About a week ago, Morgan and I went to Nemi for lunch and a wander with our friend Jane. Nemi is a little town in the Alban Hills, about 30 km southeast of Rome. It overlooks a volcanic crater lake, also called Nemi. Back in the day, the area was the centre of a very famous Roman cult to Diana of Nemi, which (pedant alert!) features prominently in The Golden Bough, the seminal comparative study of religion and mythology by Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer. Caligula used to run luxury barges on the lake, including a floating palace filled with marble geegaws, mosaic floors, heating and plumbing. Scuttled after Caligula’s overthrow, the boats were salvaged by Mussolini (who else?) who ordered the lake to be lowered using underground canals built by the Ancient Romans.
But we weren’t particularly interested in any of that, having come to Nemi for the food. Nemi is famous for its tiny, supersweet wild strawberries or fragoline, which grow on the sides of the volcanic crater. The nearby town of Ariccia is best known for porchetta: a whole deboned pig rolled in herbs, spitted and roasted, traditionally over wood. Porchetta is a prodotto agroalimentare tradizionale, meaning a culturally significant agricultural food of Italy. Ancient Roman texts mention it as far back as 400 B.C. Porchetta was a favorite meal of Nero’s, and often served at Roman banquets and orgies and the like.
Nemi is a pretty little town with lots of places to stop off for a quick bite to eat and a nice view of the lake. The smell of the fragoline is intoxicating and inescapable. We had a nice plate of porchetta and delicious hand-cut prosciutto for lunch along with a great big bowl of the ripest reddest little tomatoes—my desert island food.
After a brisk walk around the town, we stopped in for some fragoline and ice cream. Well, I had the ice cream. Jane was more modest and stuck to the lemon juice topper (mine was better).
Afterwards, we visited Lake Albano, another crater lake quite close to Nemi. At 180 m, it’s the deepest lake in the region of Lazio and is overlooked by the Pope’s weekend digs at Castel Gandolfo. The canoeing and rowing events of the 1960 Rome Olympics took place at Lake Albano. It’s a lot more accessible than Lake Nemi and there are some scruffy grass beaches. Morgan was extremely interested in the lake given that that the largest body of water he’d glimpsed heretofore had been in my bathtub.
He did a bit of wading but stopped short of a dip.
I don’t blame him at all. The water was freezing.