Travel Italy: Exploring Lake Garda

Mike Ashcroft and Diane James Explore Lake Garda, Italy

Mike Ashcroft and Diane James Explore Lake Garda, Italy

Travel Italy: Exploring Lake Garda

By Mike Ashcroft and Diane James

I believe that every person who loves to travel, and enjoy the scenery, food and drink, and people they meet, should visit Lake Garda at least once in their lives.

Fabulous Food in Mantua, Italy

Fabulous Food in Mantua, Italy

Set where the Alps and the Dolomite Mountains meet, Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy at 150 square-miles, and is deep enough to have several shipwrecks (if you are into scuba diving).

Exploring Lake Garda, Italy

Exploring Lake Garda, Italy

Edged by towns and villages straight out of the “most beautiful you could ever imagine” selection of places, my better half (Diane), and I spent an amazing two weeks here at the top half of the lake at beautiful Malcesine (pronounced Mal-chay-zin-ay) with is winding streets, pretty harbor and imposing Castle – which is over a thousand years old.

We stayed at the family-run 3-star Hotel Astoria in Campagnola, 2 miles outside of Malcesine, as the Tripadvisor reviews were excellent. It may have had 3 starts over the door but everyone who works there thinks it’s 5 star. The large pool and grassed area is immaculate, and it is right on the beach (shingles not sand). We had a half-board package with excellent breakfasts and dinners.

We flew into Verona airport and rented a car, which proved to be a good idea, as we saw more than most would in two weeks. If you don’t want to drive the public transport system is good and also cheap.

So, what were the highlights?

Malcesine itself is lovely, with its winding cobbled streets that lead down to the lake or up to the castle. The many water ferries on the lake, including a 100-year-old paddle steamer, all stop here at the harbor, and you can reach everywhere using these. A more picturesque and romantic public transport system you will find hard to equal.

Malcesine, Italy

Malcesine, Italy

From Malcesine, you must take the cable car up Monte Baldo, 6000+ feet, but get there early on a clear day as the queues will be long. The views from the top are breathtaking!

Over the lake is gorgeous Limone. A stunning little town with several small harbors filled with colorful boats. The streets are narrow and covered with bougainvillea. Why not, having walked around the town, sit and do what everybody does? Treat yourself to the local drink, Aperol Spritz, a refreshing and tasty mild cocktail, and watch the boats coming in and out. Bliss.

Limone, Italy

Limone, Italy

At the top of the lake is Riva del Garda, a medium-sized town that is capital of the lake. In all these places you will find abundant churches, and Riva is not an exception. The interior is beautiful.

Riva del Garda, Italy

Riva del Garda, Italy

The old part of Riva, inside the walls, is the nicest part, with its 165-feet tall clock tower, which you can climb for great views of the town and the lake. (I chickened out, but Diane is made of stronger stuff and took some good photos from the top.)

Further down the lake, on the Malcesine side you will find the town of Garda itself. Nice enough to visit, but personally I was a little disappointed after the other beautiful places we visited.

Just south of Garda is Bardolino, which, if you are a fan of Italian wine, will sound familiar. This whole area is wine growing country, with Bardolino, Valpolicella, and Amarone all coming from here.

I loved Bardolino, it is picture perfect, with the inevitable harbor and promenade. Its lovely streets and shops take some beating. You will not be short of a bar or pretty restaurant here either.

The next town south is Lazise, yet another gorgeous little town in its ancient city walls with the now predictable, but none-the-less lovely small streets leading to another pretty harbor.

At the bottom end of the lake is Sirmione, a walled and moated town that juts out on a finger into the lake. The town itself is lovely enough, but if you like walking, you can walk to the end of the peninsular, and see Roman and prehistoric ruins – worth the walk. Maria Callas lived here, and her house had stunning views out over the lake.

Further round the lake is the Gardone Riviera, a collection of pretty little towns and villages that have one of the best climates you will find. The whole area is more Mediterranean than alpine, with very warm summers, but skiing in the winter.

Slightly further afield:

Within less than an hours drive is the beautiful ancient city of Verona. You may have heard about a couple of stories from our own William Shakespeare that were set here. Two Gentlemen of Verona is one, but the most famous love story in history, Romeo and Juliet, is also from here.

Juliet's Balcony in Verona

Juliet’s Balcony in Verona

You may visit, and even stand on, Juliet’s famous balcony to ask wherefore your own love art. But the Duoma (Italian for Cathedral) is worth seeing, as are several other churches for their architecture and beautiful interiors.

You can easily spend several days here but, if you’re energetic, it can be seen in a day. If you are a fan of opera, the ancient Roman Arena (a smaller version of Rome’s Collisseum) has regular concerts of world class opera and classical music.

Diane in front of the Roman arena in Verona, Italy

Diane in front of the Roman arena in Verona, Italy

There is a small tourist street train that starts from in front of the arena, and there are open-topped buses that also operate.

We decided that we would cram into our holiday as much as we could, and wanted to visit Mantova (Mantua), and Padova (Padua), both of which are within reach of where we stayed. Mantova was a 60-minute drive and Padova was 90 minutes.

Basilica of Sant'Andrea in Mantua, Italy

Basilica of Sant’Andrea in Mantua, Italy

If you have the time you MUST visit these two ancient cities:

Library in Mantua, Italy

Library in Mantua, Italy

Mantova, is on Lake Superiore, and has impressive walls and palaces. The highlights for us were the theatre, which was small but so lovely, and the library, which you can only see by asking to be let in (it’s free though). Gifted by Marie Antoinette to the city, it had two large library rooms stacked with valuable books, lit by huge Murano crystal chandeliers.

Padova, Italy

Padova, Italy

Padova is larger but even more impressive, The Palace of Regions was especially good, with its amazing architecture and stunning roof. It’s a large hall with a 600-year old, 20-foot-high horse at one end. Once your eyes get used to the light the decoration is beautiful. There is a black line crossing the center of the floor. Above this, high up on the wall is a bronze face of the sun, with a tiny hole at the mouth. On midsummers day at noon, the sun comes through this hole and follows the black line across the hall. It this was made over six centuries ago!

Scrovegni Chapel in Padova

Scrovegni Chapel in Padova

The jewel of the city of Padova though is the Scrovegni Chapel. It is the masterpiece of the painter Giotto, and its paintings and murals shaped art for the next 500 years. Either book in advance or arrive early, buy your ticket, and see the rest of the city until your allotted time arrives. I PROMISE you will not be disappointed. I was blown away by its beauty, and bearing in mind that the paintings on the walls and ceiling are over 700-years-old, how stunning it still is. This, on its own, was worth the trip to Italy!

So, I hope I’ve sparked your interest in seeing all of these wonders for yourself. We have travelled extensively all over the world, and I can promise you will be hard pressed to find a more stunning area to visit.

Ciao.

Exploring the Villages along Lake Garda

Exploring the Villages along Lake Garda

BIO
Mike Ashcroft and Diane James live in the middle of beautiful England. They have been in love and together since 2002. This cruise was their 110th holiday together, so they don’t have a whole lot of money left, but boy have they got memories, photos and new friends out of it. Mike and Di are both 63, still working (they need to fund their fabulous holidays), and are parents and grandparents (and proud of each one of them).

 

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