Great Lake: Italy's Lake Garda

Following in the footsteps of poets in another Lake District, we explore Italy’s Lake Garda


A lake as beautiful as the beginning of creation,” said DH Lawrence — for no scenic clichés can do Lake Garda justice.

Its loveliness has been an inspiration to some of history’s most famous literary figures. Tennyson, Byron, Dante, all have had their say about the lake, along with Lawrence, who lived and wrote here for a while.

With the sun shining, friends alongside and ice cream in my hand, it certainly feels close to paradise. And even better, there’s far more to Italy’s largest lake than simply soaking up the views.

Based in Bardolino, we started our explorations here, our hotel just metres from the lakeside promenade and five minutes walk into town. Gathered around a tiny harbour, its buildings date back to the 9th century, with tourism and wine driving the economy for its small population of 7,000.

More than 70 vineyards operate around the hills surrounding Bardolino’s shores, and one of the better known is the full bodied red that shares its name.

Of course, in the interests of journalistic research I had to sample a glass of Bardolino Classico. The verdict? Good enough to decide I should sample it most nights!

Set in the middle of the eastern side of the lake, once you’ve strolled its mile-long Thursday market and explored the streets where gelaterias grace every street corner, the best way to get around is by boat, with ferries, hyrdofoils and pleasure cruises criss-crossing the water.

About an hour north lies Malcesine and its unmissable Monte Baldo cable car, which reaches an altitude of 1,760 meters. The enclosed glass cabin, with space for up to 45 people, slowly rotates offering a 360 degree view and the sensation of flying. Despite my dislike of heights, the breathtaking panorama encouraged me to brave this attraction, even occasionally opening my eyes!

On a clear day, for those who have their eyes fully open the whole time, you can see up to Riva in the north, down to Peschiera del Garda in the south.

Or sailing to the south of the lake lies the popular resort of Sirmione whose historical centre is pedestrianised, its narrow winding lanes busy with tourists, most of whom are again tucking into creatively flavoured ice creams.

Dominated by a 13th century castle, the Rocca Scaligera, the town is also home to the ruined Villa Romana, large and impressive at the end of the headland. The poet Catullus had a family home in the Sirmione area, so historically this site has been associated with him, and known as the Grotte di Catullo, or caves of Catullus.

For a more active option, there are miles of safe pathways around the lake to walk or cycle. Renting a bike is easy and cheap too, less than £4 for a half day from my hotel.

At around six miles there and back, I decided to take on the picturesque lakeside cycle route from Bardolino to the town of Garda: short enough for me to cope with, yet long enough to fool myself into believing I was getting some real exercise.

Despite the old saying that you never forget how to ride a bike, I obviously had! It’s around 25 years since I sat in the saddle for any length of time and it showed. My wobbly first 100 yards gave me several close encounters with hedges, trees, and small children who were far more proficient than I was.

However, once I got my balance and nerve back, riding in the warm sunshine at the side of the turquoise lake with the heady aroma of honeysuckle in the air was simply bliss. A wonderful experience made even better after a stop for a dip.

Tempting though it is to stay along the lake’s shores, Bardolino is only around 20 miles from the fascinating city of Verona, and easy to reach by bus. Away from the crowded Juliet’s balcony, there are Jewish landmarks to discover, with tours of the city’s ghetto and the German rites synagogue, which was opened in 1864.

For music lovers, the city is also home to the famous Verona opera in the massive Roman amphitheatre with Carmen and Aida among this season’s repertoire.

Whatever you see, this is a musical experience that you will always remember — although if you are sitting on the famous stone steps, then make sure you take advantage of the cushion hire facility to ensure it’s not only the backache which stays in your memory!

With more views, more lakeside towns, and even more ice cream flavours to discover, our week went too quickly.

At least I could reassure myself it will remain eternally beautiful when one day I return.


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