In the area north of Rome within the Region of Lazio, four volcanic lakes stand out as especially worthwhile:

Lake Bracciano and Lake Martignano

Located just 35 km north of Rome are the lakes of Bracciano and Martignano. The two lakes sit side by side in the Regional Natural Park of Bracciano and Martignano, a protected area of approximately 16,700 hectares. The park includes lookout points, biking paths, and hiking trails connecting the bodies of water.

Bracciano, the larger of the pair, has a surface area of 57 square km (22 square miles).  Three towns, Bracciano, Anguillara Sabazia, and Trevignano Romano can be found on the lake’s shores. Several restaurants, farm hotels (agriturismi), boardwalks, and small beaches can also be found surrounding the lake.

The town of Bracciano, the largest settlement on the lake, is home to Castello Orsini-Odescalchi, a 15th century castle.   In recent years, the castle has hosted the weddings of several celebrities such as Tom Cruise and Katy Holmes, and Petra Ecclestone, the daughter of Formula One Chief Executive Bernie Ecclestone.

Near Anguillara, on the south shore, evidence of the lake’s ancient history can be found. At La Marmotta, archeologists have located then remains of an ancient Neolithic settlement, dating back to 5,690 BC. Several artifacts, including tools, pottery, and even a boat, have been discovered.

Martignano is significantly smaller and, unlike Bracciano, is not surrounded by any towns or villages.  Instead, only one narrow road leads to the lake, weaving through farmland and wilderness.  Although evidence suggests that in Roman times the lake had a much larger surface, today Martignano has a surface area of around 2.5 square km (less than 1 square mile).  During warm months, the lake attracts an alternative crowd of artists and musicians, with a notably relaxed atmosphere.

Lake Vico

Located 35 km north of Bracciano in the Province of Viterbo is Lake Vico.  The lake has a surface area of approximately 13 square km (5 sq miles) and sits within the Natural Reserve of Lake Vico. Surrounding the lake are the Monti Cimini, a range of volcanic mountains.  Due to the dramatic landscape, only one small settlement can be found on the lake, which was built in the late 1960s. Here you can find a coffee bar and a restaurant overlooking the lake.  Due to the lake’s protected status and unique landscape, several fish, reptile, mammal, and bird species can be found here. The Great Crested Grebe, a water bird with distinctive head and neck decorations, is the symbol of the reserve.

Lake Bolsena

The largest lake in Lazio, Lake Bolsena has a surface area of 115 square km (44 square miles).  It is located in the far north of the region, only a few kilometers from the borders of Umbria and Tuscany. Eight settlements are found on the lake’s shore, including the towns of Bolsena and Montefiascone.

Bolsena has an attractive medieval center and castle, but is perhaps most famous for a miracle that occurred here during the 13th century.  Montefiascone, alternatively, is famous for the Italian wine region “Est! Est!! Est!!!” that surrounds the town.  With several beaches, hotels, and restaurants along its shores, lake Bolsena is famous with tourists from all over Europe.

The lake posses two islands, Bisentina and Martana. The larger of the two, Bisentina, is accessible by ferry.  With a history spanning back to Etruscan and Roman times, several ancient ruins can be found. The island also posses a medieval church, Italian gardens, and several monuments. Bisentina also once housed the Malta dei Papi, a prison for Catholics found guilty of heresy. It is currently privately owned by Italian royals.

Martana, on the other hand, is significantly smaller and less developed.  While no visitors are permitted today, in ancient history the island was inhabited by the Gothic Queen Amalasuntha, who was assassinated there in the 6th century.

Whether you’re looking for a lakeside beach, historic villages with castles, or to view wildlife in a serene and remote natural park, the lakes north of Rome offer a different pace from the Capital and are well worth visiting.


Pictures by Jim Linwood, MittesR e Croberto68.