By Adam Jacot de Boinod
Is there a more beautiful place to spend the springtime – or anytime, really – than the Italian lakes?
This is where I found myself just before Easter this year – ahead of the throngs of tourists that descend into the region each summer. There was a catching undercurrent of excitement for the season ahead, but it was still peaceful and slow paced, with tourists being a relative rarity.
One of the best parts about visiting old Italy is, of course, its inherent sustainability, and my visit to this part of the country was just that, thanks to staying in ancient edifices, eating locally grown food, and touring by foot and boat.
My Sustainable Trip To The Italian Lakes
I came first to the lake’s Gardone Riviera, beyond the impressive Torre San Marco, which was used by Mussolini for romantic trysts. I ended up in the small village of Gardone Sopra. Here, the narrow, winding lanes feature many shrines to the Madonna and pastel buildings with plants and cats peeping through iron grills.
I stayed at the town’s historic Grand Hotel Gardone, and loved my double-balconied room with its glorious morning views of the sparkling lake. Birdsong provided the soundtrack to this view each day.
Each evening, I dined at the hotel’s Il Giardino dei Limoni restaurant, also overlooking the lake, but this time lit by a full moon rather than sunbeams. Homemade ravioli with lemon and basil, punctuated by pine nuts was beyond delicious, and a subtle white Italian Pilandro Lugana wine was the perfect companion. I followed this by a light mousse made with locally sourced yoghurt with candied pineapple and ginger, served with sage syrup.
Deciding I needed to explore the lakes from a more direct perspective, the following morning I arranged to meet with one chirpy, cheerful Captain Mirco Cavagnera to tour the waters in his small boat service. He positively revelled in sharing his infectious passion for being out on the lake, from which the towns and villages reveal their full glory, framed by the verdant hills behind.
Later that evening, I enjoyed yet another locally sourced meal at the town’s Savoy Palace restaurant, where spaghetti with broccoli cream and roasted almonds was accompanied by a selection of organic produce from their delicious salad bar. I drank a local red this time, called Fattoria Ca’Granda, which was rich, smooth and slightly nutty – perfect for the almonds in the pasta.
There’s really no point in taking a sustainable trip to the Italian Lakes without steeping yourself in a bit of history, and so my next excursion was to the splendid 17th century Villa Bettoni, the result of a former Count Bettoni’s profits from the lemon trade, which no less than sixteen brothers inherited to expand.
Incredible frescoes, marble statues, priceless antiques and room after sprawling room define this incredible mansion, pictured below, whose splendour in the area is perhaps only rivalled by the Gothic-styled Isola del Garda castle, seen in the last image below.
I stayed next at the Villa Giulia, whose airy rooms are decorated with antique furniture and Austrian prints and pictures. There’s even a piano for talented guests to play! It was a bit too chilly still to dip into their azure pool, butI did enjoy the incredibly fresh-aired Himalayan salt rock room, as well as the warmth of their Jacuzzi, Turkish steam bath Finnish sauna.
In their restaurant, Villa Giulia begins theatrically with a selection of different waters from the ‘hypomineral’ to the ‘low mineral’ – all of which I imagined coming straight off the snow-capped mountains opposite. The highly professional waiters, alerted from their monitoring positions behind their screens, beautifully served me chef Maurizio Bufi’s asparagus, avocado, and black truffle starter before finally delivering an exquisite ravioli with Pecorino cheese, peas, asparagus, broad beans and kumquat, which was punctuated perfectly by the local white Bellavista Convento Santissima Annunciata wine.
The next morning, it was time to explore the region more by boat, and I ended up at the Porto Vecchio in Limone, as seen in the film ‘The Talented Mr. Ripley’. I joined several tourists who stopped tinkling their coffee spoons to grab their mobiles to witness an old-fashioned sailing boat arriving with a two-man crew, taking up the entire stretch of the marina to moor.
The Siora Veronica is the oldest boat in the region. Built in 1926 and owned by the son of an English woman, it was restored twelve years ago and is now up for sale. It’s a solid iron boat, sleeping six people, weighing 22 tons and 24 metres in length and it was originally used to deliver wood and rocks around the island. She’s an absolute beauty.
My final destination was the town of Verona, where Romeo allegedly met Juliet. I stayed at the Hotel Due Torri, where it seemed the mezzanine breakfast area had more dogs than owners as a result of the leniency of the epauletted staff. As for my room, its primrose walls were covered in framed gold and mint damask silks and the parquet floors, Murano chandeliers and traditional wooden furniture, as well as the pale salmon pink marble bathroom with gold fittings, all made for a very stylish stay.
There’s plenty to do in this town; I hired a bike to explore the pink marble sidewalks, tour the Medieval bridge and wander around the various shops.
Opera shows at the Roman arena here are world famous, but not in possession of a ticket, I decided to visit Juliet’s Balcony. It may not be 100% factually accurate, as Shakespeare only mentioned a window not a balcony in his famous play, but this stone appendage is now a must-see for those on a romantic pilgrimage, and in fact, since the Italian Lakes are just so gorgeously romantic, it seemed a highly appropriate place to end my sustainable trip to the Italian Lakes at the balcony of the world’s most famous lovers.