italy

Lake Garda: the stars' favourite idyllic Italian getaway

By Jane Oddy

hellomagazine.com

With its breathtaking panoramic views and natural beauty, Lake Garda is always a fabulous holiday destination at any time of the year and a magnet for the rich and famous. Over the years many celebrities have been drawn to its natural beauty including Hollywood superstars Drew Barrymore, Tom Cruise, Bradley Cooper and his supermodel girlfriend Irina Shayk, as well as David and Victoria Beckham. 

In the 1950s actor Laurence Olivier and his wife Vivien Leigh were regular visitors and estranged couple Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were considering buying a property. Deservedly renowned as a jewel in the crown of northern Italy, a relatively short distance from the historic town of Verona, it is a holidaymaker’s dream.

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Picturesque villages, medieval castles, and lakeside promenades dot the shoreline. The lake has a diverse landscape with beaches along the southern shores and rocky cliffs above the northern shoreline. Lake Garda is known for its clear water, great for swimming in summer. Windsurfing, sailing, and hiking in the lake's many parks are also popular activities.

In the summer months, Italy’s largest and most visited lake plays host to families and tourists from all over Europe who can enjoy the sandy beaches and hot weather, but in the autumn and spring months its charm really comes into its own as the perfect, relaxing break when the crowds disperse and it becomes an oasis of tranquillity. 

The mild climate of the area means that typical Mediterranean plants flourish: olives, cypresses, oleanders, laurels, and vineyards grow on the hills which surround the lake. Typical local products include wine, oil and fish all used to create excellent traditional meals, which can be tasted in the hotels, upmarket stylish restaurants and the numerous country inns. In fact, the emphasis on superb wine and cuisine makes it a go-to destination for foodies.

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Bardolino is one of Lake Garda’s busiest and most popular resorts, situated on the widest point half-way along the Verona side. It is packed with chic bars, cafes and restaurants including the La Cantinetta (www.lacantinettabardolino.com) which serves up delicious classic local dishes and is well worth a visit.

Wine is a feature of many local celebrations - in May the Feast of Bardolino Chiaretto (Clear Bardolino), in October the Feast of Grapes and of Bardolino wine, in November the Feast of Bardolino Novello (new Bardolino) and from the middle of September to the middle of October the Grapes therapy.

A trip to the Zeni Winery and their Wine Museum in Bardilino (www.zeni.it) is a wonderful way to spend a couple of hours to learn about the history wine production. In the museum, which was built in 1991, visitors can admire ancient tools and machinery used for the grape harvest and vilification, with every single item telling the story of the Zeni family’s passion and dedication to their wine. Following this, visitors will be guided through tastings by trained staff; all red, white and rose wines of the Zeni winery can be bought and many of them can be tasted for free.

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The Olive Oil Museum (www.museum.it) is another popular tourist attraction and a celebration of oil and olive trees. An ancient, powerful lever press, millstones, screw presses and a reconstruction of a 19th century water mill are the highlights of this exhibition. In the museum shop, all the different kinds of extra virgin olive oils can be tasted and bought together with a wide selection of delicacies closely connected to olive oil like different kinds of spicy oil, aromatic vinegar and pesto. 

Italy is famous for its fortified medieval stone villages, but Borghetto, the most significant river crossing point south of Lake Garda, is perhaps the most beautiful and a real hidden treasure.

Today, Borghetto is a handful of houses, three ancient mills, and the fortified dam, the Ponte Visconteo, but of the things visitors find most impressive about this village is its natural surroundings. The river Mincio winds its way slowly around bends, lapping at the cane thickets which hug the bank. There are a large number of different species of bird who come to nest here and swans glide backwards and forwards and play on the water as it cascades under the bridge. It is worth worth stopping for lunch as Borghetto, in addition to the ancient sights, is famed for its tortellini. There are also plenty of places to buy this handmade pasta to take home. 

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The tortellini are called "nodo d’amore" or 'love knots' because they mimic the knot which was tied in a silk handkerchief by two lovers, before they threw themselves into the Mincio river. In addition, there are other popular dishes, pike with sauce, trout and eel, which all from the river and accompanied by DOC wines from Bianco di Custoza and Bardolino. 

Ferries, catamarans and hydrofoils travel Lake Garda, north and south, from Riva del Garda to Sirmione, and stop in the most picturesque towns but many visitors like to use a bike on the pathways. Cyclists come from all over the world to ride along the shores of Lake Garda. The family-owned Enjoy Garda Hotel, in the centre of the picturesque town of Peschiera (www.enjoygardahotel.com), tapped into this trend and for the last 13 years, they have run Lake Garda’s first bike hotel for experts and beginners.

They organise day trips with professional tour guides to explore the area around Lake Garda, the Valpolicella, the Regional Park of Lessinia, and the hills of the hinterland.

Visitors who prefer more leisurely pursuits can walk on the beautifully maintained pathways, stopping to relax on the shingle or sandy beaches that fringe the lake, or for a latte at the numerous cafes dotted along the route. Another delightful way to enjoy views of the Lake is from restaurants and hotels in the hills away from the shoreline where in the distance the Dolomite Mountains can be seen. Lunching at the Bellavista hotel is an experience not to be missed, as you can eat delicious local delicacies and watch the light mist rising from the lake. (www.bellavistahotel.eu)

Where to stay: 

The Hotel Corte Valier, located near the spa town of Lazise, is perfectly located on the shores of Lake Garda. Clean lines and contemporary design are evident throughout this stylish four star hotel which enjoys great food and stunning views from its terrace bar. Each modern and elegant guest room comes with a lake view to make the most of this spectacular lakeside position. Guests can stroll through the hotel’s beautiful gardens right down to the lakeside walking path to the old town of Lazise with its famous medieval castle which is approximately a ten-minute walk away. Walking in the opposite direction, it also possible to reach the borough of Cisano, Bardolino and further on the town of Garda (30 mins on foot). The hotel’s stunning views are complemented by the outstanding facilities which include the Laguna Wellness Centre & Spa and huge indoor and outdoor pools. (www.cortevalier.com

How to get there: 

Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates flights to Verona from Manchester airport with fares, including taxes, starting from £64 one way (£122 return). For further information or to book Monarch flightsMonarch Holidays or Monarch Hotels, please visit www.monarch.co.uk

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