Lake Garda’s Hidden GemsJanuary 17th, 2012
Lake Garda is classic. A timeless destination which attracts a myriad of eagle-eyed travellers from across the globe, searching for romance, scenic beauty and of course, authentic Italian cuisine.
As the sun slowly set below the mountains, I travelled from Verona to Desenzano del Garda, my home for the next two nights. The 4*Villa Rosa combines a neoclassical lakeside villa with a friendly smile at reception, a location with great proximity to the town and for a small (and highly worthwhile) supplement a fabulous view across the lake. The hotel chefs offer a selection of delicate, delicious cuisine combining all the flavours of Garda.
From Desenzano, the lakes and lesser known spots of Brescia are simply waiting to be discovered. Just one hour from Lake Garda is the town of Mantua, an architecturally creative town within Lombardy, surrounded by three cobalt lakes (Lago Superiore, Lago di Mezzo, and Lago Inferiore) and once home to the powerful Gonzada family. The families’ impressive art collection still has its home in their ancient palazzo and includes the likes of Donatello, Rubens and Romano. Mantua was also the home Shakespeare chose for Romeo’s exile when he was banished from Verona – not the most terrible place you could end up in!
From Mantua, I journeyed west to Cremona, nestled along the River Po and renowned as the musical heart of the Brescia region. After a visit to the immense Duomo and ancient Bapestry, we discovered Cremona’s famous craft – violin making. The town’s violin museum holds a selection of some of the finest instruments, including the works of Amati, Guarneri and of course, Stradiveri who used his Latin name, Stradivarius, to sign his work. The old workshop of Stradiveri still exists, albeit now a gelateria!
The smaller, yet still magical Lake Iseo (the fourth largest lake in Lombardy) is establishing its place within the region due to its natural beauty, undiscovered treasures and lack of tourist hustle and bustle. In the centre is the largest lake island in Italy, Montisola. Compared to its more glamorous sisters, Lake Iseo is a wonderful hideaway destination with attractive villages and meandering walkways for those who love to explore off the beaten track. The scenic railway runs from Bresica alongside the lake and to the mountainous valley of Villa Carmonica, ending in Pisogne, a short distance from the Swiss border.
And now to the important matters, food and wine! Brescia offers an abundance of regional delicacies. The famous pasta dish tortellini de zuccha is ravioli filled with pumpkin, mustard fruits and to sweeten things up – amaretti biscuits! Slightly daring, but it works. Pollenta is a firm favourite in the Garda region, salami is served in huge quantities and I won’t even begin to list the incredible array of cheese presented, including the famed Parmigiani. Fortunately a glass of sparkling red wine, from the grapes of the Franciacorta region was close by to wash things down!
Of course, Lake Garda presents its own delights suited to any type of traveller. Be adventurous and hire a yacht across the lake, take the kids for a fun-packed day out at GardaLand or uncover the charms of the lake by boat, to explore the beauty of Sirmione, Gardone and the lesser known town of Salo. From Brescia, the possibilities by rail are endless. Travel onwards to the historic city of Padova, continue south to Tuscany’s Renaissance capital, Florence or head towards ancient Verona to discover its artistic masterpieces, ancient palazzi and operatic treasures.
From Desenzano, I continued my journey on towards Florence, with a brief change in Padova and just enough time for a €1 espresso. My destination…. Umbria…