Lake Pilato can be found in the Sibillini mountains, 1,941m above sea level near the summit of Mount Vettore, in the province of Ascoli Piceno, Le Marche, not far from the Umbrian border.
It is set in a bowl, enclosed in a narrow glacial valley with the slopes of the Apennine mountains creating walls around it. Lago di Pilato is an alpine glacier lake, one of only a few found on the Apennines, and, other than coastal lakes, it is the only natural lake in Le Marche. It was formed during the last ice age, between 125,000 and 10,000 years ago, and is fed by a natural spring but is also effected by rainfall and melting snow. Roughly 130 metres wide it has a perimeter of 900 metres and a depth of just under nine metres.
During winter months the lake cannot be seen as it is covered with a thick blanket of snow, often several metres thick. It was once oval in shape but now, as the snows begin to melt and the water is high, it resembles a pair of glasses.
Looking like glasses - Photo:nicola_ds
During the summer, when the water levels drop, the lake splits into two and it then resembles two bears, both in different positions.
Looking like two bears - Photo:Andreas Aldebaran
The weather conditions are relatively harsh and little grows with the landscape being dominated by alpine grasses. However, some rare flowers grow, including Apennine Edelweiss, Saxifraga, Apennine Genepi and the beautiful yellow Apennine poppy.
Apennine Edelweiss - Photo:Interminatispazi
There are many birds including the Peregrin Falcon, Snowfinch, Rock Partridge and the Alpine Accentor.
The lake itself hosts a small shrimp known as the 'Chirocephalus marchesonii' and this is the only place in the world that it can be found. This small crustacean, measuring between and 9mm and 12mm, is a species of fairy shrimp. The Chirocephalus marchesonii is slow moving and has a distinctive, bright coral colour. Another noteable feature is that they always swim on their backs.
Chirocephalus Marchesonii - Photo:Luca-G
Due to the fact the Chirocephalus marchesonii lay their eggs among the dry rocks on the shore, you are asked to avoid treading on them by always walking at least 5 metres from the edge. Swimming in the lake is also strictly forbidden.
Lago di Pilato is only accessible on foot and is a popular destination for hikers. The most common starting point is from the small village of Foce
Foce, near Montemonaco.
The lake in summer - Photo:Idéfix
As well as being a very popular trekking destination, Lago di Pilato is traditionally famous for being a place full of magic and mystery. It takes its name from Pontius Pilate, whose body, after being condemned to death by Tiberius, was put into a sack and loaded onto a buffalo cart. According to legend, the buffalo was unsupervised and made a hazardous journey through the mountains, to the crest of 'Redeemer's Summit', which resulted in the body falling into Lago di Pilato. Because of this, the lake became popular with witches and necromancers who built stone walls around it to prevent Christians from entering. They even spread a rumour that the lake was secretly the entrance to hell.