Bolsena (Lazio), Italy September 2023 (Tour 8)

Wow! Bolsena really impressed me, notwithstanding the overcast weather. It is probably crowded with tourists during the summer but during mid September the place was quite empty (and yet all facilities were still open). We timed our visit well.

Bolsena is a small town of less than 5,000 people located on the northeast shore of Lake Bolsena which, with a depth of 500 feet and a diameter of 7.5 miles, is the largest volcanic lake in Europe. The crystal clear waters of the lake teem with fish but is so clean it is safe to drink. There are a couple of small islands towards the centre of the lake, L’Isola Bisentina and L’Isola Martana, but the inclement weather precluded any boat trip on our part. They are privately owned islands but boat trips are still possible at least during the summer months.

Many of the villages around Lake Bolsena, particularly Marta on the south side of the lake, are fishing villages where pike, perch, eel, various species of bass and catfish are caught. Bolsena also supports a number of fishing boats but in summer the town’s main source of income is from tourism and that is reflected by the number of boats in the harbour offering lake tours.

Bolsena is very much a town of two halves. Down by the waterside is the more stylish, modern half of the town with it’s many hotels, restaurants, holiday homes and lakeside leisure activities while behind that area, clinging to the surrounding hillside, is the attractive old medieval town.

These old town streets, filled with dark stone houses reminiscent of a medieval fishing village, are as interesting and full of character as any in Italy and walking them it is easy to believe you have slipped back in time.

At the very top of the town is the 13th century Castle Rocca Balsena. By the 15th century this imposing castle (it towers over Bolsena) was in an advanced state of decay but the Monaldeschi family committed to it’s restoration and as a consequence the finished product was renamed the Castello Rocca Monaldeschi. The castle currently houses the Territorial Museum of Lake Bolsena and while I wasn’t too impressed with the museum contents (there doesn’t seem to be any real focus to the contents – they are as diverse as Etruscan pottery, medieval paintings and fish from the lake), it is well worth the 5 Euro entrance fee for the views from the battlements alone.

Having explored the castle and checked out the museum I was keen to visit the local church, the Basilica of Santa Cristina but it was closed. It is said that the church was the scene of a miracle in 1263 when a Bohemian priest, in doubt about the doctrine of transubstantiation (i.e. the conversion of the eucharistic bread and wine into the substance of the body and blood of Christ) was convinced of it’s truth by the miraculous appearance of drops of blood on the Host he was consecrating at a mass in the crypt of the church. The marvel is commemorated in the Vatican by Raphael’s fresco “The Miracle at Bolsena’ and the Pope, Urban IV, subsequently built Orvieto Cathedral where a blood stained altar cloth from the Basilica of Santa Cristina is stored.

While exploring the old town I found a small restaurant-bar where we would take dinner later that evening and I spent what was left of the afternoon in that bar sampling the local white wine (a Lazio ‘Vermentino’) until it was time to collect Vanya.

Despite not being able to walk at all well (her hip was playing up) Vanya was as entranced with Bolsena as I was and the meal was great. Oh, and Vanya loved the Vermentino although, upon the recommendation of the waiter, we switched from the Lazio Vermentino to one from Tuscany. It proved to be better.

A little bit more about the Vermentino because I don’t doubt that we’ll be taking a fair few bottles back to the UK. It’s a hardy yet thin skinned white wine grape which thrives in warmer climates because of it’s tendency to ripen quite late in the growing season. It is believed the grape originated in Piedmont but, because it is easy to grow and resistant to drought and disease, it is now found all around the world (particularly Provence in France where it is known as Rolle) and across a broad swathe of Italy (Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria, Lazio and Sardinia). We’ve since tried quite a few and so far I favour those from Bolgheri in Tuscany with some from Sardinia coming a close second.

And then it was back to the Van, passing all kinds of critters on the way, one of which (down by the lake) frightened the life out of Vanya. She didn’t half scream. Lol.

We’d have stayed longer in Bolsena except the facilities at the campsite we were using (Camping Internazionale Il Lago) are so badly in need of modernising. We love the location (in terms of it’s proximity to the lake and the town centre) but we wanted a decent shower block.

Anzio next…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *