Around an hour from Rome, Lago di Bolsena shimmers in the Lazio sunshine like a liquid forget-me-not. Unlike northern Italy’s lakes, Bolsena is almost unknown to foreign visitors. But so too is the Maremma, the old name for northern Lazio and the southernmost reaches of Tuscany.
Finding property around Italy’s more famous lakes for less than $200,000 is unlikely even in today’s more realistic market. But you can do it here. In Valentano, one of the small towns and villages that ring Lake Bolsena’s 40-mile circumference, I saw some very reasonably priced apartments and villini. A villino is similar to a maisonette and often has a small garden as well as its own entrance.
For example, one 537-square-foot villino is 79,000 euro ($113,000). Most prices are negotiable, and my real estate agent contact says the owner would probably accept 74,000 euro ($106,000).
If you’re traveling to central Italy, do try and spare some time to see Lake Bolsena for yourself. Surrounded by poppy meadows and Etruscan archaeological sites, it’s within easy reach of so many fascinating places. Not only Rome itself, but also Viterbo (the City of the Popes), Orvieto in Umbria and glorious Siena. The Tuscan border is less than 20 miles from the western side of the lake.
Flower festivals and fish festivals, wine festivals with music and dancing on the piazza—the settlements around Lake Bolsena showcase small town Italy at its very best. So it’s odd that so few non-Italians include this area in their travel plans.
Along with the requisite castle, cobbles and everywhere-a-flowerpot, Bolsena town also offers up catacombs and miracle tales. Its medieval streets spill down to the lakeside where fishermen land catches of pike, eel and perch, which get supplied to local restaurants.
Although there probably won’t be many Italians lazing on a beach at this time of year, most lakeside villages have their own stretch of sand and watersport facilities. Boats also take visitors out to Bisentina island where heretical priests were once imprisoned for life in a dank cave cell—the Malta dei Papi. Tiny Martana island is where Amalasunta, the last Queen of the Goths, met her end in 535 AD. She was murdered on her husband’s instructions.
So many places here are touched by history’s curiosities. The vineyards around another of the lake’s towns, Montefascione, produce one of Italy’s most oddly-named white wines: Est! Est!! Est!!! The story of how it got its name revolves around a German bishop, Johannes Fugger, who had a legendary love of wine. On his travels, he always dispatched his servant Martino ahead to check for good cellars. When he found something to please the bishop, Martino marked Est (Latin shorthand for vinum est bonum, “the wine is good”) on the door
In advance of the bishop’s journey from Augsburg to Rome, Martino performed his usual tasting duties. He was so enthused by the wine at one Montefiascone inn that he wrote Est! Est!! Est!!! on the door. The bishop never got any further and lived out the rest of his days in Montefiascone. Maybe much of the tale is apocryphal, but his tomb is in the church of St. Flavio. I sat at a little trattoria one night and raised a glass to his memory. I love the idea of a wine that stopped a bishop in his tracks.
I tell you more about properties, Lake Bolsena and other gems of the Maremma region in the current issue of International Living magazine. Don’t miss it, because it could be your dream Italian location.