Survivor: Italia

Our girls have been pretty good with our non-stop hill-town church/piazza/ceramic-shop days in Umbria, so we thought a day of water-play could be in order. Being land-locked, however, could pose a problem! The fancy new local swimming pool, with down-hill tube waterslides has shut for two weeks (as you’d do in the middle of summer!!!), so we consulted the many Umbrian travel books at our country rental and came up with a day at Italy’s 4th largest lake – Lake Trasimeno.

The lake’s biggest town is Castiglione del Lago, with its medieval fortress towering over the lake’s still, olive-green waters. It was a surprise to see so many birds on the water – cormorants, wild ducks and osprey. A surprise, because apart from the abundant pigeon population, and an odd sparrow or goose, birdlife seems to be pretty scarce in rural Italia.

Castiglione has a small beach area, with a couple of volleyball nets and a pay-by-the-hour grassed deck-chair section; but we thought we’d go the luxury option, and take a swim off the lake’s second biggest, and only inhabited, island.

“Si, certo!” the dull-eyed girl working at the ferry wharf cafe assured us. “The children can swim at the beach on Isola Maggiore.

The ferry-ride in was, apart from the LOUD Australian lady behind us jabbering about her favourite salami shop, tranquil, and a pleasant reminder that there’s more to Italy than hillside villages and, well, salami.

The buildings lining the island’s solitary street were beautiful too – kept alive by a few restaurants catering to day-trippers and German pilgrims playing guitar and chanting, palms-up in the space St.Francis of Assisi came in 1211 to spend his Lent in silent prayer. All sounds incredibly romantic and idyllic right? Look at the photos. What could possibly go wrong?

If I was to write a realistic 30 sec advertisement (voiced by me) for the “beach” side of the island, it might go something like this…

“Tired of pristine white sandy beaches with sand that squeaks under-foot? Want to get back to nature and mingle with the wildlife? Come to the marshy swampland of Isola Maggiore, where, if the biting sand-flies don’t get you, the swarms of mosquitoes will! Slide through the midge infested bog lake-side to dip your toes into the warm mud…if you can dodge the  hornets, the eels and the foot-tangling weed! Isola Maggiore – who needs to relax, anyway?”

There were also promises of a community of elderly lace-makers on the island, who learnt their craft after discovering their fish-net knotting skills could be used for their own personal pleasure. The only sign of this “community” however was one pensioner on a plastic chair in the middle of the main street, selling her doilies for 150 euro. Amazing work, but I’ll stick to my $5 Salvos finds.

Needless to say, we didn’t take a swim on the island. Instead we ate at one of the restaurants promising local lake seafood (which all tasted pretty dusty), then ferried back to the mainland. We hired a paddle-boat for an hour, and the girls had a ball diving off of it  into the shallow water, and being dragged along behind it on a life preserve, while Cam and I laughed at the over-tanned Europeans posing in flouro Speedos on the beach. “Lake Trasimeno, kinda ok one day, almost forgettable the next”!

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