Glamour, excellent food, and the great outdoors in Italy’s Lake Garda

Pack designer sunglasses, walking shoes, and a fondness for divine food for your trip to Italy’s Lake Garda, says Gráinne McGuinness.

Glamour, excellent food, and the great outdoors in Italy’s Lake Garda

Pack designer sunglasses, walking shoes, and a fondness for divine food for your trip to Italy’s Lake Garda, says Gráinne McGuinness.

Before I went there for the first time I associated the lakes in Northern Italy with old-school glamour, stunning scenery and stars like George Clooney and Amal AlamuddinAlma Abedin.

The Hollywood actor and the lawyer are regular visitors to that part of the world, so I flew to Lake Garda expecting glamorous boutiques, fine dining and a generally aspirational lifestyle — designer sunglasses not optional.

If living a film-star lifestyle is what you fancy in a holiday, the towns and resorts in the Trentino area of Lake Garda won’t disappoint, with a huge number of beautiful restaurants to eat and be seen in.

But what did surprise me is that the area is also a Mecca for those who prefer a more active holiday, with everything from windsurfing to rock-climbing and diving to trail-running available for all levels of expertise.

In five days there, we explored the area by bike, on a hike and the lake itself in a kayak — and we barely scratched the surface.

And the best part was, after every activity there was a fabulous new restaurant to try, with local wine and delicacies the perfect reward for an active day.

Riva del Garda was the location for our first activity; it felt only natural to start the holiday out on the water. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, 370 km² in area, so I was expecting it to feel closer to sea-kayaking. But when we want out the water was calm and felt safe even for beginners in our group.

We had no trouble spending a couple of hours paddling along the seafront of the town before making our way further out, accompanied by a knowledgeable and friendly guide from Sailing Du Lac.

There were people in swimming at the same time and both adults and children moving serenely across the water on stand-up paddle boards. A feature of the lake is that for much of the year the water is still and calm in the morning, as it was for us.

But in the early afternoon the wind picks up, making it the ideal location for more adventurous sports. Within a couple of hours of us returning to shore, a stiff breeze made the water choppier and the bay filled with sailboats and kite surfers.

With scuba diving, fishing, and canoeing also on offer, it is a water lover’s paradise. Holidaymakers could happily spend every day trying a different activity without ever going far from the water.

But to do so would be to miss out on the many other activities the Lake Garda area has to offer.

Cycling is the ideal way to see as much of it as possible, with over 1,000km of routes to choose from. The difficulty level ranges from a gentle meander, to elevations of up to 2,000 metres.

If that sounds daunting, I can let you into a little secret —e-biking. Despite not having cycled in a few years, I covered 45km in a morning as part of a guided group tour, including forays up into the mountains surrounding Arco.

It was a journey I would have struggled to complete on a regular bike but could manage comfortably with the help of the e-bike’s rechargeable battery.

Our guide told us the bikes have exploded in popularity in recent years and it is easy to see why. They open up the daunting world of mountain and long-distance cycling to those whose fitness levels are more suited to a gentle stroll.

People used to only moderate exercise can experience the thrill of covering miles of ground around the lush vineyards and orchards of the Trentino area, rather than it being limited to the superfit.

My normal weekly exercise consists of a few lunchtime strolls and maybe a longer walk at the weekend but the e-bike gave me the chance to freewheel around the twisty Italian roads and overtake far fitter cyclists with ease.

E-biking is a genuine game-changer for activity tourism, and I can imagine no better place to enjoy it than surrounded by the beauty of Trentino.

A brief chat with our guide for the planned afternoon exploring the mountains by the lake quickly established we had very different expectations.

One of our group and the guide were armed with ropes and crampons, the rest of us prepared by changing into walking shoes and sticking a bottle of water in a bag.

Clearly, we weren’t all going to cover the same ground. The fitness-challenged amongst us were sent off with instructions for a gentle, meandering hike up to a church overlooking the pretty village of Arco, while the serious climbers aimed to get to the same location by going directly up the east wall of Monte Colodri.

When we met up several hours later, we had all had exactly the afternoons we wanted. The hikers enjoyed stunning views while encountering horses, donkeys, dogs and rabbits as we gradually climbed to look out over the water.

The serious mountain climber, meanwhile, had enjoyed a challenging route around the famed Via Ferrata Colodri and had the pictures to prove it. No matter what level you are at, there will be a walk to suit you somewhere in this beautiful region.

And if you don’t fancy breaking a sweat, the towns in North Lake Garda are full of cobbled streets to wander round at your leisure, with gelaterie and wine bars dotted around to allow you sit in the shade and watch the world go by. Whether your dream holiday is to push your body to its limits or to set a new record for afternoon naps in a single week, Lake Garda can provide you with an ideal break.

As with the activities, it felt like we only scratched the surface of good places to eat and drink in the days we spent around North Lake Garda.

There was Ristorante la Berlera in Riva del Garda, a restaurant carved out of a boulder in the 18th century, where phone and internet signal is blocked by the thickness of stone, leaving guests to enjoy the beautifully presented food without interruption.

At the Villetta Annessa restaurant we were treated to a tasting menu of local delicacies, and served by a passionate sommelier who delighted in telling us all about the local wines he chose to best complement our meals.

Restaurant Al Forte Alto’s location in a fortress high above Nago is so impressive, customers might not even notice if the food was ordinary.

But we instead were treated to a stunning five-course meal, finished with a dessert plate that would make a cake lover weep with joy.

Before I went there for the first time I associated the lakes in Northern Italy with old-school glamour, stunning scenery and stars like George Clooney and Amal AlamuddinAlma Abedin.

The Hollywood actor and the lawyer are regular visitors to that part of the world, so I flew to Lake Garda expecting glamorous boutiques, fine dining and a generally aspirational lifestyle — designer sunglasses not optional.

If living a film-star lifestyle is what you fancy in a holiday, the towns and resorts in the Trentino area of Lake Garda won’t disappoint, with a huge number of beautiful restaurants to eat and be seen in.

But what did surprise me is that the area is also a Mecca for those who prefer a more active holiday, with everything from windsurfing to rock-climbing and diving to trail-running available for all levels of expertise.

In five days there, we explored the area by bike, on a hike and the lake itself in a kayak — and we barely scratched the surface.

And the best part was, after every activity there was a fabulous new restaurant to try, with local wine and delicacies the perfect reward for an active day.

Riva del Garda was the location for our first activity; it felt only natural to start the holiday out on the water. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy, 370 km² in area, so I was expecting it to feel closer to sea-kayaking.

But when we want out the water was calm and felt safe even for beginners in our group. We had no trouble spending a couple of hours paddling along the seafront of the town before making our way further out, accompanied by a knowledgeable and friendly guide from Sailing Du Lac.

There were people in swimming at the same time and both adults and children moving serenely across the water on stand-up paddleboards. A feature of the lake is that for much of the year the water is still and calm in the morning, as it was for us. But in the early afternoon the wind picks up, making it the ideal location for more adventurous sports.

Within a couple of hours of us returning to shore, a stiff breeze made the water choppier and the bay filled with sailboats and kite surfers.

With scuba diving, fishing, and canoeing also on offer, it is a water lover’s paradise. Holidaymakers could happily spend every day trying a different activity without ever going far from the water. But to do so would be to miss out on the many other activities the Lake Garda area has to offer.

Cycling is the ideal way to see as much of it as possible, with over 1,000km of routes to choose from. The difficulty level ranges from a gentle meander, to elevations of up to 2,000 metres. If that sounds daunting, I can let you into a little secret —e-biking.

Despite not having cycled in a few years, I covered 45km in a morning as part of a guided group tour, including forays up into the mountains surrounding Arco.

It was a journey I would have struggled to complete on a regular bike but could manage comfortably with the help of the e-bike’s rechargeable battery.

Our guide told us the bikes have exploded in popularity in recent years and it is easy to see why. They open up the daunting world of mountain and long-distance cycling to those whose fitness levels are more suited to a gentle stroll.

People used to only moderate exercise can experience the thrill of covering miles of ground around the lush vineyards and orchards of the Trentino area, rather than it being limited to the superfit.

My normal weekly exercise consists of a few lunchtime strolls and maybe a longer walk at the weekend but the e-bike gave me the chance to freewheel around the twisty Italian roads and overtake far fitter cyclists with ease. E-biking is a genuine game-changer for activity tourism, and I can imagine no better place to enjoy it than surrounded by the beauty of Trentino.

A brief chat with our guide for the planned afternoon exploring the mountains by the lake quickly established we had very different expectations.

One of our group and the guide were armed with ropes and crampons, the rest of us prepared by changing into walking shoes and sticking a bottle of water in a bag. Clearly, we weren’t all going to cover the same ground.

The fitness-challenged amongst us were sent off with instructions for a gentle, meandering hike up to a church overlooking the pretty village of Arco, while the serious climbers aimed to get to the same location by going directly up the east wall of Monte Colodri. When we met up several hours later, we had all had exactly the afternoons we wanted.

The hikers enjoyed stunning views while encountering horses, donkeys, dogs and rabbits as we gradually climbed to look out over the water. The serious mountain climber, meanwhile, had enjoyed a challenging route around the famed Via Ferrata Colodri and had the pictures to prove it. No matter what level you are at, there will be a walk to suit you somewhere in this beautiful region.

And if you don’t fancy breaking a sweat, the towns in North Lake Garda are full of cobbled streets to wander round at your leisure, with gelaterie and wine bars dotted around to allow you sit in the shade and watch the world go by. Whether your dream holiday is to push your body to its limits or to set a new record for afternoon naps in a single week, Lake Garda can provide you with an ideal break.

As with the activities, it felt like we only scratched the surface of good places to eat and drink in the days we spent around North Lake Garda.

There was Ristorante la Berlera in Riva del Garda, a restaurant carved out of a boulder in the 18th century, where phone and internet signal is blocked by the thickness of stone, leaving guests to enjoy the beautifully presented food without interruption.

At the Villetta Annessa restaurant we were treated to a tasting menu of local delicacies, and served by a passionate sommelier who delighted in telling us all about the local wines he chose to best complement our meals. Restaurant Al Forte Alto’s location in a fortress high above Nago is so impressive, customers might not even notice if the food was ordinary.

But we instead were treated to a stunning five-course meal, finished with a dessert plate that would make a cake lover weep with joy.

But my favourite experience of them all was at Acetaia del Balsamico, overlooking Tenno. They make their own wine, cheese, and balsamic vinegar on the premises, as well as offering bed and breakfast for food lovers who want to make a night of it.

We didn’t stay over but were treated to a tour of the production side of things before sitting down to dinner while enjoying the incredible views. Carne Salada, made with beef cured with salt and seasonings, is a specialty of the Trentino region.

We At Acetaia del Balsamico we were treated to it as a starter, accompanied by washed down with Acetaia del Balsamico’s own wines, while watching the sun set over Lake Garda.

An ideal end to a trip and an experience not to be missed if you make the trip to the region.

GETTING THERE

Aer Lingus, Ireland’s only 4-Star airline, operates up to four flights per week to Verona,

Italy from Dublin. Fares start from €54.99 one-way including taxes and charges.

Visit aerlingus.com.

Spanish carrier Volotea will also operate a Cork to Verona flight every Saturday from May 26 to August 29, with an additional flight on Wednesdays during peak season from June 27.

Relax with spa treatment at The Rose

The Rose Hotel in Tralee has relaxing overnight break offers to include treats at the award winning Serenity Spa. Guests can avail of back, neck, shoulder massage or elemis facial. Prices start at €111 per person sharing and includes overnight with dinner and spa treatment choice. Details on: www.therosehotel.com or call 066-7199100

Banish September blues with 28-night trip to Australia

It doesn’t come cheap, but a 28-night deal featuring Australia and New Zealand – with stopovers in Singapore and Hong Kong — will have appeal to a certain small clientele. The Travel Department is selling the September 1 deal from €8999 ex-Dublin with four-star hotel accommodation and a host of excursions included. Details on www.traveldepartment.ie or call 01-6371600.

Explore Thailand and Laos on two-week tour

Cassidy travel has a 14-day small group tour of Thailand and Laos in May with prices starting from €1799. Clients will visit temples in Chiang Mai and explore the Mekong before sailing into Laos.

Experienced guides have been enlisted but there will still be time for individual exploration. Flights are with Emirates departing Dublin for Bangkok on May 18 and returning via Hanoi. Details on 01-291 0000.

Soak up some early summer sunshine in Malta

This year experience some early summer sunshine on the island of Malta with events and activities to suit all ages.

Budget Travel offers a week on May 13 for €379 or one on May 24 for €539. Mercury Holidays has a four-star package on May 14 for upwards of €569. A five-star package is on with Concorde Travel from €900. Visit www.maltaireland.com for details of events taking place next month.

Spring deals on ferry trips to UK

The Irish Ferries Spring sale continues until Wednesday next (April 11) and offers reductions on all motorist fares between Ireland and Britain for travel right through to December 18 next.

The deal is valid on all cruise and fast ferry services but bookings must be made at least 48 hours in advance. Bookings on: www.irishferries.com or call 0818 300 400.

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