Summer is well and truly upon us and the mercury is rising in the Eternal City. We love the summer in Rome, with its fun-filled atmosphere, array of cultural events and alfresco dining - but even we have to admit that sometimes the heat radiating off the city’s palaces and churches and across its cobbled streets can be overwhelming. Luckily for us, there are plenty of destinations within easy striking distance of the nation’s capital where you can go to cool off. Elsewhere we’ve given you the lowdown on the best beaches near Rome, but if the thought of sand between your toes gives you the creeps then fear not - this week we’re counting down the most beautiful lakes near the Eternal City.
Lazio is a region with no shortage of freshwater lakes, and most of them are volcanic craters immersed in extraordinarily beautiful panoramas of swaying pines and rich flora, oases of calm that make for the perfect summer day-trip from Rome. There’s nothing quite like lazy days lakeside, caressed by a soft summer breeze and with a good book at your side. The swimming, water-sports and hiking opportunities are excellent too, not to mention the food! So read on for our guide to the most beautiful lakes in Lazio within easy reach of Rome.
1. Lago di Albano
The dramatic geographic centrepiece of the Castelli Romani - a series of beautiful small towns nestled in the Alban hills to the south of Rome - the Lago di Albano is an elliptical volcanic crater lake whose cool crystal waters make it a popular spot with Romans looking for a quick dip or hoping to rent a paddle boat or kayak for a few hours. There are plenty options for lakeside lounging as well, with a series of bars and lidos lining the water’s edge.
If you’re more interested in history than nature, there’s plenty for you here too. Perched spectacularly above the waters of the lake is the jewel-like town of Castel Gandolfo - famed as the summer residence of the Pope, the tiny settlement is known for its magnificent Papal Palace and Gardens, the architecture of Gianlorenzo Bernini (the main church and fountain are both his designs) as well as its array of delis and restaurants serving up local fare like the Castelli speciality porchetta accompanied by cheeses and regional wine. After you’ve had your fill of the lake, make sure to make the climb up the hill to the town before heading back to Rome!
How to Get There: Hop on a train from Rome’s Termini station to Castel Gandolfo (€2.10). From the station you can either head down the hill to the lake or up towards the town.
Where to eat: Up in the narrow alleys of Castel Gandolfo’s centro storico, grab an outdoor table at Hosteria La Fraschetta di Padre in Figlio - winner of the Castelli Romani edition of Alessandro Broghese’s hit Italian TV show 4 Ristoranti, here Nona Elsa and grandchildren Giammarco and Giorgia serve up steaming platters of homemade pasta - don’t miss the cacio e pepe and hare ragù.
2. Lago di Nemi
Sticking in the Castelli Romani, the nearby Lago di Nemi is much smaller than the more famous Lago di Albano, but no less beautiful. The Lago di Nemi is an altogether wilder affair, and the hiking trails in the nearby area are rich with flora and fauna. The diminutive but deep lake is best known today for its extraordinary sunken ancient Roman ships, built on the orders of the mad emperor Caligula.
Just why Caligula ordered such large ships to be built on such a small lake is a mystery, though it seems likely that the emperor conceived of them as floating pleasure palaces where he could escape the summer heat in style. After an abortive effort to raise the wrecks by Renaissance genius Leon Battista Alberti in 1446, the ships were finally recovered in the 1920s when the lake was temporarily drained for the purpose in an extraordinary feat of engineering. The ships are now on display in their own dedicated museum which is well worth a visit.
Nemi is also known across Italy for the quality of its strawberries (fragole), collected with great gusto every May and culminating in a festival dedicated to the fruit at the start of June.
Where to eat: You’ll be spoiled for choice for places to eat in the town of Nemi abutting the lake, but for our money the best of the lot is Ristorante Pizzeria "Le Scalette”. Try the fettucini with porcini mushrooms and truffle, or the tagliata steak with mushrooms. And of course, save room for tiramisu with the local fragoline strawberries for desert!
How to get there: Marino is an easy 30 minute drive from Rome, but a bit trickier to reach with public transport. Catch a COTRAL bus from Rome’s Anagnina station to Genzano, and change there for a short connecting bus ride (10 mins) to Nemi. See COTRAL’s website for times. Alternatively, you can take a train from Termini as far as Albano Laziale or Velletri and change onto the connecting Cotral bus from here.
3. Lago di Bracciano
Perhaps the most famous of the lakes near Rome, the Lago di Bracciano is also one of Lazio’s largest. Located to the north of the Eternal City, the beautiful circular lake boasts three lovely towns clinging to the water’s edge: the eponymous Bracciano, Trevignano Romano and Anguillara Sabazia. Strict regulations on pollutants means the lake is known for the clarity of its waters, and a shallow descent makes the lake a great choice for freshwater swimming even with children. A series of pebbly beaches along the shoreline make for perfect spots to relax, where you’ll enjoy the company of the ducks and swans who call the lake home.
Even if you’ve come to enjoy the waters of the lake, don’t miss out on the town of Bracciano itself: this spectacular medieval town is a warren of winding alleys clinging precariously to the hillside above the glassy waters. Boasting an imposing Renaissance castle, picture-perfect piazzas and exceptional restaurants serving up fish from the lake as well as classic Lazio specialties, Bracciano’s is one of Italy’s true hidden gems.
Where to eat: For lakeside dining with breathtaking views and fresh catch from the lake head for Ristorante Alfredo da Persichella. Be sure to sample the fried latterini, little fish native to the lake.
How to get there: Hop on a train heading towards Viterbo from Ostiense train station (connected to Rome’s metro at the Piramide stop), and you’ll be stepping into the sunlight at Bracciano in just over an hour (€3.60). Trains leave every half hour (except on Sundays and holidays, when they’re less frequent). The station is in the middle of the town, just 5 minutes walk from the historic centre.
4. Lago di Bolsena
Heading still further north towards Lazio’s border with Tuscany and Umbria, the Lago di Bolsena is Lazio’s largest expanse of freshwater, as well as being the biggest volcanic lake in all of Europe - the lake fills the caldera of the Volsini volcano, which last erupted in 100 AD.
With a shoreline stretching fully 43 kilometres, there are plenty of beautiful spots to choose from to spend your day on the water. Like the Lago di Bracciano, the lake is renowned for its pure waters (it’s known in Italian as ‘il lago che si beve,’ or the lake you can drink), and combining a day’s swimming with a visit to the beautiful medieval town of Bolsena, the fisherman’s village of Marta and the picturesque Capodimonte jutting out into the lake makes for an ideal weekend away from the Eternal City.
In the summer months boat excursions operate on the water starting from Capodimonte, allowing you to stop off at the islands of Bisentina and Martana in the centre of the lake as well as pausing for a dive into the deep and refreshing waters.
Where to eat: Dotted along the coastline are numerous restaurants housed in old fishermen’s huts where you can sample fish freshly plucked from the lake. Amongst our favourite is Trattoria da Giggetto, where reasonable prices and spectacular lakeside views are the order of the day.
How to get there: To get to Bolsena and the surrounding towns you’ll first need to reach Viterbo (easily accessible by train or bus from Rome) and then change there for connecting services operated by Cotral. See COTRAL’s website for times and a very handy journey planner. Alternatively, it’s about a 1.5 hour drive.
5. Lago del Turano
One of the least well-known lakes on our list, the beautiful Lago del Turano is located far from the tourist trail in Lazio’s wild eastern reaches, heading towards the mountains of Abruzzo that divide the Italian peninsula in two like a spiky spine. The lake is in reality a reservoir created in the 1930s by the damming of the Turano river, but don’t let its manmade origins put you off - this isolated corner of the country is paradisiacal, and the sight of the lake’s aquamarine waters nestled deep into the rolling landscape is extraordinarily peaceful.
Perched above the waters of the lake is the jewel-like village of Castel di Tora, a tiny tangle of weaving alleys boasting truly spectacular views across the surrounding countryside. This is Italy at its authentic and unspoiled best.
Where to eat: the food served up at local Agriturismo Ristorante la Posta is to die for (and naturally zero-kilometre, with everything either farmed or collected in the locality): think rustic polenta served up with local sausages, or wild mushrooms foraged from the surrounding woods.
How to get there: Being so isolated, unfortunately you’ll need a car to get here. If you’ve got wheels, though, it’s only about an hour and 15 minutes drive from Rome, so it’s an easy day trip from the capital.
6. Lago di Vico
Not far from the lovely historic towns of Ronciglione and Caprarola, the glassy waters of Lago di Vico spectacularly reflect the nearby peaks of Monte Fogliano and Monte Venere. Like most of the lakes on our list, Lago di Vico boasts distant volcanic origins - but the legends surrounding its ancient formation are far more intriguing than mere geological fact.
The legend recounts that one day the demigod Hercules was high in the peaks of the Monti Cimini looking for the nymphs Melissa and Amaltea. Responding to requests from local shepherds to give them a demonstration of his superhuman strength, Hercules smashed his club into the ground and invited the locals to extract it. Their efforts were predictably futile, whereupon Hercules plucked the embedded club from the earth with ease. Out gushed a torrential torrent of water, creating the lake in the process.
Ancient legends notwithstanding - including another that recounts how the ancient city of Succinium was swallowed by the lake and sits at the bottom of its crystal depths even today - the natural beauty of the lake and surrounding areas makes it a haven for nature lovers. Surrounded by a thick forest of beech and oak, the unspoiled nature reserve of Lago di Vico is punctured by numerous hiking trails that make this an ideal day trip from Rome.
What to eat: If you head to either Ronciglione or Carparola you’ll be spoilt for choice with local, untouristy restaurants - we especially like Hostaria della Rosa in Caprarola, just a short walk from the extraordinary Palazzo Farnese. For lakeside eats try Rivafiorita, where the views are matched by dishes like roast luccio (pike) and fried persico (perch).
How to get there: Lago di Vico is best reached by car, about an hour’s drive north of Rome.
7. Lago di EX-Snia, Pigneto
Ok, we might be cheating a little bit with the final entry on our list, as this little lake is actually in the urban surrounds of Rome itself. But its fascinating story and important community role makes it more than worth a visit. This lake, you see, should never have existed at all.
Back in the 1990s, works were ongoing to build an underground car park here, in an area mired in post-industrial decline. The workmen hit an underground aquifer, flooding the deep excavations and stopping the development in its traks. Long story short, the accidental lake (whose waters are incredibly clean thanks to their provenance in the natural mineral spring far below) quickly became a valued community resource, and locals have successfully resisted all attempts at redevelopment ever since.
Victory finally came for local activists just this past month, when the lake and park were officially recognised as a ‘natural monument’ which should protect the site from development. The lake is an oasis of biodiversity in the densely populated suburbs, rich with fish, marine birds and an array of flora. Check it out to see a welcoming and community-oriented side of Rome most visitors never get to see.
Where to eat: If you’re looking for typical Roman fare in unpretentious surroundings nearby then head to Osteria deli Ubertini. At €12 for a primo, secondo and contorno with wine, their fixed-price lunch menu is hard to beat. Buon appetito!
How to get there: Located just off the Via Prenestina, take tramline 5, 14 or 19 from near Termini station and get off at the stop Prenestina/ Acqua Bullicante.