The summer heat can sometimes be unbearable in Rome. Temperatures soar and there is no breeze to cool things down. So do like the Romans do and take to the water in July and August. Everyone has their favorite place to go for a refreshing swim near Rome; many people enjoy going to the beach. I spent a lot of time at the beach in Pisa when I was an au pair, so the first thing that came to mind when trying to find water was not the beach. Italian beaches near cities are often overcrowded and dirty. Instead, en route to Viterbo from Rome we spotted Lake Bracciano and decided to plan a day trip there.
Luckily for us, the town of Bracciano has more than just a beautiful lakefront. We left Rome at 9am in order to visit the historic Orsini family castle which opens at 10. On our way to the castle we got sidetracked exploring the cute medieval city streets which are still occupied today and at the lookout point with a gorgeous view towards the lake. We made it to the castle entrance for 10:30, which was just in time to take the guided tour in English. Entrance to the castle plus the tour costs only 6 euros for students!
The Orsini castle has been well preserved and undergone many restoration projects which has allowed it to retain its historical appearance and significance. The Oldescalchi family, who bought the castle from the Orsini in the 1600’s, still maintain residences in one wing of the palace. The museum’s director is one of the Oldescalchi family descendants. Historic furniture from the 1500’s is still intact in the castle rooms, allowing visitors a glimpse of the grandeur of the palace. A large collection of armory is housed in the castle including crossbows, chain mail armor, lances, blades, and examples of the earliest forms of rifles which were so heavy they required their own stand because the men could not hold them up to fire them.
The castle tour guide provided us with interesting historical context not only about the decorations, furniture, and artifacts in the castle but also of the people who visited or resided there. The pope came to stay at the castle when fleeing from Rome during the plague leading to one room now being called the Pope’s Room because of his brief stay there. We also saw Isabella de Medici’s bed chambers where she reputable cheated on her husband and then told her lovers to escape via a trap door, which actually opened to a 2 story drop off onto sharp spears at the bottom. Supposedly this is how she kept her affairs a secret, the men she slept with unexplainable disappeared. A legend certainly, but a funny story nonetheless.
The views from the castle towers towards the lake below were beautiful and only made me more excited to get down to the water. After a quick stop for espresso at a cafe, we found Sushi Fiori for an early lunch around noon. On our way there I was tempted by a porchetta in the street and had a small serving to snack on. At Sushi Fiori, I completed my protein intake for the day by ordering a salmon sushi plate, edamame, and seaweed salad. Everything was good and perfect to eat before heading downhill to the lake.
It is about a 20 minute walk down a steep incline to get from the town to the lakefront. Once at the lakefront, we rented an umbrella and two chairs from a restaurant to relax by the water. The water temperature for mid July was just perfect – not too cool or too hot. After swimming and relaxing for a bit I decided to rent a paddle board. You can rent one there for only 10 euros for an hour – by far the cheapest paddle board rental I have ever come across. I took my paddle board all the way to one end of the beach and then back again. Bars and restaurants with umbrellas and chairs lined the lakeside of Baracciano for a little more than 2 miles. After paddling for a while, I stopped to jump in the water and cool off, then I experimented with balance on the paddle board, trying plank, downward dog, and balancing on one leg just for fun. My view from the board back at the beach and the hill with the castle at the top was just perfect. The only slightly negative part of the experience was some of the looks some of the Italian women were giving me as I paddled around. Doing sports in Italy still remains largely male dominated, so unfortunately I did not see a single other woman paddle boarding or kayaking the whole afternoon. This is something I hope will change as women become more empowered to participate in sporting activities if they desire.
After another hour of swimming and relaxing, we packed up our things and readied ourselves for the super steep hike uphill back to town. My hamstrings and calves were not very happy with me as we attacked the steep incline. It is not a good idea to do deadlifts the day before you go to Baracciano. After about 30 minutes of effort we were back in town and made it quickly to the train station. Baracciano is very small and easy to navigate. If you’re looking for an excellent day trip from Rome in summer, Baracciano is my pick for where to relax by the water, only an hour train trip from Rome’s Ostinese, Trastevere, or San Pietro train stations.
In fact, we had such a good time that we returned the next weekend with friends to spend the day by the water, relaxing, swimming, and paddle boarding in the sun!