For as long as I have known him, whenever conversation has drifted to childhood memories, SG has spoken fondly, so fondly, of a big lake in Italy. His Mum and Dad, in true German style, used to drive a caravan down from Kiel, park it by the lake, and set small SG free upon the water, the boats, and the ice cream.
Last Christmas, I got a card in which was the gift of a week down by Lake Garda, staying in a little bungalow in a huge campingplatz (observations about which, and the German camping culture, will get their own blog post) metres from the shore of the fondly remembered lake. Lake Garda to the English, Gardasee to the Germans and, in its mellifluous mother tongue … Lago di Garda.
You’ll find Lago di Garda, the largest lake in Italy and cloistered by mountains from the Gruppo del Bardo, up north, a couple of hours from the Austrian border and a short drive from Verona. It runs for around 51.6km and dotted down its length are ancient villages, olive groves, vineyards, fortifications, and an obscene amount of accommodation options for the tourists. But let’s forget about the tourists for now. Tourists (and there are, to be honest, a lot of them in this pocket of the world) spoil everything.
Without the tourists, Lago di Garda is a beautiful, peaceful collision of the best Mother Nature has to offer – blue water, enormous mountains, bursts of pink and red flowers, thousands of olive trees and the type of climate and ground conducive to producing large quantities of extremely drinkable wine. It is old stony, lane ways and terracotta houses, wrought iron-lace balconies and crumbling forts, pebbly alcoves and long, spindly wooden piers.
The six hour drive down from Weiden bloated into a 9 hour drive from hell, the roads choked with kilometre-long traffic-jams. Every ten minutes, there’d be a tri-lingual sign warning of ‘traffic danger!’ or the sat-nav would give it’s little ‘traffic jam ahead’ signal. A couple of accidents stopped up the roads and gave SG carte blanche to use his word of the trip, ‘rubbernecking.’ Half of Germany and a good portion of the Netherlands, with their huge caravans, banked things up from the Italy-Austria border on, and we crawled our way down through the tolls and into Lake Garda.
But what a drive.
Checking in was chaotic, involved visiting two different reception locations, and seemed to occur alongside the millions of people we shared the roads with. We were both snappy and hungry and sweaty, having been woefully unprepared in the snacks and drinks department of our road trip. In fact, we were generally woefully unprepared compared to the surrounding serious campers, like, for example, our neighbour, who had packed a vacuum cleaner …
The only thing to do, once our little trailer had been located, was to avail ourselves of what Italy does best; food and wine. Nothing like a litre of Bardolino table wine to scrub away the snappiness.
This week will be an Italy week on the blog – words and (plenty of) pictures on the lake’s villages, wine, food, and the beautiful city of Verona. I suggest you consume each post with a glass of red wine and some good cheese.
As for the German camping culture and all I learnt about it … I’ll leave that for next week.