Love Touring Italy - Lake Garda
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If you are looking for a
European tourist destination, consider Lake Garda located mostly in the
Lombardy region of northern Italy. Depending on your interests, this beautiful
area might be an ideal vacation spot. You can get classic Italian food,
and wash it down with fine local wine. It is hardly an undiscovered area,
but that shouldnít stop you from going. With a little effort you should
be able to find some relatively untouched spots. Be sure to read the companion
articles in this series that present Milan, small town Lombardy outside
of its capital Milan, and the Lake Como district. While people often think
of Lake Garda as being part of Lombardy that is not entirely true. This
beautiful lake spills over into the neighboring regions of Trentino-Alto
Adige and Veneto as indicated below.
|Lake Garda is an alpine
lake, formed by glaciers at the end of the last Ice Age roughly ten thousand
years ago. It is Italyís largest lake measuring about 30 miles (52 kilometers)
long and at most 10 miles (17 kilometers) wide. Near the lake the terrain
tends to be mountainous in the north and flat in the south. The lake is
relatively clean, but as tourism continues to expandÖ
We start our Lake Garda tour
at its northern tip, Riva del Garda, situated just inside the region of
Trentino-Alto Adige. We will travel counterclockwise around the lake, crossing
the border into Lombardy and stopping first at Tignale, then at Gargnano,
and next at Gardone Riviera with its historic neighbor Salo, and finally
at Sirmione near the lakeís southern tip. We then enter the Veneto region
stopping at Bardolino, Punta di San Virgilio, and finally Macesine, not
far from our starting point.
Riva del Garda is probably
the best-known resort on Lake Garda. Itís also one of the less expensive
areas around the lake. Youíll find a castle with a moat. The Museo Civico
(Civic Museum) is part of the Rocca, a medieval fortress on the lake. If
you donít know how to sail or windsurf donít despair, local schools can
Thirteenth Century Torre Apponale defended the city from invaders and held
prisoners. Look for Riva del Gardaís symbol, Anzolin, the little angel
on the top of the tower who welcomes all who enter the town as she spins
in the wind.
Tignale, our first stop in
Lombardy, is actually on the panoramic road off the main road. It consists
of six hamlets each about sixteen hundred feet (five hundred meters) above
sea level. This setting is great with its hills, mountains, ravines, olive
trees, and luxuriant vegetation. Early in the First Millenium Tignale was
evangelized and subsequently became the site of the Sanctuary of the Madonna
of the Star, or the Madonna of Montecastello, probably built upon a temple
to a pagan god. Later this area was fortified. Be sure to see the painting
of the pursuit and killing of a famous local bandit, Giovanni Beatrici
of Gargnano. Given the difficult terrain and the independent nature of
the local residents Tignale has been active during numerous wars. Some
military installations can still be seen in the area. Tignale is home to
the Visitorís Center of the Parco Alto Garda Bresciano (Upper Brescian
Garda Park) an Alpine landscape that covers almost 150 square miles (380
square kilometers) and nine local municipalities on Lake Gardaís western
Gargnano, population about
three thousand, is a great place for fishing, snorkeling, and sailing.
In fact it is one of the best places to sail on the western shore of Lake
Garda. The townís major attraction is the Chiesa di San Francesco (Cloister
of Saint Francis) and its campanile (bell tower). The church graveyard
contains Roman gravestones. As you walk around town you may see some houses
that still show the traces of cannon balls fired during the Third War of
Italian Independence in 1866.
In 1943 Mussolini founded
his short lived Repubblica Sociale Italia (Italian Social Republic) here.
He installed himself in a late Nineteenth Century art nouveau villa called
Villa Feltrinelli about two miles (three kilometers) north of town. You
can get your revenge by staying in Villa Feltrinelli, which is now an upscale
hotel, but youíll have to shell out big bucks to do so. Iím told that you
wonít be disappointed with its beauty and luxury including magnificent
gardens and a fine library. So we see that even towards the end of his
days, Benito was able to live well. Shortly thereafterÖ
Riviera, population twenty-five hundred, is best known for the mansion
Vittoriale degli Italiani (The shrine of Italian victories) and the major
Italian writer Gabriele d'Annunzio who lived there from 1922 until his
death in 1938. This building has been called a Fascist Luna Park so you
probably can guess d'Annunzioís politics. He was both Mussoliniís mentor
and major competitor. Mussolini purportedly stated: "When you are saddled
with a rotten tooth you have two possibilities open to you: either you
pull the tooth or you fill it with gold. With d'Annunzio I have chosen
for the latter treatment."
|So d'Annunzio enjoyed extensive
huge funds to expand the property, construct and/or modify the buildings
and to create its impressive art and literature collection. The Vittoriale
degli Italiani complex includes the plane which he flew over Vienna in
World War I and a light cruiser. In the interest of full disclosure díAnnunzio
did attempt to influence Italian politics almost until his death. In 1933
he wrote Mussolini trying to convince him to avoid making a pact with Hitler.
In 1934 he wrote a satirical pamphlet about Hitler. And in a 1937 meeting
in the Verona train station he tried to convince Mussolin to leave the
Can you guess who also lived
in Vittoriale degli Italiani? Mussoliniís mistress, Clara Petacci, conveniently
resided here to be close to her heart throb Benito when he was not exactly
roughing it in nearby Gargnanoís Villa Feltrinelli as described above.
Be sure to visit the two
acre (one hectare) Giardino Botanico (Botanical Garden) Andre Heller formerly
known as Giardino Botanico (Botanical Garden) Hruska. Youíll see thousands
of exotic Alpine, Mediterranean, and subtropical plants. Not bad for such
a small site.
The little town of Salo,
population ten thousand, once had big ambitions. It was the capital of
Mussolini's Nazi-backed puppet state, the Italian Social Republic, also
known as the Republic of Salò. Its main sights include a Fifteenth
Century Duomo (Cathedral), the Sixteenth Century Palazzo della Magnifica
Patria (Palace of the Magnificent Fatherland) with a historical museum
covering among other subjects, the Resistance against Fascism, and a Palace
hosting an archaeological museum. Every Saturday morning there is a great
outdoor market where you can forget about politics, but frankly this part
of Italy has not been a major political center for more than sixty years.
Sirmione, population about
seven thousand, is our last stop in Lombardy. This area was definitely
settled by people more than two thousand years ago; some may have lived
in houses on stilts. Its number one tourist attraction is the Grotte di
Catullo (Grotto of Catullus) a large rectangular structure said to have
been the site of the fun-loving Roman poet Catullus. The truth is that
his villa was most likely nearby. Some say this was once the finest private
villa in Northern Italy, others say it was a public bath with water piped
in from a nearby hot spring. Go visit the ruins and the museum anyway.
Stop by the Castello Scaligero
(Scaliger Castle) which dates back to the Thirteenth Century. You can climb
a tower to get a different perspective of Lake Garda. Churches to see include
the Lombard San Pietro in Mavino already renovated in the Fourteenth Century
with its collection of frescoes and a Romanesque bell tower dating from
the turn of the Millennium, and the Fifteenth Century Santa Maria Maggiore.
In 1889 a diver from Venice was laying pipes on Lake Garda's cracked, clayish
base when out gushed a sulfur spring from the bottom of the lake. To make
a long story short, Sirmione is now a spa town. Of more interest to the
kids is Italyís largest theme park, the Gardaland Theme Park with dolphins,
state-of-the-art roller coasters, and lots more. Itís about 8 miles (12
kilometers) east of Sirmione on the Veneto side of the border. Kids measuring
less than one meter tall get in free. (Usually we give dimensions in feet,
miles, etc. with the approximate metric equivalent in parentheses. In this
case, itís the metric measurement that counts, period.)
Bardolino, population somewhat
exceeding six thousand, is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Garda.
Itís the biggest resort on the lake with numerous shops and historical
remains. Bardolinoís main claim to fame is its wine, discussed at the end
of this article. In the fall it hosts an annual Cura dellíUva (Grape Cure)
Festival. Some of the participants put crushed grapes on their skin, others
drink grape juice, and still others drink the local wine. I think they
all have fun, even if they arenít cured.
The Romanesque San Severo
Church and San Zeno Church both date from around the turn of the Millennium.
San Severo is the most important church in the region and features huge
frescoes. San Zenoís chapel is considerably older than the church itself.
For a change of pace visit the local Oil Museum, devoted to olive oil,
not to petroleum products.
Stop to admire the Punta
San Virgilio (Saint Virgilís Promonotory), perhaps the most romantic spot
along the lake. Nearby is the Fifteenth Century Villa Guarienti di Bronzane
but you can only see it from the outside. The Parco Baia di Sirene (Mermaidís
Bay Park) for kids and adults is open to the public.
Malcesine, population thirty-five
hundred, also claims to be the most popular resort on the lake. Itís near
the mountains and provides several ski lifts. A cable car takes you to
the summit of Monte Baldo. If youíre ambitious head back down by mountain
bike. Be sure to see Castello Scaligero (Scaligero Castle). There are several
Italian castles carrying that name including one in Sirmione, but the Malcesine
version is said to be the best. You can even climb the tower and see the
town and its surroundings from above. But to my knowledge, you are not
allowed to descend by mountain bike.
What about food? When you
talk lake, fish forms a major part of the local cuisine. Indigenous fish
include the rare Lake Garda carp, whitefish, lake trout, eel, pike, tench,
and perch. Citrus fruits, cheese, and wine also form a major part of the
diet. Lake Gardaís olive trees are quite special. To conserve land they
are trained to grow high, so high that scali, special long poles originally
invented for lemon trees are needed to harvest the olives. Their olive
oil is exceptional, even by Italian standards.
Letís suggest a sample menu,
one of many. Start with Bigoi con le Agule (Spaghetti with Sardines.) Then
try Luccio in Salsa (Pike with Sauce, eaten cold). For dessert indulge
yourself with Torte di Mele (Apple Cake.) Be sure to increase your dining
pleasure by including local wines with your meal.
We conclude with a quick
look at Lombardy wine. Lombardy ranks 11th among the 20 Italian regions
in acreage devoted to wine grapes and in total annual wine production.
The region produces about 62% red and rosé and 38% white wine, but
there is little rosé. There are 15 DOC wines. DOC stands for Denominazione
di Origine Controllata, which may be translated as Denomination of Controlled
Origin, presumably a high-quality wine. The G in DOCG stands for Garantita,
but there is in fact no guarantee that such wines are truly superior. Over
47% of Lombardy wine carries the DOC or DOCG designation. There are three
DOCG wines: the sparkling Franciacorta said to compete with French Champagne
and priced accordingly, the red Sforzato di Valtellina, and the red Valtellina
Remember, Lake Garda is shared
by three regions of Italy, Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto. The
best-known local wine comes from east of the lake near Bardolino, part
of Veneto. Bardolino DOC is produced in a variety of styles from a specified
variety of local grapes. Bardolino Superiore DOCG is a dry red wine also
produced from local grapes but to more stringent specifications. This wine
must be aged for a minimum of one year prior to sale. Notice, when introducing
Bardolino wines I said the best-known local wine, not the best local wine.
Wines are produced all along Lake Garda. Determine for yourself which one
is the best.
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About the Author - Levi Reiss
has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but
between you and me, he prefers drinking fine Italian or other wine, accompanied
by the right foods and the right people. He teaches classes in computers
at an Ontario French-language community college. His major wine website
is http://www.theworldwidewine.com which links to his other web sites.