Bang in the heart of the Castelli Romani hills and a mere 30 minutes from Rome, Lake Nemi is a discreet marvel with desirable menus. Giving new meaning to the term ‘paint the town red’, it is decorated every May with strawberries for the delicious Fragoline di Bosco festival. The wild strawberries that grow in the nearby woods, and the berry-liscious recipes available to sample them, mean that this twee ancient village has got everything going for it. Romans come here to dip their toes in the lake during the humid summer months. Bathing and food, it doesn’t get any more Roman than that! Densely framed with strawberry forests, and home to the Temple of ancient Roman deity Diana, Nemi is one of Italy’s more mysterious lakes.
Diana of Nemi, or ‘Diana of the woods’, was believed to be the goddess of hunting, controller of the moon, birthing and fertility in ancient Roman times. The berries are, therefore, supposed to be all the more delicious because of the fertile lands surrounding her temple, a short walk from the lake. The lake has been referred to by poets as Speculum Dianae, Diana’s Mirror, because of the full moon reflection off the surface of the water when viewed from the Temple of Diana.
The multi-tasking goddess was believed to have taken on many deity duties, and was one of three maiden goddesses who swore never to marry, along with Minerva and Vesta.
With the mix of ancient Roman history and the succulent specialities of berries, wild boar, good wine and local funghi porcini (porcini mushrooms) on the menus, the local economy manages to sustain itself. Local artists also celebrate the legendary goddess Diana and invite visitors in to see their galleries and enjoy a glass of Prosecco, with strawberries, of course! There is a beautiful myth that describes how the tears of the goddess Venus transformed the blood of her contested lover Adonis, into small red hearts or strawberries, which conjures up yet more visions imaginable to ponder over the red vista of wild woods filled with strawberries.
Liquors, jams, teas, desserts and gelati, make the most of this delicious locally grown product.
What to see in Nemi:
Temple of Diana
Excavations in the 18th century led to the discovery of the Temple of Diana at Nemi, a relatively small building (98 by 52 feet), yet one of extreme importance. The remains of the temple precinct can still be seen and are a mere 5 minute drive from the lake.
The first temple honouring Diana in Rome was the Temple of Diana on the Aventine Hill. The Aventine Temple was established during the reign of King Tullius Servius in the sixth century BC and was modelled after the renowned Temple of Ephesus, though the cult of Artemis at Ephesus was distinct from the cult of Diana in Rome. There was a bronze pillar in Diana’s central Roman precincts, inscribed with laws governing the festivals of all Latin cities, testifying the political and cultural importance of this goddess in ancient Latium. She oversaw political treaties between tribes, laws, and the oldest traditions of Rome.
Nemi Boat Museum (Museo Delle Navi di Nemi)
A mini museum built by Mussolini at the beginning of the 20th Century. The museum boasts two Roman boats from the period of Caligula, the Emperor of Rome, found in lake Nemi, adorned with beautiful bronzes. (Via del Tempio di Diana, 13, Nemi – http://www.museonaviromane.it)
The ‘Fragoline di Bosco’ strawberry festival is one of Lazio’s most popular food festivals. Although May is the main month for the strawberry harvest in and around Nemi, related celebrations last until the end of June. The first weekend of June, there is the brilliant ‘sfilata delle fragolare’ with a parade through the town. Local women distribute strawberries, wearing traditional costume, and offer these delicacies to the crowd. A gesture that first took place just after WWI, but which also has traditional roots in ancient local history. In 2013, they celebrated the 80th anniversary of this event.
May or June would be the best time to dine in Nemi
When restaurants serve up special strawberry themed dishes with the wild little berries. Have you ever tasted strawberry risotto? You can try it at Lo Specchio di Diana restaurant. But any time of the year, there is always something divine on the menu, and its close proximity to Rome makes this an ideal day trip next time you are in the Eternal City and fancy a day trip out.
Restaurants: Ramo d’Oro, via Nemorense, Nemi Tel +39 06 936 8048 Lo Specchio di Diana, Corso Vittorio Emanuele 13, Nemi Tel +39 06 936 8805
Printed in Italy Magazine May 2014 to read more: http://www.italymagazine.com/featured-story/lake-nemi-and-its-wild-berry
words by Nicola Ferlei-Brown