CASTIGLIONE DEL LAGO in Umbria Italy Tour Review – Royals, Nazis, Feminists, and Filmmakers, a charming city bordering Lake Trasemeno
Arriving in the dark of night, you have no idea that the vast black space you are driving past to arrive at Castiglione del Lago is scenic Lake Trasimeno. That lake, though only six meters deep, is the third largest in Italy. It becomes the beautiful vista you wake up to as you stroll the contours of Castiglione del Lago, or swimmers’ spot in warmer summer months.
Castiglione del Lago Walls Date Back to 16th Century
Even in darkness though, you can feel Castiglione del Lago’s charm as you go wend your way past the towers and gates that provide an opening and entrée through this fort-castle’s high protective walls that date back to the 16th Century. Walking through the narrow interior of these walls gives a feel of a walk stretching to infinity, like a mirror reflecting in a mirror. Better, climbing the fort wall’s many stairs to the tower parapets gives a panoramic view from way up on high of the Umbrian country and lakeside charms, likely one of the best views to be had in the area.
For this writer, or any similarly feminist-minded, visiting on March 8, 2019 had the added treat of Castiglione del Lago’s Mayor flashing a warm smile as he handed a mimosa flower bouquet. It seems International Women’s Day, Festa della Donne—a commemoration of women garment workers organizing in New York City but is not celebrated there -- is not forgotten in Italy, and this scenic town in specific.
Castiglione del Lago Cathedral is Worthwhile to Visit
The central part that religious life plays in Castiglione del Lago is easy to see whenever you walk into the Cathedral-- finding choir rehearsals late at night, or nuns meeting with parishioners midday, and of course during services. The striking mid-19th Century religious murals adorning the cathedral's walls are also historically curious because they were created by a secular painter, Mariano Piervittori, whose work is also seen in the Palazzo Pontini.
Palazzo Pontini-- with art works dating back to Etruscan times, and once seized to be the occupying Nazi headquarters-- is still occupied, but opened up yearly for the Castiglione del Lago Film Festival, and occasionally rented for weddings.
Though we didn’t have a chance to talk with the Mayor too long, we came to admire the work that he and his fellow city fathers do to put Castiglione del Lago on the world tourists’ map. The castle hosts world-class art exhibits—at the time of our visit a focus on the works of Marc Chagall. Its main hall is sometimes pressed into service as a private rental space for weddings and such, but also hosts regular concerts. From the vantage point of the castle rooftop you can see the outdoor amphitheater where music and dance performances are held, most notably an International Folk Music Festival every August. Castiglione del Lago also hosts a few high profile European cycling events each year.
One-time Nazi Headquarters, Palazzo Pontini is Opened Yearly for a Castiglione del Lago Film Festival
Cinephiles might be especially interested in this sneak peek at the interiors of Palazzo Pontini, a chic palace pressed into service yearly to host the Castiglione del Lago Film Festival. An 18th Century private palace that is still occupied, it packs so many treasures per square meter requiring safeguarding that it isn’t practical to open it to the public as a hotel or similar. You see sculptures that trace this palace back to an original structure in Etruscan times, and beautifully patterned mosaic floors that also reach back to antiquity. Temperatures are tightly controlled to preserve colorful frescoes throughout, a few of which were created by the same secular painter, Mariano Piervittori, whose spectacular murals adorn the town’s cathedral. Zooming in on decorative details in many rooms you will see much imagery from the classical Roman empire. These no doubt added to the Nazi’s interest in making Palazzo Pontini their headquarters during the WWII occupation. That the Nazis set up shop in Castiglione del Lago however speaks mostly to the town at some point being a center of anti-fascist resistance, which is usually where the Nazis attempted to keep the closest eyes.
Tour in Hours or Plant in Castiglione del Lago for More Expansive Umbria Tour
The old Castiglione del Lago within the fort-castle’s thick walls can be thoroughly toured within a few hours. On weekends, Castiglione del Lago mainly draws Italian tourists from Rome and other large cities; on weekdays you will also find denizens of nearby Perugia visiting its trendy restaurants such as Porta Senese.
Though not as obscure to most Americans as Matera (a 2019 European Capital of Culture), Umbria remains relatively unexplored and less touristy when compared to its fellow Lake Trasemeno- bordering Tuscany.
If you are seeking a charming place to spend some time as part of Umbria explorations—and especially if one of its famed festivals is a draw—Castiglione del Lago seems a good place to plant.
L'Angolo del Buon Gustaio in Castiglione del Lago is a busy place, where tasty charcuterie and cheese and more local treats can be sampled. Beyond the deli entrance is a comfortable wine bar. The local recipe soups sampled were delicious lunch options.
For more information about Castiglione del Lago as a launch point for a tour of Umbria, visit the Taste and Slow Italy website.
Editor's Note: Taste and Slow Italy is a member of the Divertimento Group
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