Lake Garda: Place of My Sweetest Dreams

Lake Garda 089

I’m usually a proponent of saving the best for last, but many of you amazing readers got the impression that I love Verona best of all Italian destinations because I wrote about it first. Although I do love Verona that’s just not true (Sorry Veronesi!). The true site of my dreams is Lake Garda. It is my favorite place on earth.


The largest lake in Italy, Lake Garda spans about 31 miles long and just 10 miles wide at it’s widest point in the south. Located between Venice and Milan in northern Italy, Lake Garda is only a 30 minute drive from Verona and the perfect day or weekend trip from there. You can also catch a bus there from the Verona train station. The bus doesn’t have a number on the front but it will have Riva del Garda at the top with a scrolling display underneath naming other towns it passes through. The bus schedule is here.

The diverse shoreline is surrounded by beaches, rocky cliffs, quaint villages, medieval castles, and picturesque promenades. In 2007 I went with my friend Max, who is from Verona, and in 2009 my friend Tennille joined us. Our first stop both times was in the town of Malcesine, which has a historic center with tiny streets, a small harbor, and a medieval castle. The castle, Castello Scaligero, is from the 13th century and it’s medieval tower is even older. We didn’t visit the castle, but instead headed up the base of Monte Baldo, to catch the cable car that ascends to 1,600 m (5,249 ft) in just ten minutes. The mountain itself reaches an altitude of 1,760 m (5,774 ft).

I believe that you can catch the cable car at two different levels on the mountain, from the base and a little higher up. We drove up to the second location but it was an adventure getting there! The mostly dirt road is one European car’s width and steep! Did I mention that almost all cars in Italy are manual drive. We rolled back more than a few times and the car lurched and whined trying to carry three adults. Tennille was nearly in tears before Max got the car moving forward! Rolling off the mountain backwards was not an option so thank God we finally made it up.

When we arrived at the cable car there was no line and tickets were less than 20 € ($27) for a two-way trip. Just outside the cable car area is a cute little restaurant with an amazing view of the lake, especially at sunset. I could immediately picture having my wedding here!

Once on top of the mountain the view gets even better. Many people hang glide right off the mountain–they get a running start and then jump off the mountain from 5,000 feet high with some thin fabric attached to wings (basically)! The less adventurous folks, like me, can hike the paths all over the summit of the mountain. It’s chilly up there so a jacket is necessary, and sneakers or hiking shoes are recommended. There’s also a small cafe/log cabin up there with sandwiches and snacks but its offerings are sparse.

After we left Monte Baldo, we drove further north to Lazise and strolled around this living example of a medieval village. Actually, it’s a conjunction of several villages that have been around since the 800s. With it’s pasta and wine shops, lakeside restaurants, old buildings and beautiful scenery, it’s definitely worth a two hour stop here just to explore the nooks and crannies. There’s more than 10 similar castles you can choose to visit all up and down Lake Garda. We stopped at a few but I didn’t note all their names. Some are not inhabited and are just skeletons of their former glory, but others are vibrant.

Funny story I call “Mafia Swans”: While at Lazise we spotted some beautiful swans gliding on the lake. Captivated tourists were throwing the birds bits of bread. After we left the castle, we drove a few miles down the road, parked on the side of the street and laid our towels out on a wooden dock to sunbathe. I dangled my legs over the dock’s edge so my feet could touch the water. About an hour into our swimming in the lake and sunbathing topless (our neighbors were totally nude), we see the same swans swimming toward us from a distance. When they finally reached the dock the birds circled my legs for a minute (my guess is that they were hoping to receive some food). When I didn’t produce any treats for them they started violently pecking at my legs!! I jumped up to avoid their jabbing and ran. Thankfully they didn’t jump up on the dock to follow me. After five minutes they swam away. Little bastards!!

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Anyway, it’s not too hard to find a secluded or nearly secluded place along the shore to relax, but there’s also more crowded beach areas.The water is clear, calm and pretty warm. It’s possible to swim quite far out into the lake. Parking can be very difficult and Max was taking a chance by parking along the side of the road. There is metered parking in places but they were mostly packed by the time we arrived to the water. As I mentioned, it’s not uncommon for people to go topless or nude. But even the secluded places are not far from the main road so people will most likely see you. Tennille and I had a guy pull over from the road and come up to us while we were tanning to ask if he could take pictures of us! Max sent him packing.

That evening we continued further north to an area called Lungo-lago, a lakeside promenade with restaurants, bars, boat docks, and shops.Nearby Max has two friends, Giovanni and Viviane, a couple who own a bed and breakfast near the lake called Elefante. In 2007 we stayed there for the first time and the place is amazing. On the ground floor there’s a cute dining and living room, a small but efficient chef’s kitchen, and then an outside patio equipped for dining al fresco. Upstairs there are many large rooms painted in vibrant colors and neatly furnished. The bathroom is modern and clean.

373_34184683154_5256_nIt was at Elefante that I had my second culinary epiphany! But let me start from the beginning. I have a thing about eating at strangers’ homes (How clean is their kitchen? Did they wash their hands? Were they tasting with the cooking spoon? — You get the idea.) So before heading to Giovanni and Viviane’s place, I stopped for some pizza even though I knew they were cooking dinner (tisk, tisk!) So we arrive, and Andrea, Max and Giovanni’s chef friend,  is in the kitchen putting on this energetic display over the stove. He’s got a frying pan in the air, flipping some rice and vodka while flames are shooting up from the mixture. Minutes later he places this dish of risotto with zucchini in front of me. Tentatively, I take a taste and –MY WORLD IS ROCKED. I’ve never tasted something so amazing in my life. It’s actually better than the pumpkin ravioli that rocked my world just days before in Borghetto. After greedily scooping a few forkfuls into my mouth, an unpleasant feeling comes over me. I’m full. My stomach will not accept anymore, but I’ve barely scratched the surface of my plate. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you that I wanted to cry. Damn that pizza! I learned an important lesson that day.

Unfortunately, during my visit in 2009, Andrea wasn’t there to bring back the risotto. The group of us headed back to Lungo-lago for dinner at Il Giardino Delle Rane instead. The food was amazing but it couldn’t touch Andrea’s risotto with a ten-foot pole. Later that night we walked further down the promenade to the beach and had drinks at Restaurant Lido.

My vacation to the lake was relatively relaxed but there are tons of activities to entertain, including windsurfing, sailing, horseback riding, golf, and sightseeing. One place that I would have enjoyed seeing is Villa degli Albertini, a 16th century villa that includes an enchanting park designed in the second part of the 19th century, grottos with waterfalls and fountains, towers, panoramic points, temples and summerhouses. the villa is located right at the center of Garda on the street to San Vigilio.

There are many more trips to Garda in my future and one day I really do hope to get married there. I’m not against discovering a new favorite place as my travels continue but for now Garda is undefeated!


3 responses to “Lake Garda: Place of My Sweetest Dreams

  1. There is a curious tale about Lazise around 1990. Has anyone else ever heard about the story by Giovanni Della Scala? See below.
    I would like to tell you a tale that my grandmother told me before she died in 2007. It is a tale of a beautiful white Swan she gave bread to each morning near the small harbour in our village of Lazise. The tale is one of magic and mystery because I have never heard of anyone being able to talk to a Swan before. But my grandmother believed in the tale until the day she died.

    “The story starts on one hot clear summers night more than twenty years ago. The Swan was resting near the garden of an old lakeside villa. His sleep was not deep so he heard the young couple swimming towards him in the lake. They must have started their swim from somewhere close to the war memorial that glowed in a pale light from the old street lamps near the harbour´s entrance. They were laughing and joking and stopped to rest at the lakeside near the large garden. They talked about the beauty and enchantment of the lake and climbed into the garden and lay on the grass looking up at the stars. The young lady was tall with long golden hair and large blue eyes. She spoke perfect English but with a Northern European accent. The man was tall and spoke perfect English.

    They stayed in the garden for many hours talking about different places they had visited during their lives. There appeared to be a sense of familiarity between them but from what the Swan could understand they had only just met. At one moment the lady laughed a little too loud and caused a neighbour´s dog to bark and shatter the tranquility. They joked about “Adam and Eve” but the Swan could see no apples. Towards dawn a cockerel woke up and let everyone know a new day was about to start.

    The young couple sneaked back into the lake and swam back towards the harbour entrance. The lady with long golden hair swam like a “mermaid”. The Swan, full of curiosity, decided to follow the pair and when they had dried and dressed into their clothes, they embraced and said their goodbyes. The lady left first and the Swan heard her quietly call back to the young man and say, “You´re a man of destiny. Did you know you have a twin?” The young man smiled and as their eyes met for a final time he knew she was a very special and amazing person. The Swan then heard her quietly sobbing as she walked away from the harbour towards a restaurant called Albergo Alla Grotta and say to herself, “No-one will ever know how much I love you” and then vanished into a small, narrow alley wiping away her tears.

    The young man stayed for a while by the lake and sat with his feet hanging over the edge. He noticed the Swan and smiled and said, “So you´re our only witness”. He then watched the orange glow of the reflected sunrise on the mountains at the opposite side of the lake deep in happy reflective thought.

    The Swan moved closer to him and was within a meters distance hoping he had some food. He smiled and asked to be forgiven for not having any bread. The Swan wondered about the strange but interesting events of the early hours and watched the young man intently. Then just as the morning chorus of birds was starting to come into full voice a sudden silence fell around everywhere and everything. There was no noise at all. Just a deadly silence. It was like everything had stopped and been frozen in time.

    The Swan and the young man looked at each other trying to understand the meaning of the deadly silence. A silence of which seemed to go on for an eternity. Slowly, the chorus started again eventually building up to a celebration of morning harmony. The Swan had never experienced anything like it before and was very superstitious of the abnormal event.

    The young man and the Swan however sensed that nature was sending a warning about something not being right. That same feeling and a sense of “forebode” and fear was experienced again by my grandmother one morning when the Swan fell sick and died at the lakeside. My grandmother believed the Swan had been poisoned. He revealed a “final secret” to her that may never be told. The sense of “forebode” is a strange feeling that is very difficult to explain. Perhaps it is linked to the sixth sense and the only way to understand that unusual feeling is to live it through experience”.

    I often walk down to the harbour, sit by the war memorial and let the lake take my thoughts on peace and liberty to places far away. I read the inscriptions and think about the days gone by. I wonder about my grand parents lives and the journey they made in that strange old thing called “life”. There is a curious magic about the story of the Swan because there was a rumour about a most beautiful young lady from Holland with golden hair being verbally abused and beaten by an aggressive male in Lazise village square more than twenty years ago. The police and an ambulance were called and it is not known what became of her.

    For me the story has something hidden between the lines and if it´s true or not it conjures up the power of love, risk and tragedy. Whatever the two young people talked about during the short time they spent together I guess we will never know. Was it something that changed the course of history? – I don´t know. But looking at the Lazise war memorial today and considering the village Patron Saint I would like to think something good came out of my grandmother´s tale about the “Swan of Lazise” and the mystery of the two romantic friends all those years ago.

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