Virgil’s fictional character Aeneas wandered down to Lago Averno with the Sibyl, determined to travel to Hades and consult his dead father. The name of the lake, as Book Six of The Aeneid tells us, comes from the Greek word aernos meaning the place without birds. In Virgil’s time, the sulfurous steam from the bubbling vents of Solfatara very likely wafted to this lake, giving it a rotten smell, which made all the birds flee.
Today, Lago Averno is a water-filled crater dotted with ducks and geese. Discos and restaurants line the lake, which is popular with teenagers who find this an excellent spot to display their open affections.
A footpath circles the entire lake, punctuated with nature huts that give descriptions of the unique animals and plants inhabiting the crater. On one end of the trail, the ancient Grotta di Cocceio once was a Roman military tunnel that connected the lake with Cuma, but it’s now closed due to structural problems.
On the other side of the lake, vineyards testify to the rich volcanic soils that make everything grow here, including excellent grapes for wine. Next to the vineyards, a Temple of Apollo juts out from the dirt. During the equinoxes and solstices, a group of earth lovers gather inside the temple for a festival.
Due to bradyseism, about thirty feet of dirt buries the temple, actually believed to have been a bathing complex that harnessed underground hydrothermal activity. Only the dome can be seen, but its massive proportions show that this building once towered several stories high and probably had a technologically advanced hydraulics system.
Getting There: From Naples, take the Tangenziale in the direction of Pozzuoli. Exit n. 14 Pozzuoli – Arco Felice. Follow signs for Napoli-Pozzuoli, Baia and Bacoli. When you arrive at Arco Felice, turn right. Drive down the road and when you see the Bay on one side and Lake Lucrino in front of you, turn right. Go down the road until you reach the lake.