Lake Trasimeno is located in the centre of Italy, between Umbria and Tuscany. This is the ’green heart of Italy’ - a land of verdant wild flower valleys and wooded hills interspersed with sunflower fields, olive groves, and vineyards. The ancient abbeys and monasteries are a reminder that this is also the ’Terra dei Santi’ - land of the saints – including both St Benedict and St Francis.
With Florence to the north, and Rome the south, Siena to the west, and Perugia the east, the area is well served by both road, rail and airports, the closest being at Perugia. The area around Lago Trasimeno includes Paciano, Panicale and Piegaro – all lovely old hilltop towns surrounded by luscious countryside; whilst down at lake level you will find the fishing villages of Castiglione del Lago, Passignano, Tuoro and San Feliciano – all of which have ferries to the islands and each other.
The lake, which is the fourth biggest in Italy, has three islands – with both Isola Maggiore and Isola Polvese providing a variety of opportunities for lunch or dinner, plus lovely pre- or post-prandial walks. You can also swim from the islands or one of the beaches around the lake– it is one of the cleanest in Italy. As well as swimming and pedalos, you can also windsurf, or hire a boat.
Perhaps the lake’s greatest claim to fame historically is as the site of one of Hannibal’s greatest victories against the Romans – the lake was even larger then, and the battle raged between Tuoro and Ossaia (whose name derives from the Italian word for bones, of which piles were left behind after the battle). Both Byron and Wordsworth have written about it – its older name being Thrasymene.
The largest of the three islands, Polvese, is the one you look out on from San Feliciano, and is part of the bird sanctuary –it is also known for its tradition of Irish lace making, which is still practised by some of the local women today, and you can visit the island’s lace museum. In 1213, Saint Francis of Assisi arrived on retreat for the Lent fast, and one can still visit the chapel that marks the place where he stepped off the boat, after having crossed the water during a storm; he knelt on the beach in thanks for his survival, and founded a church there.
.There is a great drive round the lake, it probably takes just over an hour if you don’t stop, but there are so many views and little villages and bars that it would be very hard not to. There is also a cycle track around the lake for the more energetic.
Around the lake are several lovely and historic cities, including Assisi (birthplace of St Francis), and Perugia, where more modern attractions include its role as the home of the Umbria Jazz Festival in July, and also to the Eurochoc festival in October – if you book in advance you can even have a guided tour of the Perugina factory – famous for their Baci (kisses) chocolates.
Further afield, Umbria boasts many other fascinating and beautiful towns within an hour’s drive, including Montefalco, Spello, Deruta (for the world-famous ceramics) and Spoleto; even Orvieto is only a little further away.
Meanwhile in Tuscany, just half an hour away from Castiglione del Lago or San Feliciano, you will find Cortona – the beautiful Etruscan town, featured in Frances Mayes' book 'Under The Tuscan Sun', and the film of the same name.. Cortona is steeped in history with its ruined fortress, beautiful churches and twelfth century architecture, plus a rich Etruscan heritage. Not too far away is Montepulciano, and Florence is only about an hour and a half by train.
Whist making a claim to being almost the geographical centre of Italy, Lake Trasimeno is also a wonderful centre for an Italian holiday, whether relaxing, sightseeing, or a happy mix of both.