Ahhh… Italy. Just the thought of this beautiful country brings a smile to my face. Among all the places that I’ve visited, Italy definitely ranks in the top 5. Okay, okay, maybe even in the top 3. In Italy I’ve seen big cities like Florence and Rome, visited tourist attractions like the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Cinque Terre, and have swum in the Mediterranean Sea, but I must confess that my favorite places in Italy are towns with roads so tiny that two cars cannot pass at the same time and where taking a walk is the best way to get from point A to point B, far away from thousands of tourists who visit daily during peak season. Yes, for me, Italy’s charm is in the life of its small towns.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Lake Garda in the past few years, and can honestly say I’ve fallen in love with the area. Located in the northwestern part of the country, this area is also known as the lake region, because of Lakes Garda, Maggiore and Como. Lake Garda lies nestled among mountains, against a backdrop of a beautiful blue sky on a sunny day, and when you look into the water you’ll see hundreds of small sails as people enjoy watersports for a good part of the year.
And yes, there are big hotels in the area that are as exclusive and expensive as can be, but there are also many tiny, often family run accommodations that are an affordable and comfortable option. There are also many campsites around the lake, for people who like to bring their accommodations with them.I will write in depth in a later article about our wonderful stay In Lake Garda, but for now let me offer a few general travel tips if you are planning to visit the area.
- The best time to go is between June and September, when the weather is uniformly glorious. Actually, many of the tourist places around Lake D=Garda are only open from April through maybe the first week of October, if good weather holds. Don’t forget that this is the northern part of Italy and gets very cold quite earlier. From the autostada (highway) leading to Lake Garda you can already see the Dolomites, a high mountain region that gets snow as early as October.
One warning though: in the summer prices for accommodations are higher, there are more tourists, and traffic around the lake can set your journey back by a couple (or more) hours, but summer is when there’s the best weather for actually swimming in Lake Garda, and even then it is still very cold.
- Wear good, comfortable shoes—The towns around Lake Garda (Riva del Garda, Limone, Malcesine, etc) are full of paths where you can walk and walk and walk some more. And if you are trekking up and down mountains, good hiking boots are a must.
In fact, you might barely even sit down, except to enjoy a cup of coffee by the lake. But even food can be consumed while walking. Enjoy the pizza sold on the street for 2 euros, and also gelato (ice cream) that’s also sold for 2 euros. There is nothing like Italian gelato—it is beyond amazing. Flavors go far beyond chocolate, strawberry, vanilla. You’ll find lime basil, chocolate with pepper, fig, and even rice flavored ice cream. Yes, rice.
- Spend a day in Malcesine. Yes, it may be the most touristy of the places around Lake Garda, but that doesn’t makle it any less worth visiting. Malcesine’s got a castle that’s at least a few hundred years old, and, you can only get to Mount Baldo through Malcesine. Take the cable car up the mountain for a fabulous 360 degree view of the lake. It’s pretty spectacular. But bring a sweater, even in the summer. The mountaintop gets cold. A bonus for literature buffs is that Goethe, the author of Faust, actually stayed at Malcesine, and so you’ll find tributes to him in different places around town.
- It is also possible to take day trips out of the Lake Garda area. The Trentino wine region is nearby, and so you can go visit different vineyards for wine-tasting tours. Might as well also visit the makers of balsamic vinegar, some of whom use casks and barrels that are hundreds of years old. The city of Verona is also nearby, and whether you’re a star-crossed lover or not, you may want to visit Juliet’s balcony in town, where handsome young Romeos undoubtedly abound.
Italy’s Lake Garda may not be as well known as Milan, Venice or Florence, but it has many charms of its own to enchant and delight you on your holiday there.