The Italian lakes sound like a holiday for Nan and Granddad, but the reality is far from it. Streets are lined with honey coloured walls and decked with faultlessly glamourous Italians bathing in the warmth of the Dolce Vita (and it’s not difficult to see why this is truly an Italian phrase once you’ve consumed your third ice cream cone of the day).
More often than not ‘the biggest’ turns out to be the worst – think of chain restaurants and hotels, where giant price tags affix themselves to familiar names, all for a taste of roasted disappointment. This is not the case with Italy’s largest lake however, as the towns surrounding Lake Garda are small and authentic, still offering you the chance to find those teeny, backstreet restaurants with space for 8, whose chequered table cloths will recall quieter days.
The plan of attack for Lake Garda should involve a visit to the prettiest towns surrounding the lake, many a boat trip atop the pristine, aquamarine water and as much gelato, gnocchi and pasta as one can acceptable consume in polite society.
The most convenient airports for getting to the lake are Verona or Brescia, and from there you can take a short train ride on to one of the lakeside towns.
Ideally, it is better to choose one lakeside hotel and stat put, rather than lugging your belongings back and forth across the lake. From your base point, it’s easy to access any of the towns by catching a lake ferry – though be careful to give those jetty timetables a thorough once-over, as the timetables aren’t always suited to the zippy, cram-it-all-in traveller. This is Italy, after all; the land where they appreciate “dolce far niente’ – the pleasure of idleness.
Every trip should include a visit to the town of Sirmione on the southern shore. The town’s moated, 13th century castle “Rocca Scaligera” (try pronouncing that one with Italian flair!) provides fantastic views across the lake, if you have the energy or motivation to make it up to the top. For those in it for the relaxation, a visit to the hot springs, such as Terme di Sirmione, is in order. Hot springs have been used over the centuries for their healing properties, and whilst the sceptic might find this notion a questionable tourism ploy, the waters will undoubtedly leave your skin softer and your mind refreshed after a good soak.
Next up on the agenda is Gardaland. You don’t need to be with kids to enjoy this fantastic theme park and, after all, not the entire getaway can’t be spent sighing over views of the lake and sipping wine.
The second town of interest is Malcesine, with the stunning Scaligero Castle, perched high on a cliff overlooking the lake. This is a popular wedding spot, so don’t be surprised if you see dozens of well-dressed, good-looking Italians skirting around. Literary lovers will also enjoy indulging in extracts of Goethe’s writing, and accounts of his castle visits.
Forgetting fears of heights will also allow you to take a cable car up Mount Baldo to visit the restaurant and shop at the top, as well as providing you with one of the best photo opps of the trip. Finally, after a tiring day of sight-seeing, the well-regarded Ristorante Al Gondoliere is the place to be for the best homemade gnocci around. This restaurant serves the kind of food that has you Googling local house rental prices.
Finally, top off your trip with a visit to Riva Del Garda. At the very north of the lake, the scenery here transforms from towns and medieval alleyways to glorious mountain backdrops and fjords. This part of the island is much less built up, and is also considered the best ice cream stop off point (a well-loved favourite is the Gelateria Flora whose sundaes will make you come back for round two). The more adventurous travellers will also delight in the treks into the mountains, which will bring you to waterfalls, Bronze Age settlements and castle ruins.
So what do you think? Have you packed yet? Let us know about your experience of Lake Garda below!