Looking for the perfect place to spread your picnic blanket with a little shade in Abruzzo? Then Lago Campotosto could be the perfect spot. With easy access to some of Abruzzo’s finest cheeses at Mascionara and Mortadella di Campotosto to play a very unique ‘belle of the picnic blanket’ salami, a lake to keep wine chilled as you watch the mountains & skies reflections, it doesn’t get better….
Campotosto is sat between the Gran Sasso Mountains to its south-east and the Laga Mountains to the north, and the lake is not just Abruzzo’s largest but Europe’s second largest man-made lake. Its 40Km perimeter makes it one of Abruzzo’s premier mountain bike trails for those who fancy a little cycle on the flat sometimes. Originally an ice-age basin set 1313 masl, historically the local villages used its 1400 hectares to graze animals and cut peat to sell until 1930 when it was dammed into a v-shape to provide hydro-electric power to the nearby towns. Now framed by willow and beech, birch in the drier areas, with tangles of juniper, hawthorne, rose hips and forest fruits like raspberries, blackberries and strawberries chose the right time of year and you could pick your own dessert.
1,600 hectares of nature reserve provides a safe home and migratory landing pad to many birds throughout the year: herons including the Ardeidae Campotosto that arrives for the winter, waders, the common snipe that is the reserve’s symbol and other countless types of duck and glebe make it an enjoyable day out for twitchers. If you do want to go in the water you can of course swim, hire canoes and try wind-surfing in the summer but motorised boats are not allowed unless you are a local fishermen with a license and even they find it difficult… in the winter the lake can freeze over, up to 80cm thick has been known, you’d need more than a blanket on those sort of days!
We hadn’t visited early Summer before, having a preference for Autumn and its blasts of ochre, russet and soft light, but we went after the Abruzzo Cheese Festa after visiting one of our favourite cheese shops that sits just round one of those triple bends away from the lake which motorbikers love to take advantage of. It shouldn’t be missed; the broom and laburnum provided such a vivid unforgettable contrast against the lake, nebulous clouds and mountains, and some of which were still snow-packed and I lost count of all the different types of dragonflies we spotted that added their further jewels to the scene.
Go later in the summer and it is one area guaranteed to be filled with Italians and their camper vans, if like our friends that stayed with us you take a jaunt then expect whilst you picnic to get a view of Fire planes dipping into the lake to fill up before attempting to put out forest fires. For those that want to go the whole hog and barbecue, there are some very discreet barbecue areas to be found right around the perimeter, if you feel too lazy you could try one of the fresh water fish restaurants, there isn’t many, we counted 4 so make a booking if you are planning to do this.
If like us you’re happy with some bread and salami do try the mules balls known as Mortadella Campotosto. These are made to a 500 year old recipe in December and combine various breeds of pig that are combined with wine, orange peel, cloves and cinnamon to surround a lard middle and which are then dressed in a casing and sewn. Gaily these oval balls dangle by fireplaces and then into a north facing room for approximately 3 months to mature. Although not too keen on the solid lard bit in the middle I do love the flavour of the lean meat that surrounds it. The town of Campotosto has a sagra dedicated to this local sausage, held on the 2nd Sunday of August if you want to pop along; Campotosto was fairly damaged in the earthquakes and aftershocks so would welcome investment in their local products.