On the ancient pilgrimage route called Via Francigena, in the Vulsinio complex, is Italy’s largest volcanic lake: Lago di Bolsena. Despite this record, and its 113 km, Lake Bolsena is considered among Italy’s “minor” lakes. In its surroundings are jewel towns, gastronomic discoveries and surprising natural itineraries.
A lake steeped in history
Entirely in the Viterbo province, Lake Bolsena offers numerous surprises to those visiting its shores. In the fields that surround it grow vines, olive groves, fruit and vegetable orchards, around which stand towering oak and chestnut forests. Enclosed between Monte Bisenzio and the Capodimonte peninsula, Lake Bolsena’s shores are low and sandy, ideal for swimming or fishing. In some areas they tend to be more marshy. As an important Etruscan settlement, Lake Bolsena is mentioned by Pliny in his Naturalis Historia: the setting for the dramatic incident of Sainte Christine, who was martyred under the Emperor Diocletian at the beginning of the IV century. The saint then became known as Saint Christina of Bolsena and the lake’s patron saint.
A short distance from the lake shores are two small islands, Bisentina and Martana. According to Christian tradition the latter and the smallest of the two was the resting place for the remains of St Christine, hidden there to be spared from Barbarian pillaging. Isola Martana, which owes its name to the only affluent, river Marta, in the past was the place of another tragedy, the one involving Amalasuntha, queen of the Goths. She came into power after the death of her father Theodoric the Great of the Ostrogoths in 526. After being lured to the island she was imprisoned there and brutally tortured to death by her cousin Theodahad. On the island is a plaque entitled to Amalasuntha.
What to do at Lago di Bolsena: tourist activities and itineraries
Lake Bolsena offers varied itineraries and tourist attractions, thanks to the richness of its flora and fauna. The largest of the two island, Bisentina, can be completely circumnavigated and several boats depart the lake jetties for daytime visits. Nature here is untouched, save for the area manicured in true “giardino all’italiana” landscaping. The views from here are breathtaking. The island boasts a number of monuments, like the St. James and Christopher church, the Franciscan convent, the island Villa and the terrible Malta dei Papi: a prison dug in the rock floor and destined for ancient time heretics.
A short distance from the lake are several freshwater springs and thermal baths whose beneficial waters were used since the Etruscan civilization. The area provides a number of public pools and others fitted with lidos, the largest of which is Terme dei Papi.
The lake vegetation is beautiful and attracts tourists in the exploration on numerous trails. From these, secret coves, lush inlets and historical artifacts scattered along the many paths. The area is home to various species of aquatic wildlife in pauses between migration. Bird-watching lovers will have the opportunity to admire coots, little egrets, grey herons, great crested grebes and lesser grebes, as well as other species present in the area year round, like swans and gulls.
The lake offers sports lovers many kinds of physical activities: canoe and sailing school, archery, mountain biking trails, as well as scuba diving, horseback riding and parapente.
What to visit in the surroundings
If you prefer straying from the lake shores during your stay, you can surely visit the surroundings which are rich in history and art. In the town of Bolsena, at the foot of the lake, are several interesting monuments: the Collegiata S. Cristina enclosing three interconnected churches, 4th century catacombs, the Castello Monaldeschi della Cervara castle, the Fontana di San Rocco fountain, and the Porte di San Giovanni and San Francesco doors.
Expanding the exploring radius further around Bolsena are various destinations that never disappoint tourists: Civita di Bagnoregio, Montefiascone, Capodimonte. A little over 20 km away is the “dying city”, Civita di Bagnoregio: perched on a tufa stone buttress in the valle dei Calanchi, shaped from centuries of erosion, the town reveals its beauty suddenly appearing in its original structure since the end of the XVI century. In order to enjoy 360 degree views, Montefiascone is another great destination: located 640 meters above sea level, the panoramic views span from the Thyrrenian Sea to the Maremma countryside and shore, from the hills Monti dell’Umbria to the Monti Cimini, from Monti della Tolfa all the way to the lake’s basin. Beneath it a lush valley richly planted in olive trees and vines, where the local Est!Est!!Est!!! is produced. Another must of the area is Capodimonte: clinging on a rocky peninsula on the western shore of the lake at 334 meter elevation, this is a loved tourist destination in every season.
Coregone, sbroscia and whitebait: typical lake fare
In the lake area the king of the table is naturally fresh water fish: local kinds are: coregone (lake whitefish), perch, pike, mullet, trout and eel. Coregone is perhaps the most loved by the locals, the area’s two most famous recipes are, either cooked meuniere style, that is dredged in flour and pan fried in butter; or alla bolsanese, that is baked in the oven with vinegar.
The typical laker fishermen dish is however sbroscia, a fish stew added with potatoes, onion, tomato and mint, served on stale bread which sops up the soupy juices. Other representative dishes of the area is grilled whitebait patties. The local custom for fishermen was eating them first thing in the morning, grilled over coals along with stewed tench and tagliolini boiled in the fish broth. The area furthermore produces several wines that pair beautifully with the local cuisine, in addition to the aforementioned Est!!!Est!!!Est!!! is Cannaiola di Marta and Aleatico di Gradoli.
For a full listing of Lake Bolsena flavors, here is a small guide with the best places present on the Gambero Rosso guide: and not just restaurants, but also pizzerie, bars, bakeries and pastry shops.
TIPS EXTRACTED FROM GUIDA RISTORANTI D’ITALIA 2016
La parolina (Trevinano): Given chef Iside De Cesare and Romano Gordini’s fame, this restaurant does not need much of an introduction, Culinary tradition of Rome, Tuscany and Romagna blend into one, in a setting that tends to continually strive towards innovation and surrounded by one of the area’s most romantic pastoral landscapes. Awarded two Forchette Gambero Rosso 2016 of Guida Ristoranti d’Italia.
Il Bocconcino (Bagnoregio): This place blends the flavors of Sardinian cuisine with local tradition with particular attention to grilled meats. The service is attentive and courteous. The wine list is small but well structured according to the dishes served in this trattoria located at a short distance from the gorgeous Valle dei Calanchi.
Villa San Michele (Vitorchiano): Nestled in a lush park only 30 km from the lake, the kitchen of Lorenzo Iozzia employs local ingredients to enhance the Sicilian dishes on the menu. Simple dishes that betray accurate construction. The wine list is ample and the service precise, with two interesting bonuses: a water list and a coffee list.
Beyond the Guide:
Locanda di Colle Ombroso (Porano, Colle Ombroso): No official menu and dishes that change according to season for the cuisine of the eponymous agriturismo farm in Porano. The defining line is Umbrian cuisine, homegrown produce and local craft beers. The supply chain here is the shortest ever. The restaurant takes reservations on weekends only or by reserving ahead.
TIPS EXTRACTED FROM GUIDA PIZZERIE D’ITALIA 2016
Al Solito Posto (Viterbo): Long-leavened pizza and specialty flours employed by Raffaele Zena. Besides classic Italian pizza, the Viterbo pizzeria also serves interesting alternatives. Great care in selecting ingredients and native extra virgin olive oils, plus a fine wine list.
Al Vecchio Orologio (Viterbo): Renowned Paolo Bianchini bakes several kinds of pizza: locally preferred thin and crisp, or Neapolitan style with a thicker crust and fluffy rim. The doughs use three different flours and the oils are top-notch. We suggest trying the Vera Napoli pie.
TIPS EXTRACTED FROM GUIDA PASTICCERI&PASTICCERIE 2016
Armante – Le delizie dei Borboni (Viterbo): Originally from Marcianise and now in Viterbo, the Armante family has been collecting success after success for the past 4 years with their strictly Neapolitan style bakery. Lovers of sfogliatelle and babà will appreciate, as well as those seeking fine quality panettone or classic cakes and pies.
Casantini (Viterbo): This bakery boasts two venues, one in the heart of the city and one in the Pila neighborhood. Delightful chocolate desserts, cakes, pastries and breakfast brioches, with a few products reserved for celiacs and vegans too.
Catanese (Viterbo): Looking for classic Sicilian pastry art? Look no further. Antonino Carbone from Catania bakes classic almond pastries, sponge cake based cakes, plus crostata tarts and bite-sized pastries.
Le Cose Buone (Viterbo): French-inspired bakery that employs only local ingredients. Production spans savory brioches to semifreddo, by way of classic cakes to the daintiest of miniature pastries.
Etoile di Alice (Viterbo): This bakery specializes on single portion sweets and pastries: colorful, inviting and made in different versions. Entirely female-driven, this bakery focuses on local products and creativity, and an entire shelf dedicated to products baked for intolerant or vegan customers.
Polozzi (Viterbo): Cakes baked on a series of interesting contrasts of texture and flavor. Homestyle approach and a modern vision, the bakery benefits from the input of two different generations: the able hands of the mother and the vivacity and creative flair of the son. The duo has also recently opened a centrally located gelateria on via Roma.
Pasticceria Adriano (Orvieto): Delicious single-servings and colorful cups conceal the goods in the bakery owned by Maurizio di Maio. The house special is Pandolce Etrusco, but equally good is their chocolate and cinnamon cake, the semifreddo and their homemade jams.
TIPS EXTRACTED FROM GUIDA BAR D’ITALIA 2016
Torrefazione Bonanni (Viterbo): Awarded with three beans from guida Bar d’Italia 2016 the Bonanni brothers’ roaster is a true coffee institution. The bar showcases the blends concocted in the nearby kitchen.
Chalet Garbini 1908 (Viterbo): This historical meeting place was recently re-opened by the owners of restaurant Decò Bistrot. The coffee and morning pastries are great, but the daily specials listed on the chalkboard are equally interesting. The aperitivo features local wine and spritz.
Antico caffè di Neri (Viterbo): Great breakfast and coffee break material here. The area of town is gorgeous and the house Caffè della Casa – a mochaccino served in a small cup with foamy milk – is velvety and enveloping at once.
Caffè Grandori (Viterbo): Overlooking the piazza that houses the Etruscan Museum, this bar specializes in caffeinated breakfasts as well as aperitivo, with great drinks and cocktails. The owners often organize events, like live music and various initiatives, which make for a lively, young vibe.
Light Cafè (Viterbo): With its large windows reminiscent of Central European cafes of the past century, this place deserves a visit for both the breakfast and the lunch offer. Happy hour and aperitivo are sublime thanks to the skilled dj set and the mixology by Sara Zaffamenti.
Caffetteria Max Drink Ciccarelli (Viterbo): Excellent espressos and cappuccinos, fine pastries, a varied offer and the opportunity to enjoy it all in the pretty outdoor patio make this a must. Fun lunch crowd and the aperitivo offer with pizza and sandwiches is equally good.
Gran caffè Schernardi (Viterbo): Another historic venue that was recently re-opened. This was the meeting place of the local bourgeois in the early 1900s through to the mid Eighties. The new management has maintained the classic style, both in the decor and in the food offer. Awarded with three beans by Guida 2016 for the sublime coffee. The indoor restaurant was also relaunched with competitive prices.
Tredici Gradi Slow Bar (Viterbo): Located in the stunning piazza del Gesù, this place offers fine quality espressos and desserts baked in the nextdoor twin restaurnat. Plump ciambelloni ring cakes, plus crostate, and by reservation only, also English or American style continental breakfasts.
Duomo (Orvieto): Centrally located, modern and informal ambiance, vivacious service for this venue. Fine brioches and fair coffee bar products, available all day long. Lunchtime fare features tourist menus, yet pleasant surprises abound.
Montanucci (Orvieto): Historic coffee bar with solid reputation, benefitting from a classic and cozy setting. Besides breakfast beverages and sweets, also artisanal chocolate and assorted cakes and pies. Do not forego the semolina cake. For lunch order the lumachelle, bread dough wrapped with prosciutto and cheese.
La Parolina | Trevinano (VT) | Via Giovanni Pascoli, 19 | tel. 0763 717130 | www.laparolina.it
Il Bocconcino | Bagnoregio (VT) | Via Giacomo Matteotti, 3 | tel. 0761 793313 | www.ristorantebagnoregioilbocconcino.it
Villa San Michele | Vitorchiano (VT) | Via De la Quercia | tel. 0761 373441 | www.villasanmicheleviterbo.it
Locanda di Colle Ombroso | Località Colle Ombroso, Porano (TR) | Strada Provinciale, 55, Km 4.8 | tel. 340 2714727 | www.locandacolleombroso.com
Al Solito Posto | Viterbo | Piazza Del Santuario, 34 | Tel. 0761 345727 | www.daraffaelealsolitoposto.it
Al Vecchio Orologio | Viterbo | via Orologio Vecchio, 25, | tel. 335 337 754 | www.alvecchioorologio.it
Armante – Le delizie dei Borboni | Viterbo | via Monte Santo, 24 | tel. 338 7240116
Casantini | Viterbo | via Cairoli, 27 | tel. 0761 307039
Catanese | Viterbo | via Roma, 19 | tel. 0761 309647
Le Cose Buone | Viterbo | via della Marrocca, 66 | tel. 0761 092214 | www.lecosebuone.eu
Etoile di Alice | Viterbo | via del Lavatoio, 2 | tel. 0761 223580 | www.etoiledialice.com
Polozzi | Viterbo | Piazza della Rocca, 5 | tel. 0761 346727
Pasticceria Adriano | Orvieto | via della Pace, 26 | tel. 0763 342527
Torrefazione Bonanni | Viterbo| via G. Amendola, 29 | tel. 0761324706
Chalet Garbini 1908 | Viterbo | Piazzale Gramsci n.2 | tel. 0761 321336
Antico caffè di Neri | Viterbo | via Saffi, 6 | tel. 3319970341
Caffè Grandori | Viterbo | piazza della Rocca, 32 | tel. 0761092308 | www.grandori.it
Light Cafè | Viterbo| via della Palazzina 127 | tel. 0761 3332144931
Caffetteria Max Drink Ciccarelli |Viterbo| via Marconi, 79/83 | tel 0761306013
Gran Caffè Schernardi |Viterbo| Corso Italia, 11 | tel. 0761 345860 | www.grancaffeschenardi.it
Tredici Gradi Slow Bar | Viterbo | Piazza del Gesù | tel. 0761 220366
Duomo | Orvieto | via Barzini, 14 | tel. 0763 342750
Montanucci | Orvieto | Corso Cavour, 21 | tel. 0763 341261 | www.barmontanucci.com
by Francesca Fiore
translated by Eleonora Baldwin