Do you know Lake Tovel? I’m sure you do, it’s famous across Europe because it used to turn red, making it unique in the world! Today though its waters vary between blue and incredible shades of green. Without doubt, it is one of the places that you have to visit if you come to the Val di Non!
Let me tell you about perhaps the best known place in the Val di Non: Lake Tovel. This place has been the subject of many books and much research but above all it is a magical place! I come here at all times of the year and even though it gives me a different sensation every time, it always steals my heart!
My father saw it turn red every summer until 1964 but I can assure that even though it no longer has that ruby colour, it will still leave you open-mouthed! Coming here to this quiet place, looking up and seeing the Brenta Dolomites in front of me, reflected in these crystal-clear waters, is an experience that is hard to explain. I always bring my trusty camera with me and try to convey in my photos the wonder that I experience when I see it with my own eyes.
Why should you come here? Because you will truly feel like you are in the heart of the natural world, because the water is so clear that some people call it Trentino’s Caribbean and above all because, in autumn, the trees around the lake are a riot of colours that you cannot miss.
The red waters of Lake Tovel
Until a little while ago, it was thought that Lake Tovel used to turn red was because of the presence of an alga, Glenodinium sanguineum. The alga, which has a plasma that contains oily substances coloured by carotenoid pigments, was thought to cause the waters of the lake to turn red when it came to the surface in the summer months. This phenomenon has not been seen since 1964, probably due to the reduced numbers of cows up in the summer pastures; it was in fact the cow’s droppings which provided the nutrients for the algae to feed on. Recently, the Istituto Agrario di San Michele all’Adige discovered that the reddening of the waters of Lake Tovel was not caused by Glenodinium but by three species of algae: Tovellia Sanguinea (a “red” species today found in small quantities, given the lack of nutrients), Baldinia Anauniensis (a “green” species today found in vast quantities, giving the lake its current distinctive colour) and a third one whose identity is still the subject of research.
The legend of Lake Tovel
Until the end of the 1960s Lake Tovel’s owed its fame not just to its wonderful romantic atmosphere but also for the reddening of its waters. For a period of time each year, the shores of the lake would turn a bright red colour. The sight was very picturesque and it comes as no surprise that, over the centuries, it gave rise to numerous stories and legends about the cause of this phenomenon. The most famous of these is the legend of Queen Tresegna.
The story tells of a far-off time when Ragoli, now a small village in the Val Rendena, was a very rich town, ruled by a great king. One day, the last king of Ragoli died without a male heir, leaving only a beautiful daughter called Tresegna. The townsfolk were very worried because they all knew that if the princess got married their whole kingdom would become the property of a foreign sovereign and all the people of Ragoli would lose their wealth. However, Tresegna was a very intelligent young lady who loved her people so much that she solemnly swore to forsake any marriage proposal in order to protect her kingdom. The beauty and wealth of the young queen were, however, well known to all of the young suitors in the surrounding lands who had no intention of missing out on the opportunity to become sovereign of such a powerful kingdom and, at the same time, being married to the most beautiful princess ever seen. The most stubborn and conceited one was the young, arrogant king of Tuenno, called Lavinio. Twice he tried to win the heart of Tresegna, first by demonstrating his great power with magnificent gifts, and then seeking to touch the princess’ heart with a simple bunch of flowers. In both instances, Tresegna’s reply was an indignant refusal. The double blow to the young king’s pride soon transformed his love into rage, so much so that Lavinio gathered his armies and decided to march on Ragoli and raze it to the ground.
Tresegna, on hearing from her messengers of Lavinio’s punitive assault, asked her subjects if they would prefer to see her marry the king of Tuenno or fight a battle which could cost them their lives. The population of Ragoli had no doubts and immediately sided with the young queen, deciding to risk everything for their freedom. The Ragoli people marched to the shores of Lake Tovel where they found Lavinio’s army camped for the night. A bloody battle began which lasted for several days. The Tuenno army was too strong and well-trained for the weak but determined force from Ragoli. Before long, all of the people of Ragoli had been savagely killed and, last of all, even the beautiful Tresegna perished, after having fought tenaciously alongside her people. Her blood and that of her subjects flowed into the waters of Lake Tovel and turned it a macabre scarlet colour. Since that sad day, once a year, on the anniversary of the grizzly battle, the waters of the lake would magically turn red and there are some who swear that, even today, when the moon is full, the sad figure of the beautiful Tresegna roams yearningly along the shores of the lake.