Bracciano & the Castello Odescalchi, Lazio

Hillside castle and town overlooking Lake Bracciano

Bracciano is a small, quiet town in central Italy. Although off the usual tourist trail, it has a picturesque setting above a lake and an impressive castle which is open to the public.

Where is Bracciano?

Bracciano (population: 16,000) is in central Italy, around 21 miles (34km) north-west of Rome. The town is situated in the Lazio region, and is part of the province of Rome (Provincia di Roma), although Bracciano isn’t far from the northern Lazio province of Viterbo. The town is on a hill above the south-western shores of Lake Bracciano (Lago di Bracciano).


What to do in Bracciano

There is only one real tourist attraction in Bracciano: the Castello Odescalchi, featured below. However, the medieval lanes are romantic and evocative and worth exploring. Climbing the lane to the right of the castle walls visitors will find themselves in a place that time seems to have forgotten: a warren of winding, sloping medieval lanes and alleys. Around the far side of this little hilltop is a pretty belvedere with lovely peaceful views over Lake Bracciano and the green countryside speckled with olive groves and woodlands. There are benches to sit on here, and also a path heading downhill through the countryside (perhaps towards the lake?). This was offically roped off on our last visit, although locals had moved the barrier aside (we didn’t investigate).

Bracciano’s main square, Piazza IV Novembre, is a pleasant, slow-tempo place to sit where local residents pass the time of day. In one corner is a green tourist information kiosk (limited opening hours). If open, this can provide more information about the area and the small town museum, the Museo Civico.

After the castle and the medieval quarter, Bracciano’s principal attraction is the lake of the same name, a walk or drive down the hill. Lake Bracciano is impressively large, with a perimeter of 20 miles. One of several circular lakes in Lazio which are ancient volcanic craters, it is rich in wildlife; its fish and eels supplying many fine local restaurants. In addition to fishing, the waters are also used for sports: swimming, sailing, canoeing and windsurfing. In the summer months visitors can take boat trips around the lake.

The town’s most interesting church, the Chiesa di San Liberato, boasts an eleventh-century belltower – said to be the oldest in Lazio. Located just to the north of the town, it’s now part of a commercialised complex offering fairytale weddings – contact in advance if you wish to visit. Most of the church is fifteenth-century, although a church was first built here long before, from the remains of the ruined Roman town of Forum Clodii. Inside, as well as relics of this long history, there are some appealing frescoes dating to the fifteenth century. Around the church are lovely gardens designed forty years ago by the aristocratic owners and garden designer Russell Page.

Castello Odescalchi

Bracciano’s massive castle, also called Castello Orsini Odescalchi after two of the noble families which owned the site, is Bracciano’s great landmark, dominating the town and lake. The castle is open to the public, and is well worth visiting. Admission costs €7, with guided tours every hour. Opening hours are listed on the castle’s website (see links panel on the right). Bear in mind that it is closed on Mondays (apart from August) and also closes at lunchtime. Guided tours last an hour and are in Italian, but if you book ahead you may be able to arrange a tour in English. During the tour you visit grand halls and shudder-inducing weapons collections, as well as accessing the rather romantic battlements. It may be a solid and tough edifice built for military purposes, but the period furnishings and the atmosphere are surprisingly charming and you can see why the castle has been the location for Italian celebrity weddings. It was here that Hollywood stars Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes held their wedding party. It is regularly hired out for grand events like parties and corporate receptions.

Food and drink

This is a good area for dining, as the local countryside produces a rich range of produce – fish and eels from the lake are local specialities, along with nuts and game from the surrounding countryside. In the piazza-cum-car park outside the castle entrance there is a handful of places to eat and drink. Vino e Camino is a good, welcoming restaurant where you can enjoy local dishes and wines. Bracciano offers several pleasant picnic spots, including a little green public park down the hill between the piazza and the castle.

How to visit Bracciano

In the surrounding area, as well as the great tourist centre of Rome, there are several intriguing Etruscan sites and the once-important medieval centre of Viterbo. Although little known to foreign tourists, this area north of Rome and south of Tuscany contains many interesting historical sites, unspoilt town centres and the opportunity to spend some peaceful time off the busy tourist trail.

To explore the countryside and villages effectively, you’ll really need to hire a car. But a certain amount of sightseeing can be done by public transport. We’d recommend Bracciano as an unusual day trip from Rome, or an extension to a longer day out in Viterbo. Since the hourly Rome – Viterbo train passes through Bracciano, visitors can hop off the train, explore the little town, then hop on a later train to continue their journey. If you are planning this, simply buy single tickets for the two legs of your journey.

The view over Lake Bracciano towards Anguillara

Around Lake Bracciano – Anguillara and Trevignano

If you are spending time in the Bracciano area, consider visiting the other lakeshore towns of Anguillara Sabazia and Trevignano Romano. Anguillara is picturesquely located on a sloping headland, with a fortress, a medieval historic centre and 16th-century town gates. Apparently a miracle took place in the lakeside church of Santa Maria delle Grazie in 1976: a statue of the Madonna moved her eyes. Little Trevignano, meanwhile, has a little lakeshore promenade and a ruined fortress. There is a small archaeological museum in the Palazzo Comunale (town hall) which contains some Etruscan tomb-goods.

How to get to Bracciano by public transport

Bracciano is on a slow commuter railway line between Rome and Viterbo. Services are generally hourly, and stop at a variety of Rome stations; the best starting point is Stazione Ostiense (take Metro linea B to Piramide, then follow signs from the front of the platform along passages to the main railway station). It’s a long, slow journey, but once you get away from the expanding suburbs of Rome it becomes fairly scenic. You could combine an hour or two in Bracciano with a visit to the larger (and more interesting) provincial capital, Viterbo. Tickets are priced by kilometre: expect to pay €2.50 between Bracciano and either Rome or Viterbo. There is a ticket desk at Bracciano station, but it’s a good idea to to buy all your tickets at the start of your journey to avoid delays.

From the railway station, turn right to reach the centre of town. Continue until you reach a crossroads, and you should be able to see the castle down the road to the left. As you walk towards it, you will pass the Piazza IV Novembre on your left. To reach the public park (a pleasant picnic spot) turn left after the piazza.

Bracciano is also served by Cotral buses from Rome, which leave from the Saxa Rubra stop (on the urban railway from Flaminio).

Bracciano accommodation

Not many tourists choose to stay in Bracciano. Nearby Viterbo is a busier town with more accommodation options, and makes a more practical base for exploring the area. However, for holiday-makers who want a quiet and relaxing break, or for those who have hired a car, staying in the local countryside could be a good choice.
> Villa Clementina -a good lakeside country hotel
> La Colombaia nel Castello – smart self-catering apartments in the heart of Bracciano
> More hotels, B&Bs, villas, apartments and agriturismi around Bracciano

Useful external links

Bracciano area accommodation

Italy car hire

Comune di Bracciano

Castello Odescalchi

San Liberato

Trevignano Museum