How did we do this? Easy—there’s a big lake nearby, Lago Trasimeno. Brits sometimes call it Lake Thrasymene or some such, but they shouldn’t. It’s the biggest lake on the Italian peninsula proper, and if you’re a history buff, it’s where Hannibal’s great army fought the Romans. These days it’s somewhat less heroic, and probably more enjoyable. Lots of northern Europeople seem to like it; camping lots are filled with Dutch and German-plated cars. And Jeremy Irons and singer (sorta) Ed Sheeran have homes on or near the lake.
I was getting a little antsy after being in our mountaintop aerie a few days, except to descend to the plains to buy food and wine. We’re trying to continue social distancing as much as we can, avoiding large crowds and big cities. That leaves checking out or revisiting our favorite natural spots on weekdays, and the lake is one of those spots. Sure, there are lake towns that resemble beach resorts. But you can hop on a ferry and visit two of the three islands, Isola Polvese and Isola Maggiore, and hardly see anyone. (You guessed it: There is an Isola Minore.)
For this little trip, we chose Isola Polvese. For one thing, we’ve been there less often. And two, the walk around the perimeter of the island is relatively flat and the weather’s been either steamy like a New York August, or blazingly hot and pitilessly sunny. We looked at the forecast and chose steamy but slightly less hot, and it worked out.
The only problem, if you want to call it that, was the trip there. We wanted to make a mid-morning ferry without getting out too early, so we had to take the fast route, which involves our local highway (fast) and the Perugia ring road (hilly and traffic-clogged). Still, it was nice to be out. I’d dialed the ferry dock area into our navigation system, which was a mistake. I know my way around pretty much, but the nav is good for traffic and construction delays. It wasn’t that morning and seemed to like a ridiculously circuitous route that we ignored while The Voice practically shouted “fate un’inversione a U! (make a U-turn!).
Isola Polvese is uninhabited but has an elegant hotel and what looks to be a nice restaurant. It’s also home to a nature preserve, some ruins, including the shell of a castle fort, and most importantly, an environmental study center. The center gives guided tours on weekends, but we just wanted to have a different—and level—place to walk and picnic. For our elegant picnic, we toted peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and water. I can just hear the cries of people saying that’s not Italian! What can I tell you? Lunch was easy to carry—and the jelly was Italian elderberry preserves.
While the bar we stopped in before taking the ferry was observing distancing rules, the ferry completely ignored them. We found ourselves on a boat packed with Slovakian teenage campers. Funny thing is, they were incredibly polite and quiet. As we found our seats, a few boys said “buongiorno,” and they mostly looked around and stared at their phones, as did their companions. Italian kids would’ve been much more boisterous and in constant motion.
It took 10 minutes to reach Polvese. I’d forgotten how beautiful the landscaping is. As you circumnavigate the island, you pass cypresses, fields, fairly dense woods, marsh areas, and a long alley that alternates cypresses and oleander bushes. Unfortunately for oleander almost everywhere around here, a late April frost almost killed them off. Most of us saved them by ruthlessly cutting down almost to the ground, and then the roots took over for new growth.
As for the other visitable island, we’ll probably head there in a few weeks. If we do, I’ll write about it then.
[Updated to fix a factual error. Thanks, reader Vian. ]