Let’s allow our imagination to transport us for a moment when we think about what Tuscia represents to us. Certainly, it’s a place that we can easily associate with a historical period linked to the Middle Ages, rich in history. It’s also an area well-known for its olive oil tradition of Etruscan origin and the thermal baths cherished by Ancient Romans.
However, for foreign tourists from the north, such as Dutch, Germans, and Austrians, the Viterbo province is synonymous with wonderful freshwater basins immersed in the tranquility of nature.
So, let’s delve into this topic and go on a journey to discover the lakes that make Tuscia a lush land both in terms of nature and tourism.
THE LARGEST VOLCANIC LAKE IN ITALY
The Lake of Bolsena is obviously the most famous body of water in Viterbo. Welcoming us as we arrive at its shores is the view of the two small islands that characterize it. We’re talking about Bisentina and Martana, places with a history dating back to the Etruscans, and they conceal ancient stories, such as that of Amalasunta, the daughter of the Ostrogothic king Theodoric. She met her end on Martana island after inheriting the kingdom from her father.
Framing the two islands, which are visitable and waiting to be explored, we find a great number of ancient villages. Our ideal journey could start with the most well-known one, Montefiascone, famous for its Rocca dei Papi that overlooks the breathtaking panorama of the lake with its extensive gardens. Here, we can be enchanted by the many cellars that make the town famous for producing the white wine “Est! Est!! Est!!!” and extra virgin olive oil. We can savor these flavors at the vast olive grove of Oleificio Presciuttini, where the award-winning oil “…DiNotte” is produced, or amid the fields of the Il Molino Agricultural Company, where we can also stay in two recently renovated beautiful rural dwellings.
Not far away, we continue our journey through Viterbo by reaching the town of Bolsena. The ancient dominion of the Monaldeschi family is still dominated by the Rocca, which overlooks the houses that reach the lake’s shores. Here, amidst artisan shops and eternal liveliness, we can stay and discover the town’s history at VesConte, a historic residence located in the historic center. It’s a relais/museum that boasts a long list of illustrious guests, including Fellini and even two popes. Before departing, we can once again taste the local products by visiting another wonderful agricultural company: Frantoio Antica Tuscia, whose olive grove is situated in the hills surrounding the town, providing a view of the entire lake.
Continuing our “coast-to-coast” journey around the lake, we will then arrive at Gradoli, another cherished place in Tuscia, mainly known for hosting one of the province’s oldest traditions: the Pranzo del Purgatorio (Purgatory Lunch), dating back 500 years. This “festival,” which falls on Ash Wednesday, will allow us to taste some of the region’s most famous local products, such as the Fagioli del Purgatorio (Purgatory Beans) and stewed lake pike.
In the vicinity, we can also visit the town of Onano, also known for its long culinary tradition of “sacred lentils,” a legume that we can taste in all the local restaurants. Nearby, there’s also San Lorenzo Nuovo, a town known for being nicknamed the “little Copenhagen of Lake Bolsena” due to its particular neatness and orderly beauty.
As we conclude our circle around the body of water, we will get to know the beautiful Capodimonte. The town, overlooking the lake and with a view of the beautiful islands that enrich it, is known not only for the beauty of its historic center and the long lakeside promenade but also for some legends. Among them is the true story behind the tale of “Beauty and the Beast,” featuring Pedro Gonzales, an ancient noble of the area afflicted with hypertrichosis, a rare condition that caused abnormal hair growth all over his body, including his face.
THE LAKE OF MEZZANO, RELAXATION AMID NATURE AND HISTORY
Not everyone is aware that near Lake Bolsena there’s another body of water, much smaller but certainly not lacking in beauty to admire. We’re talking about Lake Mezzano, nestled in nature and where remains of Bronze Age pile dwellings have recently been discovered.
Visiting the location, perhaps on a horseback ride, we’ll have the opportunity to rest and relax in the many accommodations available. Among them, AgriSpa Fra’ Viaco, with its wellness treatments, cozy rooms, and cuisine based on local produce, is an unmissable stop. A short distance away, we can also explore two other magnificent villages. The first is Valentano, a terrace from which we can once again admire Lake Bolsena and learn more about the area’s history through splendid municipal museums. The second is Ischia di Castro, an agricultural-oriented place where we won’t lack opportunities to once again experience the tastes and typical local products.
TREKKING AND SPORTS AT LAKE VICO
Approaching the province of Rome, we can continue our journey to discover another lake, this time nestled among mountains and forests. We’re talking about Lake Vico, the second-largest lake in terms of area in the province of Viterbo, known for being the highest among Italy’s major lakes at 507 meters above sea level. This place, with its lush greenery, is a popular destination for hikers and sports enthusiasts. They can also find a spot to paraglide, explore the “Faggeta depressa,” and experience the protected areas of the Fogliano and Venere mountains, which are rich in biodiversity and natural beauty.
Once again, an inevitable legend characterizes this place. According to the legend, the lake was created by the Greco-Roman hero Hercules, who, to demonstrate his strength to the local inhabitants, would have thrown his club to the ground, generating the crater and causing water to gush out, eventually covering it.
Nearby, we can choose to learn more about traditions and other popular legends by experiencing the hospitality of three magnificent villages. The first stop is Ronciglione, a town well-known for its famous carnival, one of the most beautiful in Tuscia. The second stop is Caprarola, where we can admire the magnificent Palazzo Farnese with its adjacent gardens, a unique building designed by Vignola with an octagonal plan. The last stop is Capranica, which allows us to return to the Via Cassia and the Via Francigena, both of which it intersects.
Before leaving, a visit to the La Gentile agricultural estate will allow us to enjoy its prestigious cuisine, rich in tasty local dishes and products sourced from the surrounding land.
THE LAKE OF MONTEROSI AND THE CORONATION OF FREDERICK BARBAROSSA
Before leaving Tuscia in the direction of Rome, our journey can’t exclude the Lake of Monterosi. This small yet fascinating freshwater basin has become known for hosting one of the most famous historical encounters. We’re referring to the meeting between Pope Adrian IV and Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, shortly before the latter was crowned Holy Roman Emperor.
Despite its small size, the lake is particularly important today due to its natural profile, as it serves as a stopover for many migratory birds. Once again, we’re talking about a volcanic body of water, but this time with a diameter of just 600 meters and an average depth of about 7 meters.
From here, we can visit the last village in Tuscia: Monterosi. Situated strategically along the Via Francigena, its history is marked by the passage of various populations, including Etruscans, Romans, and Lombards. In its historic center, we must not miss the Baroque church of Santa Croce, dating back to 1500 and characterized by a distinctive sail-shaped bell tower. Also of note is the Palazzo del Cardinale, built by Alessandro Farnese the Younger, a great patron of the arts.