GARDA- THE GUARDIAN OF PIZZAS?
Consider crispy-based, but still a bit doughy, pizza; Imagine supping on melt-in-the-mouth spaghetti, and the freshest fish you have just seen swimming in the lake- and you will be halfway to enjoying a holiday in the hot spot that is Lake Garda in Italy.
A mere two hours from London, you could be soaking up the sun along with the locals on one of Garda’s ‘beaches’, which are conveniently situated around Italy’s biggest lake. I say beaches – however they are not beaches as we know them – unless you live in Brighton. The secluded patches of shingle have been adopted by hipsters, teenagers, couples and families, who take any opportunity to devour the long sunny days, picnic and socialise next to the crystal clear waters and age-old cypress trees… And that’s not to mention the holiday makers who pitch up in their camper vans, in the dedicated ‘camping’ spots, and are happy to turn a delicious shade of toast on the grassy promenades.
Choosing your base is the most difficult decision, as each town has a scene of its own. Sirmione is a bit of a trek from the airport, but good things come to those who wait. The picturesque island peninsula has a thriving café scene, and an impressive medieval walled town. Not only are there carefree swans swimming alongside tourists in some the stretches of water, but the pretty town offers the best gelatos I have ever tasted when you need to cool down!
Another beach worth a look, is at Santa Maria; With its crystal clear water, this is a highly desirable place to bathe, and is a hit with families and teenagers alike. But, if it’s sand you are craving, head to Lazise- the St Tropez of Garda beaches- be prepared for sharing sun screen with your neighbours as this gets extremely popular with the locals in July and August.
If you are more of an adventurer, hire a car and go exploring- then you can stop at any beach you fancy! Do remember you have to pay for parking in most places though, as fines are in place- even in laid back Garda! If you’re not a fan of left hand driving, hire a bike. Every town has a bike hire shop, and the promenades leading around the lake are very cycle friendly. You don’t even have to cycle home, as you can take it on the boat, if you have had enough of a workout by then!
This is not just the perfect place for topping up your tan, although the Italian, German and Russian tourists certainly keep this reputation. It is also the ideal place to take to the waters, and have a dabble at the numerous watersports, including wind and kite surfing. However, you might not be quite so energetic, so it is easy enough to pick up a local bus boat, and jump off at any port you fancy and soak up the music and street entertainers, who are happy to entertain.. Stop for a spritz or a beer at one of the lakefront bars, and did I mention the ice cream?!
If you can drag yourself away from the beaches, a visit to Mount Baldo is a must. You can’t miss the impressive beast, which is looms 2000 meters above the lake. Take the cable car to the top, and soak up the views on the way up as the funicular rotates 360 degrees to give you the full breathtaking panorama. You can also walk, but that is advised for the very fit, with a good few hours to spare! But breathing in the fresh Alpine air at the top will make everyone feel good! There is a viewing point on the peninsular where you can take advantage of some spectacular photo opportunities across the whole lake and beyond, but the top tip is to go early morning or sunset for the idyllic shadows.
By now, you should be feeling very Mediterranean and if you really want to make the most of your break, a day trip to Venice or Verona are very easily arranged by the tour guides. Venice is considered to be the world’s most romantic city, so a visit to see St Marks Basilica, the Bridge of Sighs and the Rialto Bridge is something you will never forget, and soaking up the atmosphere on a gondola ride whilst soaking up the atmosphere is one of life’s treats.
For the culture vultures, Verona has lots of historical importance (and is great for shopping!) Widely known as the setting for Romeo and Juliet, it has bustling squares full of coffee shops and plenty of historical remains including the Roman Amphitheatre for those who like old things.
No trip to Italy would be complete without a nod to the vineyards. And if you do end up staying in the Garda region, a visit to the Masi Estate is essential for wine buffs. With a restaurant on site, and a stunning open air terrace overlooking the vineyards, this is the place where locals come to wine, dine and relax. Situated in Sant’ambrogio di Valpolicella, it is close enough to the towns on Garda so you can enjoy a night out and get a taxi home.
Italy is so easy to get to, it is almost home from home. In fact, I might declare myself an honory citizen- any excuse to come back!
Thomson Lakes & Mountains (www.thomsonlakes.co.uk; 020 8939 0740) offers a week’s full board at the four-star Parc Hotel Paradiso & Golf Resort from £739 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from Gatwick and resort transfer. Direct flights available from all major UK airports.