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Lake Garda

Feature by Lizzie Guilfoyle

MEASURING thirty two miles in length and ten miles across at its widest point, Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake; while in shape, it resembles a banjo.

And it is very lovely – from the mountainous north (the neck of the banjo) to the rolling green hills of the south (the soundbox) – while a mild climate ensures an abundance of lush Mediterranean vegetatation – vines, lemon and olive trees, tall cypress (in Italy, the symbol of eternity), and fragrant magnolia and oleander.

For my first visit to the Lake, I chose to stay in Maderno, situated on a small promontary on the western shore, at a point where the neck of the banjo joins the soundbox. More a village than a town, its size is best summed up by the number of bus stops – just two – one for north bound journeys, the other for south bound.

But like all lake resorts, Maderno has a picturesque harbour, a seemingly endless lakeside promenade and regular hydrofoil and ferry services to other resorts. It also has a year round car ferry service to Torri del Benaco, a lovely resort complete with its own medieval castle, on the opposite shore.

It’s also spotlessly clean, as indeed are all the lake resorts – as well as Torri, I visited Riva, Lazise and Limone – which is not always the case in Italy where litter and graffiti can be a real problem. Yet you could argue that here it’s taken to extremes with even picnicking outlawed – as our young rep discovered to his cost while trying to impress a girlfriend!

Lake Garda is not only beautiful, it also has plenty to offer visitors. For example, there’s windsurfing from Riva and Malcesine from where you can also scale the heights of Monte Baldo, the lake’s highest mountain, from the comfort of a cable car; while in Gardone, you can explore the 20th Century “folly” Il Vittoriale, the bizarre and disturbing residence of poet, adventurer and fascist Gabriele D’Annunzio.

But if that isn’t enough, there’s the medieval city of Verona, Venice with its elegant bridges and world famous canals, and the awe-inspiring Dolomites all within easy reach.

But a word of warning. It’s important to remember that city tours are simply ‘tasters’ – that it’s impossible to take in all the sights in the short space of a single day. Even so, they can still seem rushed with time-keeping a prime concern – transport has been known to depart leaving guests stranded – all of which can lead to disappointment.

That said, they can also be richly rewarding. I ‘did’ Venice in a day and got to stroll among the pigeons in St Mark’s Square where, quite possibly, they really do out-number tourists; shop for Venetian glass (the choice is unbelievable); consume a delicious seafood risotto and even ride in a gondoler – not quite the romantic experience we’re led to believe but one that allows you to view the city from an entirely different perspective.

So, if you’re looking for somewhere beautiful, interesting and with a pizzazz known only to Italians, Lake Garda could be just the place for you.