Lake Garda Plant
Finally we arrived to Garda Lake,its balmy climate is Garda's big selling-point. The lake acts as a gigantic solar panel, and a ring of mountains stores the heat. Como and Maggiore perform the same trick, but to night-time swings in temperature, as there is a lesser mountains between it and the
high Alps. On hot summer days, the famous lake winds,the morning sover, or suer, which blows from the north,and the warmer ora,keep things bearable. These winds can change character and name,like Lewis Carroll's Snark: for example, the sover may mutate into a dangerous galeforce balinot. But whatever the wind, a colorful flutter of windsurfers can usually be seen taking advantage of it to skim over the water.Sirmione is the obvious point of departure for a clockwise tour of the Lake. The ancient Romans, perhaps the first civilization to discover the holiday home, were well aware of the charms of this peninsula, which wags a crooked finger from the southern shore of Garda.These days, of course, Sirmione is wholly given up to tourism of a more hit-and-run variety, but that doesn't lessen its powers of seduction, however. The Rocca
Scaligera, with its
elegant crenellations and swan-filled moat, is so photogenic that it might have been built by the local tourist board. And once the funnel-like main shopping street has been left behind, Sirmione loosens its belt and relaxes into a surprisingly green and peaceful headland covered in olive trees and cypresses, and occupied by the occasional garden hotel (the sumptuous Villa Cortine being the pick of the crop. There is also a huge, old fashioned thermal establishment which takes hot,sulphurous water from a spring that gurgles from the bottom of the lake a few hundred meters offshore. The other towns on the southern shore,Desenzano
to the west and Peschiera
to the east, do have a certain bustling sense of style, but they are too dose to Milan and Verona to make good holiday bases. About 10km north of the lake's southwestern corner, however. Punta Portese marks the beginning of the Riviera Bresciana. This is Garda's rather smaller scale version of the
CÚte d'Azur which takes in the towns of SalÚ and Gardone Riviera. SalÚ has the busy life of a prosperous town, with the boats and the cafťs, the entwined lovers on lakeside benches, the twisting back streets with their bijou shops.The town's sinister associations ,it was the capital of Mussolini's puppet government after the rout of September 1943, famous for doing nothing much except bussing in the whores from Milan, are nowhere reflected in the mood of the place, which is both elegant and vivacious. It has an Art Nouveau soul (known in Italian as 'liberty' style), which is nowhere more in evidence than in the friezed and fronded dining room of the Hotel Laurin. Gardone Riviera has no real focus: from a car it is little more than a road between high hotel walls and hedges. But the motorist's loss is the coddled guest's gain, as the whole shore is monopolized by hotels,the Grand Hotel Gardone Riviera, the Villa Fiordalisa, the Grand Hotel Fasano Villa Principe which make the most of their frontage, and take one back to the palm court glory days, when European royalty and heads of state piled into Gardone, intellectuals such as Frederick Nietzsche carne to ponder why nihilist supermen always seem to get the best hotels, and the Italian aesthete and warmonger Gabriele D'Annunzio took an Art Nouveau villa and its surrounding park and turned it into a monument to himself.D'Annunzio's Vittoriale degli Italiani is like a decadent Disneyland, the twisted creation of a proto-fascist with a taste for silk dressing gowns. There is a house, where the poet lived behind colored panes of glass with his cigar cases and a stuffed giant
imagination, where you might see a priest on a vintage Moto Guzzi). The eastern shore of the lake is dominated by the long ridge of Monte Baldo, which rises more than 2,000 m. to the peak of Punta Telegrafo. It's a surprisingly verdant mountain, spared by the last glaciation, where rhododendrons, gentians and rare orchids bloom. The best way to exylore it is by taking the cable car from Malcesine, which is the main town of the upper shore, and one of the most picturesque on the whole lake. The old town tumbles over a promontory and is crowned by another pretty Scaliger castle; pebble cobbled lanes lead down to a tiny lakeside frontage. Most of the hotels sprawl along the busy road, so Malcesine is ideal only as a day trip destination. The best way to approach it is from Riva, SalÚ or the town of Garda, on one of the curious triple-decker ferries that looks like a cross between a Mississippi steamer and the Wolverhampton DSS office.
Beyond castle crowned Torri del Benaco, the mountains subside into a series of
View From Flying Island of Lake Garda (Gardaland) tortoise for company; there is a mausoleum that looks like one of the attachments on a blender, its heroic sun-god posturing rather deflated by the political and military fiasco (the occupation of Fiume in 1919) that it celebrates; and there is a battleship wedged into the hillside among the cypresses. One can almost hear the ghost of Gabriele piping: 'I did
it! See? I got a battleship up here!'Further up the western shore is Gargnano, a perfect little port town, with one of the lake's best restaurants,La Tortuga. Thereafter the mountains dose in, and the lakeside road begins to thread its way through a succession of
tunnels. Eventually we see the light a Limone,which should really be called 'Oliva' these days, as Garda's most famous crop survives only in a few lemon groves while tthe terraces teem with olives.The town itself is one of the few on Garda that has been ruined by tourism, its narrow main street a souk lined with anything on which people might be prepared to spend their hard earned Deutschmarks,pounds, dollarss or (just occasionally) lire.Lake Garda is carved up between three Italian region sons - Lombardy, Trentino the Veneto. The divisions are as much historical as administrative, and have left their mark on the look and feel of the lakeside towns. Riva del Garda, the main resort of the northern shore, belongs to Trentino. It was part of Austria between 1797 and 1918, and became the
lakeside play ground of an empire that craved the warm south.Viewed through the other end of the telescope, though, Riva is liable to feel oddly northern: with its tall and solid buildings, the Sachertore squatting immorally in the windows of it's pasticcerie and the faint whiff of wood smoke in the air, it's easy to imagine well padded Viennese burghers taking their morning constitutionals by the lake. Torbole, at the other end of the north shore, is a pretty town with an unimpeded view on clear days right down the lake to Desenzano, and a clear run for windsurfers, who have elected the town as their main Garda base. It was Goethe's base too, for a few days in 1786; he would no doubt have enjoyed the postcard on sale outside the 'tabaccheria' that lures visitors with the seductive slogan,'Torbo1e: bikers and free climbing'. (Bikers, it should be said, are a fixed feature of the Garda scene; and it must be one of the few places in the world,outside of Fellini's
vine covered hills dedicated to the Bacchic cult of Bardolino and Soave. Garda, the main town of the Veneto part of the lake, is an attractive, faintly oldfashioned resort, where the Daily Mail and Suddeutsche Zeitung vie for supremacy at the newsstands. Bardolino beyond has two pretty churches, San Zeno and San Severo, and a well preserved medieval centre. To sample the most famous local product, head for the Cantina Zeni in
the hills above, where a colleetion of wine making implements (the Museo del Vino) offers a prelude to the serious business of wine tasting. Between Bardolino and Peschiera is the Gardaland amusement park, the largest in Italy, offering fantastic hours in an adventure and fantasy land.For one of the lake's most perfect historical settings without a hint of pastiche,backtrack from Garda to the Punta di San Vigilio headland. Here, at the end of a cypress lined track, is the harmonious Villa Guarienti, designed by Sanmicheli in the l6th century. To the left, down a cobbled lane, is the best small hotel in which to stay on this or, for that matter, any other lake: the Locanda San Vigilio, which overlooks a tiny harbour. Here, too, there is a l7th-century limonaia, one of very few on Garda to have preserved the arrangement of high columns and removable slats that allowed the lemon trees to be protected from the frosts in winter, when fires were lit inside the roofed-over orchard.
It's time now to stop our wee-trip here and when my car left Sirmione to Milan we promised to met again next year and we have another wanderfull trip.