The Brits say Fish, the Italians Say Pesce! But both bond at the Lake Garda Fish & Chef Festival and I was lucky enough to attend.
The Italians take great pride in their food. Recipes are passed on for generations, but the top chefs remain ground breaking and inventive- building on the traditional to bring new tastes to tickle your taste buds! With the basics of fresh vegetables, olive oil, homemade bread and pasta I don’t think you come across many unhealthy Italians!
So I feel it’s my duty to inform you of the Fish & Chef annual foodie event for culinary connoisseurs in Lake Garda, Northern Italy.
Taking place at the start of the holiday season at the end of April, the Festival, in its’ sixth year, offers the opportunity to sample carefully designed menus from a host of Italian and international chefs in the region’s most sumptuous hotels and restaurants. With the chefs having access to the local (and entirely delicious) Virgin Olive Oil, DOP, cheeses and spices from Monte Baldo, meats from Consortium of Garronese Veneta and Wines from Consortium of Custoza, the basics are there for an experimental and fascination food journey!
I was delighted to be invited to taste the gastronomy and soak up the culture, as even at my ripe old age, I had never made it to Italy!! As it happens, there are lots of foods I haven’t tried too, and this was the perfect place to start.
Thankfully, you don’t have to be a food (or fish) snob to appreciate the beautifully orchestrated events. I noted many guests, who traveled from miles around to celebrate the diversity of the Italian produce. It is no wonder, with a cocktail party atmosphere at each very different location, which allowed for a very sociable evening. Along with attentive and discreet waiting staff, all I had to do is sit back, relax and enjoy a smorgasbord of beautifully presented culinary delights in the glorious Lake Garda surroundings, and give a passing thought to my traditional Tuesday bangers and mash.
Each evening, over seven days, a Michelin (yup that’s Michelin!!) starred Chef prepares a six-course taster menu with wine and coffee. Over the three nights I was there the menu varied tremendously. Using only the freshest produce, and years of experience, the Chef works his magic by feeding the 80 or so covers at each location, with minimum waiting time and plenty of wine to keep the conversation flowing. And that in itself is no mean feat!
And disappointed I was not! The dishes ranged from interesting ‘Salmeggino alpino smarrito’ (salmon trout) on a bed of moss and pine cone garnish, to the divine ‘Raviolo di Sfoglia alla Clorofilla di Crescione ripieno di Patata mentecata con Trota fume’- watercress, potato and trout ravioli. Or how about ‘Crema di patate, tartara di sarde del lago di Garda e caviale di aringa’ (Creamed potatoes, tartar sardines of Lake Garda and herring caviar, see below). However, my favourite has to be the ‘Ravioli de farina bruciata’, a mouth-watering dumpling of ravioli stuffed with cheese and a hazelnut!
So with all that indulgence, I was very pleased to be staying at the delightfully quaint Hotel Regina Adelaide in Old Garda. Family run, with lots of personality, the 59 rooms keep the boutique appeal and the service personal. With ever changing art and unique vintage furniture in the communal areas, I was informed that the furniture was for sale, as the family also owned an interiors shop in the village, as well as a Bakers shop, which provides all the pastries and bread for the Hotel. Could this be more Italian?! They also boasted a fabulous spa, an outdoor pool and bar area, and much used by me, heated indoor pool… Well I had to burn off some calories for the next days’ treats!
With the weather being temperamental at the start of the season, it is the perfect time for a foodie break, as you can enjoy a long lunch or evening meal without feeling like you are missing out on anything. Although there are plenty of things to do when it rains such as take a ride on the Funivia Malcesine (cable car). This is the ideal way to see the Lake as the final station Monte Baldo is 1760m from ground level- not for the faint-hearted, but it’s worth it!
It is also worth stopping at the family run hotel restaurant there, for some food, souvenirs or just have a drink and soak up the view. On a clear day you can see the whole of the lake and mountains opposite- perfect for playing spot your hotel! But bear in mind that this is up a mountain, so a jacket is advisable! In the winter this turns to a popular ski resort, which would offer some amazing runs- I can almost smell a return visit in the air already. If you are happy to hire a car or go on a boat trip, there are several points worth a look.
The village of Salo offers a modern lakeside promenade with shops, bars and restaurants and is the home of the Cathedral, and provides a peaceful and relaxing way to spend an afternoon and admire the yachts in the harbour. Verona is the main city of the region and also warrants a visit. Home of Romeo and Juliet and the Arena of Verona, there are some splendid boutiques for shopping, fabulous places to have a coffee, people watch and soak up the architecture.
If you are a bit more adventurous, and the sun is shining, try the Villa dei Cedri- a huge thermal lake in the middle of nature, which has been transformed into a spa area with sun loungers, restaurants and swimming pool. Alternatively you could spend an afternoon at the Chervo Golf Club. Book in for a lesson, a round or just relax by the pool!
With Lake Garda also becoming a hot destination for Spa and Wellness breaks, many hotels offer state of the art facilities. 5 star, Riva del Garda Hotel, right next to the Lake leads the way in futuristic technology, along with the potential to celeb spot on the terrace or infinity pool, but for a more relaxed and modern vibe, check out the Aqualux Hotel which offers a whole host of Spa breaks, with same sex and families catered for.
Going for a week almost isn’t long enough! But if you are contemplating next years Fish & Chef festival, book in early, as to sample such stunning food at 60 Euros per head, the seats are bound to get snapped up like hot cakes!
Check out www.fishandchef.it