middle of the lake: Isola Minore, Isola Polvese and Isola Maggiore. Isola Minore is privately owned whilst Isola Polvese is a wildlife sanctuary. We took the local ferry to Isola Maggiore – a lovely trip taking about 30 minutes.
The shore was fringed with weeping willows.
There are few inhabitants on the island and most make their living by fishing or tourism. We strolled around the quiet streets. The sun blazed down – I had to buy a hat!
Saint Francis of Assisi was said to have come to this island to fast and pray, and there is a worn chapel built on the site where he supposedly knelt on arrival.
Old churches perched on worn steps.
Breathtaking lake views were all around us.
Wooden piles at the boat jetty seemed to be “walking” into the water!
There were surprisingly few pleasure craft on the water. The Lake is fairly shallow and marshy in some areas which may explain the lack of activity. This little speedboat was collecting diners for a lakeside restaurant.
As the sun began to cool, we sat on the shore with a well-deserved drink watching the water shimmer and dapple in the light. It was heavenly.
All too soon the ferry arrived and we were homeward bound. Castiglione del Lago looked wonderful as we returned to its encircling walls. Day one was drawing to a close.