It is no accident that Lake Garda sounds like it was named after an Irish policeman.
It got its name from a fort which was built by the Visigoths when they nibbled the northern quarters of the crumbling Roman empire.
The fort on the hilltop where all below could be surveyed guarded the region, and the spectacular mountain where it stood still does. The name was changed from Lacus Benacus for ever more to Lago Di Garda.
That is how Irish holiday makers have come to know it, a huge freshwater body high enough in the mountains to be cool when the going gets hot in the lowlands and on the sea shore.
The Lake is located in the most marvellous settings of high mountains, olive trees and vineyards, offering a landscape that is both alpine and Mediterranean, characterised by a variety of vegetation and culture.
It is well sheltered by the Alps to the north. On one side the narrow ridge of Mount Baldo separates the lake from the Adige River valley. It is at its deepest, narrowest and most spectacular towards the north, where the lake is fed by the Sarca River and spreads out between towering cliffs, while the Mincio empties the lake in the direction of the River Po at the southern end.
Narrow at the northern end, between towering cliffs, the lake widens gradually southward into a nearly circular basin, with rich vegetation on the southern and western shores.
The valley funnels through seasonal winds, which may swell into violent storms, with their very own pet names, the sover from the north in the morning, and the ora from the south in the afternoon.
The ripples, the blue sky, the glorious reflection of the mountains, and the measured mood of the lake have made this one of the pleasantest spots on earth.
Most tourists arrive by coach, chill out on the shoreside hotels, and are ferried along one of Europe’s most famous drives, the magnificent Gardesana scenic route (89 miles), opened in 1931.
The towns along the lake all have their own charm, picturesque hamlets like Riva, Gargnano, Desenzano del Garda, Punta San Vigilio, Garda, Lazise, Bardolino up to and Peschiera del Garda, all offering the chance to relax, go shopping or simply do nothing. Each has an offering of food and wine, often unique to the community.
Bardolino’s wine is one of the best of the plentiful varieties around the region. You can tour the local vineyards, sampling the whites, reds and a delicious rose that will restore your faith in the colour.
The Hotel Caesius Thermae in Bardolino has its own historical treasure, the sailing ship San Nicolò, which brings guests out into the lake to take in the landscape.
In the park region, famous for its “Love knot”, Valeggio sul Mincio, you can taste the delicious type of tortelloni in the Restaurant “Il Bue d’oro.”
In the centre of the town of Lazise, along the shore of the lake, near the tiny castellated lakeshore port, they will serve typical dishes in the renowned Taverna da Oreste.
There is another treasure, tucked away above a hilltop above the Mincio river. The Villa Sigurtà Park, Temple of Nature, was created in the 1940s on a patch of barren land by a pioneering gardener and is now considered to be one of the five most beautiful gardens in the world.
Glorying in its reputation as a retreat for Italians, the region is also an active sports area.
Rocks are for climbing, as well know and there are plenty right next to the lake, where one can also go windsurfing, mountain biking and you don’t need the rope and boots to watch the sailing boats from your 2,000m high perch.
For a while you become guardian of Garda and all your survey. And you realise where the name came from.
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