Tuoro sul Trasemino

Our main holiday destination last September was a ‘tiny apartment’ in the pretty village of Tuoro on a hill above Lake Trasemino, not in the town of Castiglione, as we’d thought till we headed south from Lucca!  It turned out to be an excellent choice of destination: the village sits on a hill about half an hour’s walk from the lake but has both a delicatessen, a couple of bakers and a small supermarket within walking distance as well as several eateries, serving both good local food and pizzas. The village has a nicely lived-in look – it doesn’t seem to have suffered the fate of being full of holiday homes and is an hour or so’s drive from both Siena and Assisi, which we wanted to visit.

Our tiny apartment was big enough, with an induction hob which made good stove-top coffee incredibly quickly, a balcony with beautiful views over the lake and a friendly, semi-resident cat. What more could you want!

The plan was to alternate days exploring the local area on foot with days where we drove further afield.  Tuoro itself sports a museum about the Battle of Lake Trasimeno, supposed to have taken place nearby, where Hannibal and his Carthaginians ambushed, surrounded and massacred a 25 000 strong Roman army led by Gaius Flaminius in 217 BC.  An hour or so’s walk from the village along quiet roads and through olive groves we climbed up to the leaning tower of Umbria, aka Torre di Vernazzano. The tower is all that remains of a medieval castle and settlement, which once controlled the northern shore of the lake and was finally abandoned after an earthquake in the 18th Century. 

Although it was late in the year, there were flowers by the wayside and Fritillary butterflies and small lizards basking in the warm autumn sunshine.

Flowers including Autumn crocus, Scabious, Campion, Oxalis and Thistle, along with Lizard and Fritillary butterfly.

We’d hoped to hire bikes to cycle round the lake but, out of season, the options were limited and we ended up driving to nearby Passignano sul Trasimeno, where we got lovely views south across the lake from the castle at the top of the hill. Because I’m a bit of a a sad sack, I enjoyed the diversity of lichens on the pan tiled rooves almost as much as the views.

An annual boatrace here, called the Palio delle Barche, puts Durham regatta well and truly in the shade.  As well as racing on the lake, participants have to carry their boats up through a series of winding medieval passages and staircases to the top of the hill, then back down to the lake. When the stairs bend too sharply to allow the boats to pass, they have to be thrown up and over a wall to waiting team-mates!  The competition apparently re-enacts a bloody battle between local families in 1495, when  Soldiers of the Oddi family had to run away, carrying their boats on their shoulders from the castle to Lake Trasimeno, after being attacked by the Baglioni and Della Corgna families. Fortunately it’s a more friendly affair these days!

The lake itself was a bit of a disappointment and definitely looks best from a distance! Wikipedia describes it as ‘shallow, muddy and rich in fish’, with an average depth of five meters – we can certainly testify to the first two! The lake is fed by just two minor streams and, although it has no natural outlet, is at its lowest at the end of a hot, dry summer like last year’s. I’d hoped to swim, but the water was frankly unappealing and looked almost brackish.

We did get a boat across to the small island of Maggiore, walking round as much of it as is possible.  It has a lot of history for just 24 hectares of land; St Francis lived as a hermit on the island for 40 days in the early 13th Century, a Franciscan monastery was established here in the 14th Century and then, in the late 18th Century a local senator built a castle on the site of the monastery as his summer residence.  His wife was Irish and taught the local women lace making so, bizarrely, Irish lace is one of the things for which the island is known! Guglielmi castle was used as an internment camp for Jews and political prisoners at the end of the second world war but has now fallen into disrepair. Only a handful of people live on the island, in sharp contrast to the hundreds who lived here when the monastery was active.   

The water round the island was a bit less grim looking than what could be accessed from the lake shore, so we did what we always do on holiday….

The real highlight, however, was the tiny 12th century Church of Saint Michael the Archangel on the island’s highest point, built after St Francis’ stay here.  It doesn’t look much from the outside and was closed for lunch when we arrived, so we nearly left without waiting.  Fortunately, though, the guide turned up just as we were leaving and encouraged us to pop in.  She is a real art history expert and talked us through the frescoes, some of which date from the 13th Century.  The frescoes on the ceiling above the altar have been restored to their original vivid colours but the sketches and portraits on the walls are at least as interesting and beautiful to my eyes.  I would love to know the story behind the castle turret being knocked down by (catapulted?) rocks!

The church of San Michele Arcangelo, on Isola Maggiore

I wrote this on a snowy morning in Amsterdam, after seeing the fabulous Vermeer exhibition at the Rijksmuseum yesterday.
Currently re-reading Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, after seeing the painting. I wondered yesterday whether, if she’d chosen a woman such as The Milkmaid or the Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window from another of Vermeer’s paintings as a heroine, whether those paintings would now be Vermeer’s most famous. I feel like either could have an equally good back-story.
In the Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam the snowdrops are going over, just as at home, but there is a lovely display of Tommasina crocuses and spring cyclamen.
Last night we ate delicious small plates at Gertrude’s restaurant and bar, accompanied by Orange Gewurztraminer wine. The fishcakes were a highlight for me, as was the fig bread served with cheese.


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