Nestled on the shores of Lake Bracciano, Anguillara Sabazia is a historic town that makes for an interesting day trip from Rome.
I had the chance to visit Anguillara Sabazia a few months back as I took a quick detour on my way from Rome to Viterbo, and immediately fell in love with this small town that’s still very much local and packed to the brim with lovely vistas and interesting sights. If you wish to get away from the crowds of the Eternal City, and visit a place that is still very much off the tourist path, this lesser-known destination is ideal and truly easy to reach. You could include it as a stop on a longer road trip around the Tuscia region, or simply visit for the day.
Curious to find out more? Continue reading!
The History Of Anguillara Sabazia
The history of Anguillara Sabazia begins with the formation of the volcanic Lake Bracciano, which is believed to have been formed around 600,000 ago. The prehistoric lake is home to three towns, one of which is Anguillara Sabazia.
The old lake has fittingly been home to humans for thousands of years. In fact, just on the outskirts of Anguillara Sabazia is La Marmotta: the remains of an early neolithic village that dates back to 5700 BC. It was submerged by the lake as the climate got hotter and wetter; the water level rose more than 25 feet, engulfing the settlement. Its recent rediscovery, including underwater excavations between 1989 and 2010 (led by Dr. Maria Antonietta Fugazzola Delpino), helps to shed life on this part of the Italian peninsula.
However, the foundation of the town of Anguillara Sabazia itself has its roots in the 1st or 2nd century BC. At this time, a wealthy Roman citizen – Rutilia Polla, a member of patrician class – owned a luxurious villa on the shores of the lake. This is situated at the present-day site of the Church of Santo Stefano.
The villa is set on a right angle of rock that juts out into the lake itself, and it’s believed that this then transitioned into Angularia, later becoming Anguillara. Sabazia comes from the historic name of the region the town is situated in, and was added to distinguish it from a town of the same name (Anguillara Veneta), near Padua.
As with many Roman villas in the countryside, this large house was also productive; rather than farming, fish were caught from the lake and sold directly in the markets of Rome. Naturally, a small village grew up around the large villa.
The Medieval town as it is seen today was built on the remains of the original Roman village. According to legend, this begins with Raimone, the first member of the Anguillara family, who in 950 slew a dragon who was wreaking havoc on the inhabitants of the nearby town of Malagrotta. To show his thanks to Raimone, the Pope at the time rewarded the young warrior with land along the lake. This legend is immortalized in the Anguillara family crest, which features two crossed serpents.
The Anguillara family became a wealthy family, owning many properties in Rome. But during a period of tension between the Papal States and the Holy Roman Empire, the family sided with the Empire. This was to be the Anguillara family’s downfall. The town on the shores of Lake Bracciano was conquered in 1234 by the member of another powerful family, Pietro dei Prefetti di Vico.
Later, however, the Anguillara family were able to resume their hold on the town. Local inhabitants of the town, however, probably weren’t happy with this; according to some records, the Anguillara family-controlled groups of bandits who they would send to plunder and rob pilgrims and merchants at a nearby crossroads on their way to Rome.
But when the Papacy transferred to Avignon in the 14th century, more uncertainty about the region’s government led to the Anguillaras moving their center of power to Capranica. Here, the head of the family, Orso dell’Anguillara (a senator of Rome), played host to the poet Francesco Petrarca (aka Petrarch) for several months in 1336.
Later, through marriage, the Anguillara family became one of the most important families in Rome: Orso’s mother was an Orsini, and he had just married a Colonna. Unfortunately, this wealth was not to last. The family had something of a reputation for dishonesty and tyranny, and eventually in the 15th century Orso’s grandson, Francesco, was punished by the Holy See.
On the orders of Pope Paul II, Francesco was excommunicated, sent to Castel Sant’Angelo for imprisonment, and all the possessions of the family were acquired by the Papal Treasury. The Anguillara lands were later given to Pope Innocent VIII’s nephew, another nobleman by the name of Franceschetto Cybo.
In 1488, the town of Anguillara was sold to a member of the Orsini family. In 1693, it passed from the Orsinis to the noble Grillo family, after the Orsinis couldn’t pay their debts. Later, in 1790 it became independent of Rome and ruled itself as an autonomous settlement.
Fast-forward to the present day, and just like Romans of the past, many Romans have over the years purchased holiday homes or villas on the shores of the lake at Anguillara Sabazia. Rather than a town to be fought over, or filled with bandits, it has become a beautiful resort and a place to get away from city life.
What To See And Do In Anguillara Sabazia
Viale Reginaldo Belloni
Make the most of the town’s stunning lakeside location by soaking up the sights along the Viale Reginaldo Belloni. This waterside promenade is the ideal way to enjoy the lake, with views out across the lake and pretty hills in the distance.
The walkway stretches out across the shore and is dotted with bars, cafes and various yachting and watersports companies along the way. If you want to stop off for a bite to eat, simply choose from among the many eateries and enjoy the beautiful view with some delicious food to match. It’s a particularly nice spot for sunset, too.
If you come in the warmer months, make sure you bring your swimsuit; bathing spots such as Lido Dei Cigni, which provides a sandy shoreline beloved by visitors. There are other quieter beaches away from the town, including Tripiti’ Beach and Monkey Beach.
Chiesa Della Madonna Delle Grazie
Also situated along the Viale Reginaldo Belloni is the tiny but very charming Chiesa Della Madonna Delle Grazie. This compact chapel lies right on the shores of Lake Bracciano itself and is open to the public who want to take a look inside. It boasts spectacular views out over the water and makes for a fantastic photo opportunity.
There’s a great coffeeshop that serves up some amazing ice cream right nearby.
Porta Maggiore o di Castello
The old gate that provided entry to the town during the Medieval era provides an interesting glimpse back into the past of Anguillara Sabazia. Topped with a clock, and built with volcanic stone, stepping through this gate is literally like stepping back into the past; once through, you’ll be greeted with charming, cobbled streets and centuries-old buildings.
Piazza del Molo
This shoreside square in Anguillara Sabazia provides the perfect place to people-watch, or soak views of the lake. There are plenty of places here to grab a bite to eat, or sit down with a drink and watch the world go by. If you’re looking for a sweet, refreshing treat, make sure you don’t miss out on a visit to Bar Del Molo Gelateria Artigianale for some amazing gelato.
Fountain of the Eels
Situated in the Piazza del Comune, where you’ll also find the Town Hall, is the Fountain of the Eels. From this small fountain there’s also a wonderful view of Lake Bracciano. Eel in Italian is anguilla, and so for a long time this slippery fish has been associated with the name of the town and the noble family who ruled over it for centuries. While some say there are crossed serpents on the crest of the Anguillara family, I’d say they actually look a lot like eels!
Town Hall / Baronial Palace
Across the piazza from the Fountain of the Eels is the Baronial Palace. Once built as the Palazzo Baronale in the 16th century, this large structure later became the Town Hall – the Comune di Anguillara Sabazia. Inside the building you can see many beautiful frescoes that have been restored to their former glory. The frescoes were actually completed by artists from the Raphael school.
Church of Santa Maria Assunta
Though there are many spots to get a good view of Lake Bracciano, none are quite as lovely as the vista offered up from the Church of Santa Maria Assunta. Also known as the Collegiate Church, this beautiful Baroque building was built in 1763 and is situated on the highest point of the tufa cliff that juts out into the lake.
Strangely enough, the view from here was featured in a double episode of the American sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond.
The Torrione Medievale – or the Medieval Tower – is part of the larger defense network that was built around the town in the Middle Ages. Built in the 15th century, the tower offers up some wonderful views of the town itself down below.
The Torrione Medievale is actually home to a regular Farmer’s Market, so if you’re lucky enough to be in Anguillara Sabazia at this time you can spend a while browsing the fresh produce on display here.
Church of San Francesco
The 15th-century Church of San Francesco is, for some, the most beautiful church in Anguillara Sabazia. Partly restored, the old church retains much of its centuries-old charm; for one thing, there are many original frescoes that can still be admired adorning the walls of the church. This former convent for friars is a peaceful place, somewhere that feels quiet and is quite unexpected to stumble across.
Parco Naturale Regionale di Bracciano-Martignano
As well as playing host to the historic town of Anguillara Sabazia, this lakeside area is also home to the Bracciano-Martignano Regional Park. Lake Martignano, which is much smaller than Lake Bracciano, is located just a few miles to the east of Anguillara and it is possible to hike all the way from town to its shores.
The hike through this natural wonderland offers up panoramic views of both lakes, and takes around two hours (one way) to complete. It’s the chance to immerse yourself in nature and take a break from the town (especially if it’s busy during summer).
The main hike starts from the intersection of Via Anguillarese and Via Della Mola Vecchia, which can be reached via bus from the train station or the shores of Lake Bracciano. From there, the hike is well signposted and easy to follow. There’s plenty of shade, but don’t forget to take lots of water with you as you’ll still need to rehydrate when it’s hot.
Check out my post 7 Scenic Lakes Near Rome.
Neolithic Exhibition Center
Situated just next to the train station of Anguillara is the Neolithic Exhibition Center. Here you can see a number of finds that were discovered during the excavations of La Marmotta, the 8,000-year-old neolithic village submerged in Lake Bracciano.
One of the finds was a pair of ancient wooden boats called pirogues; though one is located at the Luigi Pigorini National Museum of Prehistoric Ethnography, the other can be found here. It measures around 9.5 meters long, and was originally found in 2005, split in two and around 12 meters below the surface of the lake.
How to get to Anguillara Sabazia from Rome
You can reach Anguillara Sabazia by using public transport – in fact, it’s super easy. All you have to do is take a train from Ostiense station in Rome, and then take one of the regional trains bound for Bracciano or Viterbo, making sure to alight at Anguillara.
The train takes approximately one hour. However, the train station is situated around four kilometers from the center of the town itself. From the station, there are buses that run between it and the shores of the lake. If you feel up to it, you could walk; it’s around 45 minutes on foot between the train station and the town. It wouldn’t be a very fun walk in the height of summer, of course, but it’s doable.
Alternatively, you could drive yourself from Rome to Anguillara Sabazia. The journey takes around an hour.
Finally, if you are planning to spend a few days in the area, you could opt for a private transfer from Rome to Anguillara Sabazia. For information on option and prices, click here.
Though I would say that Anguillara Sabazia can be easily visited independently, and you don’t need to take a tour, there are always options to do so if you want to. The only thing is that, often tours from Rome to this region don’t visit one specific town but instead multiple attractions in the area.
For example, you could consider joining a private day trip from Rome that takes in Lake Bracciano and towns in the surrounding regions – check it out here.
Where to sleep Anguillara Sabazia
Should you decide to spend the night in Anguillara Sabazia, you will have a good selection of places to stay both in the center of town and outside, in an even quieter area. I have selected the best places for you:
Il Sogno del Lago
Spacious, modern and comfortable rooms with lake views and all the necessary amenities for a wonderful stay make this bed and breakfast one of the best places to stay in the area. A very good breakfast is included every morning. It’s in the heart of Anguillara.
Le Colline Country House B&B
This pet friendly hotel has plain but spacious rooms set around a beautiful garden where you’ll also find a pool to relax on the warmest days.
Galeria Home Apartments
This incredibly modern, fully equipped holiday home is located a few minutes drive from the center of Anguillara. It’s perfect for a couple or a small family and ideal in case you’d rather self cater.
Best restaurants in Anguillara Sabazia
Albeit small, Anguillara Sabazia has an excellent choice of restaurants, cafés, street food places so whatever your taste and budget you are bound to find a good place. Here are my favorite restaurants in town:
Ciccio e la Ristogatta – Nice, easygoing restaurant serving seafood, meat and vegetarian staples and an incredible array of pasta dishes, all prepared with seasonal ingredients and at very honest prices.
Chalet del Lago – Right on the beach, this is one of the most famous fine-dining restaurants in the area. It’s a bit more pricey than the rest, but given the location and the quality of the food, it is totally worth it!
Pizzeria da Brontolo – Excellent pizza with lots of choices. It’s a very popular place so go early or make reservations to secure a table.
To find out more about local flavors, consider joining a food tour. For more information, click here.