Lake Garda – a real dream

by Anja Weinberger

If I were to count the number of times I have been to Lake Garda, I would need considerably more fingers than those of my two hands. There is no other holiday destination we have been to so often and nowhere else do you fall in love with the “South” so quickly.

But nowhere else do you get annoyed so often about the many, many others who are always just where you want to be. And nowhere else, and only here, do I have such strong rose-coloured glasses that enable me to overlook precisely such annoyances. Only here can I simply forget the far too many cars and motorbikes and overlook the many holidaymakers who seem to come to Lake Garda only to enjoy ice cream, pizza and, more recently, Aperol. And after all, it is only here that one and the same view over the lake is always different, always beautiful and like a first time.

This begs the question: What is it exactly that makes Lago di Garda, or Benaco as it is also called in Italian, so special? Why has it been attracting generations of Italian tourists over the Brenner Pass to its shores?

Etschtal und Bozen, © onkelglocke

Every kind of weather has its charm at Lake Garda: when the wind is strong, the surfers whiz across the surface of the water; when it is calm, the colourful sails stand completely still and sway only a little in unison with the waves; when it rains, the water turns dark grey and the surface becomes one big playground for the falling drops; finally, when the sun is shining, the leaves of the southern trees shimmer in competition with the spume of the then only small waves.

A quite rare phenomenon is a rainbow over the lake, but if one can be seen, life stands still for a few minutes: everyone looks and marvels. In contrast, there are quite often strong thunderstorms with lots of lightning and a roar of thunder that breaks on the mountains surrounding the lake – extremely impressive also because you can look relatively far, because where the lake is, there can be nothing else to disturb the view – really great theatre.

Probably all this applies to almost every larger lake, but here it is simply … even more beautiful.

In a loose sequence of texts, I would like to reflect more closely on what draws me here again and again, what particularly impresses me, what still needs to be explored and perhaps also where there are still quiet, as yet undiscovered corners [1]. And I cordially invite you to join me on my rambles.

Let’s start in times long past. Parallel to Lake Garda runs the valley of the Etsch, which is called Adige in Italian. After rising at the Reschen Pass in South Tyrol, the river flows through the Vinschgau and the Merano basin to join the Eisack near Bolzano. From here on, the Etsch is the great river we know and which, over thousands of years, formed the wide valley through which the Brenner Road runs in our days. From the north to the south and vice versa, this road has seen a lot, the Roman and Germanic worlds met on it.

This is how a city like Trento was able to grow in the middle of the mountains. And Verona, at the end of the Adige valley, also became one of the most powerful city republics in Italy due to its location. The third of these beautiful cities near Lake Garda is Mantova, just a little further south.

A very eventful history lies behind this now peaceful, tranquil part of Italy.

Seeufer Gardasee, © Peggy_Marco

Settled rather late compared to other areas of Europe, Upper Italy was initially the home of Indo-European and ancient Mediterranean peoples. Etruscans, Celts, Romans, Vandals, Lombards and Carolingians followed and left their mark. The city republics with their signories emerged and events culminated in the great war between Venice and Milan. Napoleon finally had the Italian Republic proclaimed and after his downfall, most of Upper Italy fell to the Habsburg emperors in Vienna. Verdi’s Nabucco soon made Italian hearts beat faster and “Il Risorgimento”, i.e. the rebirth of the Italian nation state, succeeded under the crown of the kings of Piedmont. World War I , the outbreak of nationalism, World War II and today the Republic again – the land where the lemons bloom has seen a lot. [2]

Crucial to the formation of Lake Garda and its surroundings is also the last ice age, which ended about 10,000 years ago. The Alps had already unfolded 60 million years earlier. The interaction of these two major events finally formed the landscape we see today. Since it has always been warmer south of the Alps than in the north, the advancing glacial masses melted as they entered the Po Valley, leaving behind their moraines. These moraines blocked the valley exits and dammed up the meltwater that followed – the northern Italian lakes were formed.

Due to the large amounts of water in the lakes, the climate near the shore is much more mediterranean than just a few hundred metres away. Immediately, the mountain flora typical of the Alps begins again on the somewhat higher slopes. Since Lake Garda is the largest of the Upper Italian lakes, this phenomenon is most pronounced here. Hibiscus, oleander, eucalyptus and above all the olive tree provide a distinctive appearance.

Gardasee, © Michelle_Raponi

And another important plus point is the fact that Lake Garda has always been divided into two parts. In the south, there were the harbours, already outside the mountain region, and at the northern, much narrower tip of the lake, small towns like Riva, quasi still settled in the mountain landscape. In between, on both sides of the lake, there are mountain slopes smoothed by glaciers, which slope somewhat flatter into the lake on the east side and vertically on the west side.

For a long time, only shipping could connect the southern tip of the lake with its northern tip, and a large number of villages on the shore could only be reached from the water. These rather difficult transport and local conditions prevented a distinct garden and villa culture such as on Lake Como. As a result, Lake Garda is much closer, its shore accessible almost everywhere; and if you are lucky enough to own a boat, you can land almost anywhere.

Nowadays, of course, there is a road around the lake, the so-called Gardesana. Its construction was an adventure; already on the western side there are more than 70 tunnels and galleries.

On this unusual road and its branches, you can reach many small and larger places, villages in the mountains, pilgrimage churches, beautifully situated wineries and, of course, all the places on the lake whose names stir up longing. Limone, Malcesine, Sirmione, Riva, Torbole, Bardolino, Torri del Benaco, Garda and many others.

We will soon be going to all of them.

machine-translated from German

Notes
1 … Strictly speaking, this is already the first stumbling block, because undiscovered corners eventually become discovered corners in this way, which are found by many. Do I want that?

2 … Of course, this is an extremely inaccurate and superficial summary of what happened. At this point, however, it should suffice for us

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