Three hidden gems for a solo escape from the city.

In search of small lakes

In an era where everything is shared, there are still places you can go when you don’t feel like sharing anything with anybody and where solitude is not just favourable but desirable. Lakes definitely fall into this category. 

Perhaps it is their general peacefulness, their beauty, which invites contemplation, or that serene atmosphere that makes us a little more reflective than usual, but when we find ourselves in front of a lake, we immediately feel the need to be alone, whether with a book, a stone to skim on the water, or a bike.

Lake Orta, the muse of saints and writers.

“A lovely little lake, under Monte Rosa, with its island set in the midst of quiet waters, coquettish and simple”. It is difficult to better the words of Balzac in describing Lake Orta, the smallest of those in the Prealps. The muse of writers and poets, it is located at the foot of the Monte Rosa range in a place where nature is truly let loose.

The 40-kilometre stretch of road that hugs the lake offers everything a rider might want from the classic Sunday ride: a wonderful view, the right dose of twists and turns and some traditional villages in which to take a break. One must-see is Orta San Giulio with its fifteenth and sixteenth century baroque-style buildings, narrow lanes and churches. If you need a good reason to park your bike, then San Giulio island is that reason. Legend has it that this was once a rock inhabited by monsters and serpents, chosen by saint Giulio as the site for his church. Today this tiny island, just 275 metres in length, is home to memorable buildings such as the cathedral and Mater Ecclesiae Benedictine Monastery. Once back on the mainland, the choice is yours: if the weather permits, you might head to Bagnara beach for an energizing dip or head off to discover the medieval village of Pella. Those who prefer to stay in the saddle and enjoy the lake from above might climb to the evocative Sanctuary of the Madonna del Sasso or aim for the summit of the famous Mottarone.

Lake Nemi, home to strawberries and legendary ships.

Between 1928 and 1932, the remains of two ancient ships, commissioned by Emperor Caligula for his memorable feasts and to simulate naval battles, were recovered from the waters of Lake Nemi. This is just one of many legends relating to Nemi, the smallest of two volcanic lakes nestled in the Albani hills.

The motorcycle itinerary can be completed in just a few hours, but at the end of the day you will feel satisfied by the age-old history and unspoiled nature you have taken in along the way. From Castel Gandolfo, overlooking lake Albano, a wide road runs between vineyards and chestnut woods. Continuing along Via dei Laghi brings us face to face with Nemi and its rush-covered banks, inviting waters, and dense woodland with unexpected wild strawberry patches. While nature has kept a tight hold on Lake Nemi and the surrounding area, man’s influence can still be seen in fascinating Roman structures that include underground irrigation tunnels and the Diana temple.

The Monticchio Lakes, a habitat for rare species.

In Basilicata you will often find yourself in places that are inhabited as much by man as by nature, so much so that it’s hard to tell which came first. Cohabitation is peaceful, based on mutual respect, and the Monticchio Lakes are a fine example of this. 

Created from the craters of the ancient and long-dormant Vulture volcano, connected but of different colours, these two lakes and their surrounding vegetation have become the ideal habitat for some unique animal and plant species. The deep waters are home to Nimphea Alba, a water lily that only takes root in this part of southern Italy, while in the woodland around the lake you can see Bramea, a nocturnal moth that cannot be found anywhere else in Europe. Nestled in amongst the natural wonders are some architectonic gems left by monks who found refuge here in around the eighth century. And so it is that, amidst this greenery teeming with life, the imposing San Michele Abbey and the remains of the Sant’Ippolito convent find their natural home  

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