Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake at fifty miles long and 11 miles wide. Many a writer and poet have unlocked their inspiration by spending time here, attracted by the forgiving Mediterranean climate, pretty harbour towns, and the many picturesque villas.
Lorenza Bacino takes to the road and finds a handful of lovely things to see and do when you visit…here’s the first part.
1. Stay in the Grand Hotel Gardone
Gardone and this wonderful lakeside hotel retain a relaxed fin-de-siècle air of old-fashioned elegance, with waiters in white tails and a prime lakeside location, where you can enjoy a glass of prosecco and take in the views.
The town of Gardone itself is quaint with narrow cobbled streets and frescoed façades. Huge villas swathed in fragrant wisteria adorn the hills, pale yellow and pinkish turrets poke through the flowers and gardens are blooming with a mixture of English roses and Mediterranean palm trees. (Website: Grand Hotel Gardone)
2. See D’Annunzio’s House and Gardens
A short walk up the hill behind the Grand Hotel Gardone, you’ll find the Vittoriale degli Italiani. It’s the home and gardens of Italian poet, soldier, ultra-nationalist and womaniser – the flamboyant Gabriele D’Annunzio – who lived here like a decadent prince, receiving politicians, artists and lovers. It’s a must see.
D’Annunzio (1863-1938) was a self-confessed ‘animale di lusso’ (animal of luxury) and so his residence, the Prioria and the Gardens are a lavish ode to aesthetics, eccentricity and his own military exploits during the WW1 – an eclectic and altogether staggering collection of some 10.000 bizarre objects in lacquered and gilded rooms, crammed with statues, ornaments, instruments and other vintage memorabilia. The gardens even contain a warship, the Puglia, somehow ensconced in the hillside and which you can enter and explore the decks and below. Book you visit ahead here www.vittoriale.it
3. Go For a Stroll In the Heller Gardens
On the way down towards the Lake, you’ll stumble across the Heller Gardens. After the thunderous displays in the Vittoriale, these gardens are an altogether more gentle experience. The twinkly sound of trickling water is your only companion in this oasis of tranquillity.
With each twist and turn, you’ll get a different perspective on the details in the gardens, with dozens of statues and little people popping up unexpectedly in the rockeries and ponds.
Stop reading, start speaking
Stop translating in your head and start speaking Italian for real with the only audio course that prompt you to speak.
In spring the colours of the flowers in bloom are fantastic and the gardens are home to a number of well-known art works. (Website: Heller Garden )
4. Visit Isola del Garda
If you ask Italians about an island in the lake, most will say there isn’t one. But there is – Isola del Garda, just off the pretty town of Salo’. It’s the private island of the Cavazza family, who have Russian and English heritage. Three of the Contessa’s descendants still live here together with their families. This speck of land is only 1100m in length and 60m at the widest point. You need to book ahead for the guided tour as the boat only goes a couple of times a week.
Alberta, one of the great great grand-daughters shows you round with great warmth and affection for her sumptuous island home. The gardens are her pride and joy, reflecting her mixed heritage – English roses and hedgerows sit alongside palm trees, with orange, lemon and olive trees adding their colour and perfume throughout. (Website: Isola del Garda)
Lorenza’s trip to Lake Garda was organised courtesy of Selective Travel Abroad, a tour company specialising in Italy’s Verona and Lake Garda areas.
Flights to Bergamo airport courtesy of Thomson Lakes and Mountains
By Lorenza Bacino.
Photographs by Lorenza Bacino except Vittoriale degli Italiani.
Lorenza Bacino is a London-based freelance features writer.
She still loves Italy despite her hair raising balloon ride in Turin and can’t wait to go back for more.
You can read more of her published work at Cuttings.me