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Flocks of sailboats glide across the surface of Lake Bracciano in the Lazio region of Italy. The sails, ranging from pristine white to bright colors worthy of spring dresses, fill with air and push the boats over the 14.085-acre lake. Set against the backdrop of the charming medieval villages that perch on hills, remnants of a long silent volcano, Lake Bracciano sparkles and shines in the Italian sun calling visitors from nearby Rome and across the world.
Lake Bracciano, or Lago di Bracciano in Italian, is a volcanic crater lake created between 400,000 and 600,000 years ago. It is the second largest lake in the Lazio region, second only to Lake Bolsena, and it has a maximum depth of 541 feet. Its primary inflow is from rainwater and underground springs, and its outflow is the Arrone River. In the late 1700's, a sluice was constructed at the outlet of the lake to maintain water levels. It feeds the Acquedotto Paulo which was built during the early 1600's to supply water for the Vatican.
The sluice regulates water levels today, and Lake Bracciano still supplies drinking water to Rome. As a result, motorboats are not allowed on the lake. The absence of motorboats makes way for sailboats, canoes, kayaks and hand-powered craft. Windsurfing is also popular, and several sailing clubs use the lake. Lake Bracciano supports healthy populations of fish, and anglers can challenge themselves against the pike, perch and eel that live in the lake. Visitors who don't want to fish for their dinner can find a number of restaurants overlooking the water that serve fish pulled from the lake that morning.
Lake Bracciano is surrounded by a regional park. Parco Regionale del Complesso Lacuale di Bracciano Martignano protects the lake and surrounding communities, maintaining the history and beauty that draw visitors to the region. It is estimated that the area around the lake has been inhabited since 5700 BCE. The lake also has a rich Etruscan heritage, and several archeological sites dot the hillsides around the lake. It was an important site during the Renaissance. The three main towns that surround the lake today are Anguillara Sabazia, Trevignano Romano and Bracciano.
Visitors to Bracciano can stroll down narrow streets, winding past medieval buildings or enjoying the Renassaince "New Town," evidence that time is measured differently in Italy. Botanical gardens and Etruscan archeological sites round out the tour. Perhaps the best known feature of Bracciano, however, is the Orsini-Odescalchi Castle. Built by Napoleon Orsini between 1470 and 1485, the castle hosted the King of France, Charles VII and Pope Sixtus IV. It has also played host to American visitors such as John Kennedy, Jr., Tina Turner, and most recently was the site of the wedding of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. The castle houses paintings, frescoes, sculptures and an extensive display of archeological finds.
Lake Bracciano is 25 miles northwest of Rome, and there is rail service between the two making it an easy day trip from one of the holiday villas around the lake to the Eternal City. Lake accommodations range from lakeside camping to hotels and self-catering vacation rentals. Interspersed among the villages, the rich volcanic soil supports forests, gardens and olive groves, and several of the area farms offer holiday accommodations.
Whether it is the quiet unspoiled water, the charming medieval villages or the area's rich history, Lake Bracciano has something to delight everyone. As a weekend destination from Rome or for the perfect holiday in Italy, this volcanic lake has a history of exceeding expectations.
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