For the past few years my family and I have visited the beautiful Lake Garda (found in the Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto) and surrounding area for a few weeks during the summer holidays, and it has always been a trip I’ve excitedly looked forward to.
Unfortunately this year we were not able to make the trip out, and I seem to be suffering from Lake Garda-related withdrawal symptoms, so I’d like to try and explain how such a place could have this kind of an effect on me.
It may not be the warmest part of Italy (reaching an average of 29°C in July), but Lake Garda’s sparkling calm surface sheltered by the sloping lush green hills that encompass the lake (known in Italian as Lago di Garda) seems to be one of the most beautiful natural sights Italy has to offer. As a melt water-fed lake it has a relatively cool temperature, though this deters very little people, and it is often found to be a relief for those struggling in the mid-day heat (which more often than not tends to be me), especially if there’s a pier nearby which impressive belly-flops can be done from.
Undoubtedly, as an undergraduate physical geographer, I find the landscape breathtaking to see and it leaves me keen to explore the small islands dotted along the length of the lake, as well as the small villages that can be seen huddled (seemingly) precariously on the hillsides. Having said that however, the impressively tasty and varying cuisine, culture and history of all the surrounding towns and cities is impressive and not to be missed out on. Even when tourism and mainstream shops seem to overwhelm the lake-side towns such as Salò, one only has to take a step back and see the statues, piazzas, beautiful churches, and general building structures to realise that the culture there remains as strong as it did since tourists first clambered their way down into the valley.
And if that wasn’t enough for your cultural needs, there is an abundance of famous cities just a train-ride away. These include Florence, Pisa, Milan, Verona (where Shakespeare’s Romeo and Julietis set, complete with it’s own balcony covered in love notes from around the world), and none other than Venice. This coastal city nestled in a protective lagoon is an UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is incredibly beautiful. Its design and attention to detail on every wall, canal, bridge, street corner, churches, homes and more make it a place not to be missed. The historical Bridge of Sighs, St Mark’s Square and the famous gondolas as well as hidden treasures such as a museum housing a giant Murano glass horse that I was lucky enough to stumble across one year, but could never find again, all set it apart from the average cultural Italian cities.
To gain a true taste of northern Italian culture however, trips to the slightly smaller towns (such as Siena, Volterra and Burano Island) are in order. Siena has a truly breathtaking piazza in which an annual ancient horse race occurs each year, watched over by an impressive clocktower known as the Torre del Mangia. Burano is different however as it is an island town, that nonetheless is just as vibrant, with homes painted every colour under the sun. I would recommend visiting all of these places in the early morning before the busy mid-day bustle, so that you can experience the unusual but calming, quite atmosphere they have.
Whilst Lake Garda and the surrounding towns are widely known as popular areas for tourists, I find myself being constantly impressed by the area. From large cities to tiny houses in the hillsides, it has managed to maintain its ancient roots and remained resilient to a certain degree against the potentially damaging influence of tourism. And even then the locals are friendly, humorous and accommodating, which is why I can’t help but feel that obvious though it is, Lake Garda and its urban neighbours, is a little bit of water-sporting, welcoming and cultural paradise.