Circumnavigating Lake Trasimeno

In Cycling, Italy, Nature, Travel, Umbria
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Trasimeno, sometimes referred to as Trasimene in English, is the fourth largest lake in Italy by surface area. It is a closed drainage system, fed by two small channels and usually emptied only by abstraction and evaporation. In prehistoric times, the Lago Tiberino (Tiber Lake) was a shallow sea 120 kilometres long by thirty kilometres wide. It dried up through sedimentation and the present body was formed later by rainwater trapped in a depression formed by geological fractures.

The northern and eastern shores rise quickly to high hills. To the west, near the border with Tuscany, is an agricultural plain that extends to the line of hills separating the Val di Chiana from the Val d’Orcia, upon which iconic towns were built, including Montepulciano, Pienza, Chianciano Terme and Chiusi. The southern shore is bounded by smaller hills that form a border between the Chiana and Tevere (Tiber) watersheds, with more Medieval gems — Panicale, Città della Pieve and Paciano. The Trasimeno hills are rich in vineyards and olive groves, and, recently, saffron production has recommenced, following a Medieval tradition.

The maximum water depth is regulated to around six metres although, with unpredictable rainfall patterns, this level has only occasionally been reached. The shallow waters support large mosquito populations and malaria was an issue from Roman times until the 1950s, when there was even a proposal to drain the lake to address the issue. However, insectivorous fish were stocked and water management infrastructure was installed to prevent flooding of the marshy fringes. The lake still sustains substantial fish populations but its aquatic life is sensitive to low water levels in low rainfall years — use of drainage sluices has rarely been necessary in recent times.

Two of the three lake islands — Maggiore and Polvese — are served by scheduled boat services from the major lakeside settlements. Isola Minore is privately owned and uninhabited. The whole lake complex is covered by a regional park and Isola Polvese, the largest of the isles, has a nature reserve.

This blog post is a “virtual journey” clockwise around the lake from the village of Tuoro sul Trasimeno, partly based on a daytrip around the Trasimeno cycle path circuit in September 2017, but including images taken previously.

Tuoro sul Trasimeno

Nestling in the southern foothills of Monte Castiglione, which separates the lake from the Niccone Valley, the slopes between the Medieval borgo of Tuoro and the northern shore were the setting of a massacre of Roman troops by Hannibal’s Carthaginian forces at the Battle of Lake Trasimene in 217BC.

Tuoro sul Trasimeno below a vineyard on the road to the Gosparini Pass over Monte Castiglione

View across an olive grove to Monte Cetona. Hamlet names such as Ossaia (ossuary) and Sanguineto (bloody) hint at the violent past of this area

Boardwalk off the lake cycle track near Tuoro railway station

Isola Maggiore and Tuoro jetty viewed from the boardwalk

Tuoro jetty with Castiglione del Lago in the background

Little egret

Blue-tailed damselfly

Passignano sul Trasimeno


The lake cycle path near Torricella

Monte del Lago

The 19th century Villa Palombaro Schnabl (directly above the jetty) has played host to Giacomo Puccini and other artists

The ruined Zocco Castle, a Medieval borgo built in 1274, currently owned by a Roman family but rapidly disintegrating

San Feliciano

Fishing harbour, “home port” of the Trasimeno Fishing Cooperative, which is based in San Feliciano

Starlings erupt from Isola Polvese at dawn

San Savino

The borgo of San Savino

Sunset near the La Valle nature reserve, the lake’s main birdwatching venue

Fishers check their traps in front of the hills of the southern shore

Sant’Achangelo and beyond

Sant’Archangelo jetty

A recently completed section of the cycle path through the agricultural plains of the southwestern shore, allowing all but those with the purest of road bikes to avoid the busy road

The lake shore near the hamlet of Via delle Parte

View from the Fishing Cooperative’s small harbour at its Via delle Parte fish store, with Castiglione del Lago on the horizon

Castiglione del Lago

This beautiful Medieval borgo, with numerous good restaurants and panoramic views of the lake and the hills beyond, evolved on what used to be Trasimeno’s fourth island. Over time, the water level fell and the flat area between the town and the original shore was developed.

Part of the beach area along the Lungolago promenade road

The Fortress of the Lion (Castello del Leone), a pentagonal castle completed in 1247 by a monk/architect from Cortona

View of the lake through the Porta Aretina, one of three town gates

Olive groves beneath the Medieval walls, with (from left) Tuoro, Isola Maggiore and Passignano in front of the northern hills

The dedicated cycle path north of Castiglione del Lago


frazione of Tuoro, this (literally, by translation) small village has its own fishing fleet and an annual sagra del pesce (fish festival).

The long poles are used to hold fish traps in place

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