Since we’d already been to Spain (Barcelona) and France (Marseille), we decided to go to Italy for a summer trip. Since we’d been to southern and central Italy (Amalfi, Lerici/Cinque Terre) before, we decided to go north this time, to the lake district. I’d been to Lake Como many years ago for a weekend, and had found it quite beautiful. This time we settled on Lake Garda between Milan and Verona.
Lake Garda, simply put, is spectacular — impossibly blue waters ringed by dramatic mountains. We stayed in Malcesine, about two-thirds of the way up the eastern shore, right at the base of Monte Baldo. The lake is a popular destination for Germans, and many locals/restaurants are pretty much bi-lingual. Given it’s beauty, it was quite crowded in August, but going just a bit off the beaten path provided peace and quiet.
The lake water was quite chilly, so we only did a few quick dips, unlike the locals who seemed to spend the whole day in it. Fortunately our hotel had a pool — despite it also being a bit unheated, it was good enough in the sunny afternoons.
A popular activity is going up Monte Baldo, which tops out at 2,218 m. There are hiking trails as well as a couple of cable cars that go up and down. We took the cable car. Getting there early in the morning helped avoid the crowds. It is definitely worth the cost. The ridge at the top is wide and flat, allowing for picnics, walking, relaxing.
The lake itself is very popular for non-motorized watersports. Wind-surfing, kite-surfing, you name it, they do it.
The town of Malcesine itself is like many other small Italian towns — labyrinthine cobblestone streets going, some steep ups and downs, and quite interesting to wander aimlessly.
The other main attraction of Malcesine is the medieval Castello Scaligero. It perches above the town and lake. The inexpensive entry fee is more than worth it, as it is beautifully preserved inside and provides a fantastic education on the local history, both natural and human (including the fascinating struggle for control between Milan and Venice). And the views of the lake and Malcesine from the castle are fantastic.
The thing we enjoyed the most though was probably walking along the lake. A paved lakefront path goes along the shore connecting the various towns. The paths provide solitude from the crowds, lead to some beautiful views, and quiet (but still gravelly) beaches.
In addition, there are many trails that criss-cross the surrounding mountains. Starting from town, they took us above the lake for some nice views.
We did a short sailing tour around a little bit of the lake which was quite nice.
We also took the commuter ferry from Malcesine to Limone sul Garda on the western shore. While quite a bit more touristy than Malcesine, the town has a very nice lemon “farm”, and an open waterfront promenade.