10th June 2008
It’s all about the lake. The Etruscans farmed here and Hannibal fought here. Lago Trasimeno is the largest body of water on the Italian peninsula, 54 kilometres around. A vast expanse of luminous water, changeable with the light and seasons; sometimes milky pale and silver, or azure blue and shimmering in the lazy heat of noon. Ringed by misty mountains it makes a perfect backdrop for the fortified town of Castiglione del Lago. The way the town juts out on a promontory means that it is almost completely surrounded by water and seems to dominate the lake. This is the landscape of Perugino and for landlocked Umbrians, this inviting cool blue water has the magnetic pull of an ocean.
Along the shore there are lakeside restaurants and bars, little grassy beaches and sandy lidos. In summer there is all the buzz of Italian beach culture with swimming, sunbathing and pedalo fun. Call me old fashioned, but I love a bit of pedalo fun, especially with young children. I have always found the combination of manic aquatic cycling coupled with the risk of accidental drowning to be highly entertaining. Meanwhile, blue and white ferries glide through the languid waters on route to the lake’s three tranquil islands Maggiore, Minore and Polvese.
The best thing I ate
I must admit (and it will come as no big surprise) to a greedy love of cake in all its many forms. The cake, or cakes, in question were jubilant birthday offerings to celebrate the sunny age of nine.
Italian birthday cakes are blousy, flamboyant affairs. There is none of the sturdy weight of the English counterpart. Under the elaborate decorations the Italians favour light puffs of sponge sandwiched with softly billowing custard and cream, more like a deliciously corseted trifle.
The real stars of the show were the miniature tarts and ‘bombolloni’ that had also been made by Michele, a young and gifted Castiglione based baker, in his laboratorio. They looked so pretty it was hard to choose. Cute and kitsch, vanilla scented mouthfuls of pure extravagance.
Where to get it:
GMB Castiglione del Lago