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Bracciano Lake and the Orsini-Odescaldi Castle

By Thursday, September 04, 2014 , , ,

Since we were in Rome for quite a few days, we thought it might be nice to get out of the city for a day, especially to beat the weekend crowds. At first, we were thinking about going to Pompeii, but after looking at the prices and times of the trains from Rome to Naples, we moved on. Our next choice was the beach, but after reading about how crowded and dirty the beaches near Rome to be, I kept looking for alternatives. Fortunately, I found an article by Amanda Ruggeri on RevealedRome.com on the best lakes near Rome. I thought a lake could be a pretty good alternative to the beach, and when I saw Bracciano lake had a castle, I was sold.

We took the metro to the Valle Aurelia Station, where at the far end of the platform there was a man making strange breathing noises, with a sheet of foil and a straw. Our substance addled fellow traveler took a seat in front of us, and ran up and down the steps at nearly every station until finally getting off the train. So that was a memorable start.

After a long ride we got off at tiny station. If we hadn't seen the castle from the train as we arrived, we might have thought we were in the wrong place.

 Eventually after a bit of walking around, we found the main square.

We walked up and down the streets looking for somewhere to eat. Eventually we sat down at a little restarant down a side street with a sign in the shape of a snail. Despite being chosen more or less at random, it ended up being quite memorable, as the waiter made fun of my husband's attempts at Italian, and I had Fagottini, a little purse of pasta with pear stuffed inside, in creamy cheese sauce.

After lunch, it was getting quite hot so we decided to cool off before visiting the castle with some gelato, which was quite good (although the overbearing techno we had to listen to while eating it dampened my enthusiasm) but it was the little desserts that really stole my attention.

Row after row of delicate, colorful pastries, like jewels on velvet pillows in a high street window.

Next it was onto the Castello Odescalichi! 

When we bought our tickets we were offered a map/guide in German (we went with the English one). The guide contained the history of the castle and a description of the rooms, written in a style both pretentious and pompous:
"The Orsini-Odescaldi Castle in Bracciano could be considered a palimpsest of history and architecture, a sort of living organism bearing witness to the way it has been repeatendly transformed...
Any tour of the Castle should start when it appears in all its splendour in the distance as you drive up from the lake..."

I bet the author wears frilly shirts.

Photos were forbidden, so I have no idea where these pictures came from.

The castle was first build around the year 1200 by the prefects of Vico, but then was acquired by the Orsini family. All over the castle are statues and images of bears, and I felt pretty clever when I made the connection between Orsini and Ursa (as in Ursa Major, the Great Bear). Ok, now that I look at them Orsini and Ursa aren't that close, are they? Damn. No wait, the Italian word for bear is Orsi. I'm clever again.

Anyway, in the late 1400s another stage of the building took place, where the guide drops a lot of names of people you're supposed to be impressed with. Bracciano eventually became a duchy, and the first Duke Orsini, Paolo married a Medici, Isabella.

The Medici's are always fun. When you reach the room called Isabella's bedroom, the guide tells you:
It is also known as "Isabella's Room" because legend has it that, after a night of lovemaking, Isabella de' Medici used to push her lovers down a blade-lined well.
The guide goes to to dispel these rumours, and tells us that Isabella and the duke were actually quite happy with one another, he once writing to her "I adore you, my beauty...and believe me when I say that when I die people will not remember me for my children, my rank, my friends, the women in my life, or anything else, they will remember that I adored you."

Relationship Tip: when professing your love and devotion to your wife, don't mention your other women.

Duke Paolo also decided to turn the fortress into a palace, where more name drop worthy Italian artists came to work. Eventually the Orsini had to sell their castle and it was bought by the present owners, the Odescalichi,.

The information provided in the map and the panels in each room very much implied that the original room had been preserved or recreated, when really the room was just a place to display part of a collection. For example, the rooms were given names based on the furniture housed in the room, not the rooms historical function, so you had to walk through bedrooms to get to the armory.

Apparently, you can avoid the no dog rule by hiding your dogs in a purse. I fully support this, as I think little dogs riding in things (especially bicycle baskets) are one of life's overlooked wonders.

We didn't end up making it down to the lake, which was father from the town and castle than we first thought. The view across it was beautiful though.

We made friends with a very pretty kitty, who may have been a stray. An old woman yelled at it in Italian, which makes me think the little cat was a frequent feature in the neighborhood, and hopefully belongs to someone nearby.

Finally, I'll leave you with some photos of the cute little alley ways through the town. I believe this is called 'rustic' and 'quaint'.

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  1. the place looks so beautiful and serene. The architecture is fascinating too.

    Twinkle Eyed Traveller

  2. Wonderful photos, I'm crazy about castles!

  3. Wow, wasn't expecting to see "the women in my life" (!) on that list. Funny. Men in that era must have been a lot more open about their infidelities.

    Ugh, small dogs being sneaked into places they're not supposed to be...not a fan. I wish people wouldn't do this.

    I love visiting places with narrow/winding/uneven alleyways! Cute photos -- really adorable.

  4. Gorgeous! Wish we had known about this little spot while we were traveling through Italy last year. Pasta stuffed with pear - divine sounding! Charming castle and my favorite as always......the backstreets! Looks like you made the right choice on getting out of Rome and into the countryside. Thanks for sharing this delightful Italian community. Found you through SITS!

  5. Wow, these photos!! I almost drooled on my keyboard looking at that pasta.

    I really hope you get the chance to go to Pompeii sometime. It was one of my favorite places in Italy. Simply breathtaking. And the history is just amazing.

    Can't wait to read more of your adventures!


  6. Claire! Nice to meet you (virtually), I love your website and your photos. Thanks for linking up with #wkendtravelinspiration.

  7. Love that you caught the "dog-hiders" in action!! Lovely photos. #wkendtravelinspiration

  8. Hi Claire, Bracciano Lake/Orsini-Odescaldi Castle is such a refreshing getaway from the hustle and bustle of Rome. It's always nice to find off-the-beaten path places like this. The castle and its history are certainly fascinating. And the food looks divine! Have not heard of fagotinni; would love to try it.
    Nice finding you through #wkendtravelinspiration

  9. Hi Claire, Thank you for sharing your photos of the Orsini Castle. I'm second generation of American Italian family. My grandparents migrated from Italy. My father Arthur Antone Sr Orsini is believed to be a decendent of the Royal Orsini family and I believe that was their castle. I love the history of our family and hope to go to Italy and see the castle for myself. Again, thank you for sharing!