Lake Garda, Riva del Garda and Verona
Farewell Stresa and on to our next resort for a four night stay at Lake Garda. At the top of the lake, surrounded by mountains, Riva del Garda is very much a family resort situated in a genuinely exquisite position at the head of the lake. The surrounding mountains are of white limestone with verdant woodlands where the trees can cling go on. The cliffs rise sheer from the lake at this point. It is a world of top class sportsmen wind surfers, small yacht racers, cyclists and climbers. I was in the right place all right.
The Grand Hotel is in the centre of the most important square in a town full of them, the huge Museo Civico to one side forming part of the harbour. It was a splendid hotel, our room swish and modern overlooking the square and Mount Rochester. At night the Bastione and, far above, the Chapel of St Barbara, clinging to the sheer rock face, gleamed like white planets in the pitch black.
After a fine breakfast, we were set for a free day. Our first purchase was of an umbrella. Enough said. Oh to be an umbrella salesman in sunless Riva. The second purchase was a ferry pass for the northern section of the lake. It cost 20 euro for each of us. A bargain.
Limone has a reputation for the longevity of its inhabitants. Whether this is due to fish, tomatoes, olive oil, Vespas, tobacco or its famous lemons, I don't know, but I do know that the sun shone literally the moment we stepped off the ferry, the day completely changed. How much did I invest in umbrella shares? The lake's waters are clear turquoise, the fish huge and one can see why the place is packed.
We found our table in the sun and I fed the fish. I drink tea with lemon. Their freshness was unmistakable.
We climbed up to La Limone del Castel where one can tour the lemon house seeing the intricate irrigation system and supports for a range of citrus fruits, and incidentally obtain a memorable view of this most lovely town and lake.
The queues build up for the ferries so we had to time our departure for Malcestine though in the event nearly all were travelling to Riva. We took it easy in the sun in this pleasant if crowded town staying only until the next ferry. We always had tomorrow.
Back in Riva we walked the shore of the lake, full of families by the beaches. The whole end of the lake is landscaped and perfect for a stroll at any time of day or night. The town had a vigour about it, full of people and chatter.
From our room's vantage point high above the square I was irresistibly reminded of that 60's series, “The Prisoner”, with Patrick McGoohan. The square was like Portmeirien in its film set, formal fountains and buildings. Almost surreally, different bands marched at 6.15 prompt each and every night to the excited sound of happy people. (Except, I was not a number, I was a free man!)
Dinner eaten, the salad buffet and the astonishingly scenic dining room once again universally admired, we followed the Marching Band to the impressive open aired quadrangle of the Museo Civic for a thoroughly wonderful concert of classical music. A day that commenced in a storm, concluded with a fanfare.
Saturday morning. Heaving it down. Like the guy in “Jaws”, I needed a bigger umbrella (or boat) It was our coach trip round the lake. First stop Malcesine, a different universe to the previous day. The lake was a slightly darker grey than the sky. We listened to the rain on the canopy of the cafe with a view of the harbour and dodged the leaks. Manchester/Malcesine? What's in a name albeit the rain was heavier here. It drowned out our groans. My waterproof Ecco trainers and new Gore-Tex hat looked the best investments ever. So no illuminating historical anecdotes here. We sat in the cafe throughout. The paddle boat ferry stopped for twenty minutes: no-one boarded or disembarked.
The town of Garda was just as wet. Our covered eating area in the first restaurant near the coach park was actually heated! The crew of the ferry had given up the ghost and ate with us. To say the weather deteriorated is to suggest it could. Umbrellas collapsed under the weight of the deluge. People ran into the restaurant.
Our final destination, the beautiful town of Sirmione, was cancelled as was the planned boat trip. We turned back for our hotel. Defeated. We Brits are a resilient race but the Italian weather broke us.
Back in Riva the clouds dispersed. We climbed to the top of the tower to marvel at the views, marvelled at the wind surfers, lapped up the sun. The sun fades behind the mountains in the late afternoon: an amble along the lake front was called for and out of the shadow.
The following day was our best for weather. Verona's splendours are well documented. It ranks way up there with Europe's great cities. On a sunny and hot day we arrived early and enjoyed a coffee in the Piazza delle Erbe, taking in the atmosphere in this most scenic of the city's squares. The city is marvellous for strolling around, each turn a photo opportunity. Two beautiful churches stood out, the Duomo and the church of St Anastasia. The second had a decorated ceiling of soft colour. Quite stunning.
Juliet's balcony was a unique photo opportunity for those willing to pay for the privilege. We queued for free in the throng and I waited for my Juliet. She was Korean.
Wherefore art thou!
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• Read Shearing's 'Best of the Italian Lakes' in the rain – Part 1
• Read Shearing's 'Best of the Italian Lakes' in the rain – Part 2
• Read Shearing's 'Best of the Italian Lakes' in the rain – Part 4