Italy: Lago Bolsena - all the goodness of Italy in one big crater

Europe's largest volcanic lake- just north of Rome

Why visit? 
Lago Bolsena is a great lake, spitting distance from Rome. It's got a lot to offer:
- Historic towns? Check
- Natural beauty? You got it.
- Splashy summer fun? Double-check!

Not only that, it's the biggest volcanic lake in Europe!

A great place to escape the crowds, in winter or summer, this lake offers something for everybody.

In the Tuscia region, northern Lazio, 90 minutes from Rome, just south of the Tuscan border. Map.

A LONG, LONG time ago (like, a more than 300,000 years long time ago) Lago Bolsena was a volcano. A big one. One day, it blew its top. Or maybe it didn't happen on a single day, but over the course of many years.  But the result was a massive, almost circular crater that replaced the massive cone of the original volcano.
'Have you heard the one about the volcano, Marco?'
Parts of the volcano are still there: a massive caldera, the edge of the crater, surrounds the lake. This used to be the outer edge of the volcanic pyramid. At its highest part, near the town of Montefiascone, you're at 650m above sea level.

Over the years, the massive crater (43km in circumference) filled with water. No rivers flow into the lake- the only outlet is the tiny river Marta on the southern shore. Of course, a caldera is like a massive funnel: it catches a lot of rain.
Capodimonte- this is how you spell 'picturesque'

Why would you visit Bolsena lake? Well, consider the following three reasons.

Reason #1: Historical towns

The towns around the lake each have their own story. All of them have medieval or Renaissance centers, and are delightful to visit.

- Bolsena, which gave the lake its name, has a castle, and a patron saint, Santa Christina, who is still honoured every 23 &24 July with a massive procession, featuring lots of bare flesh and high drama
- Montefiascone, a little further south, has the highest (and best) views, a Papal palace, and the best wine in the region, enthusiastically called Est! Est!! Est!!!
- Marta on the southern shore has a grotto where Maria supposedly appeared as recently as 1948 (take that, Lourdes!)
- Capodimonte, adequately named, has a massive Farnese palace and a postcard perfect setting.
The annual Santa Christina celebration features lots of fake blood and lots of half-naked townsfolk (some of them quite attractive...) (photo:

Bolsena Town & Castle
Yes! Yes!! Yes!!! We have Est! Est!! Est!!! (as well as Prosecco of course)
Ciao, Maria! A mini-Lourdes grotto awaits you in the town of Marta

Reason #2: Natural beauty

Bolsena is a great place to escape the heat and crowds of Rome. Apart from the towns listed above, much of the rest of the lake shore is just really, really quiet, with black volcanic beaches that are great for summer swimming.
Black sand: That's what a volcano will do to your beach. 
Come hell or high water- in winter the beaches may disappear, but the peacefulness remains. 
It's a little less quiet in August, when budget-conscious Italians come to holiday here instead of on the expensive coast. Still, you can usually find a quiet spot.

More of a bird-spotter than a swimmer? There is plenty of wild life, and picnic places abound.

The lake's beauty is enhanced by two islands that look attractive but are off-limits. They are privately owned- one by an Italian princess... how's that for a bit of high-society swimming?

If you're a self-proclaimed foodie, you can go hunting for organic herbs: the shores of the lake are full of wild fennel (finocchio selvatico), and the dried flowers sneak their way into a many a local dish.
Free-range fennel 'pollen'. 

Reason #3: Splashy summer fun

It's hard to beat the fun of a paddle boat with a built-in slide. Or of renting a motor boat to circle around (but not land on) those two private islands. Or simply splashing about and chasing the fish.

Getting there: 
You will need a car. It takes about 90 mins from Rome, either the Roman Via Cassia SS2 past Viterbo (a Minor Sight in itself) or the equally ancient Via Aurelia SS1 along the coast via Tarquinia and Tuscania.

If you're descending from the tourist crowds of Tuscany, the Via Cassia will take you straight there, too.


  1. lovely report on our local lake. GRAZIE!

    1. You're welcome Mary Jane. We love Lago Bolsena, any time of the year.

  2. So glad to see others experiencing this part of Lazio! The region has so much to offer but often gets overlooked because Rome is the main attraction! Love the photos and i too enjoyed Est!Est!!Est!!! :)

    1. Thanks Valter! we enjoyed your article too. you're right, it a great region to explore!


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