The journey from Gatwick to Verona takes a mere one hour and 55 minutes. Just enough time to glance your eyes on a newspaper, change the time on your watch to an hour ahead and before you know it, you’re landing at Verona Villafranca Airport.
For the first three nights of our trip to Lake Garda and Lake Iseo, we were based at Le Ali Del Frassino, a lovely retreat on the shores of Lake Frassino (with the Sanctuary Maddona Del Frassino nearby) and next to some beautiful vineyards. The hotel is situated less than two miles from Peschiera del Garda, the fortress town on the shores of Lake Garda and the mouth of the River Mincio.
Peschiera is connected by direct trains to Verona (35 minutes), Venice (one hour 30 minutes) and Milan (approximately two hours). Trains are a quick and cost-effective way to access those iconic Italian cities, plus they give you easy access to other little gems, like Mantova (Mantua), Padova (Padua) and Vicenza.
We went for stroll around the small and beautiful Frassino Lake (the most important habitat for tufted ducks in Italy), before tucking in to some tasty local specialties and wine at Ardea Purpurea Restaurant.
The next day we drove to the beautiful town of Sirmione, only half an hour from Peschiera. It has one of the best-preserved historic centres in Lake Garda, located on a narrow peninsula and boasting the beautiful Rocca Scaligeri Castle founded by the famous Scala family of Verona. The town gets its fair share of visitors that arrive in their hundreds every day between 10am and 4pm, so if you are staying in the town, it’s at its most serene and idyllic first thing in the morning and early evening.
We walked through the beautiful cobbled streets and had a delicious ice-cream (Sirmione has some of the best ice-cream parlours in Lake Garda).
Sirmione boasts the famous Terme Di Catullo, the only privately owned spa in Italy. We visited and had lunch at Hotel Olivi, whose spa gets its thermal waters straight from the natural source of the Terme. We also visited the beautiful Grand Hotel Terme (with its lovely indoor and outdoor pools), right next to the castle, and the popular Hotel Sirmione which you’ll find just after you enter the historic gate of Sirmione.
Next, we joined an excursion to the beautiful and romantic Borghetto Sul Mincio. Just before arriving there, we had a stroll through Parco Sigurtà, voted the most beautiful park in Italy in 2014. Before reaching Borghetto, we went through the Viscontese Bridge. The two most powerful families in Milan (Visconti) and Verona (Scala) fought hard through the years to control the bridge and the beautiful Borghetto (the small hamlet of houses) that sits on the mouth of the River Mincio, as this way they could control the water supplies to the medieval town of Mantova.
After a walk and a coffee overlooking the river, we were whisked away to the Azienda Agricola Ricchi, the three-generations vineyard and wine producer owned by the Stefanoni family. Romina, the wife, showed us around. The good soil and the temperate climate make the ideal conditions for their celebrated reds, whites and Spumante (sparkling wine) using Merlot, Cabernet, Rondinella (native grapes), Chardonnay and Trebbiano. We visited the production line and sampled some of these beautiful wines along with some local cheese. A merry end to the day.
On the third day, we drove half an hour north of Peschiera to the town of Lazise, another fortress town inside medieval walls. We had a short stop here to visit the beautiful Hotel Corte Valier, a modern spa hotel just next to the lake promenade.
A 10-minute drive up from Lazise brought us to the popular town of Bardolino. First, a visit to the Hotel Caesius Thermae, which has a beautiful garden and spa. The hotel even offers a complimentary tour of the town and a boat tour twice a week for their guests.
From there, we paid a visit to the Aqulaux – the newest hotel in Bardolino and the only 100% sustainable hotel in Lake Garda (they even have colour-coded recycling bins in each room). The hotel is the epitome of the spa concept and boasts up to eight different pools, both indoor and outdoor. After eating an ‘Italian light lunch’, we had a much-needed stroll through the cobbled streets of Bardolino to the harbour.
Ten minutes’ drive north of Bardolino, and we were in Garda town, another popular resort with visitors due to its location and the convenience of visiting all other towns of Lake Garda by boat. Here, we visited the small, family-run Hotel Garden, with its lovely elevated views over the lake, and then the Hotel Regina Adelaide, owned by the Tedeschi family. The hotel has its own pastry shop – we were lucky enough to sample some of the delights!
On our last day we drove for around an hour and a half to the small and mystic Lake D’Iseo, home to the famous Franciacorta vineyards and Spumante of the same name. We checked in to Relais Franciacorta, which is in a beautiful and secluded position, only 15 minutes’ drive from Iseo town. From the picturesque Iseo town, we took the boat to Monte Isola, the biggest lake island in Europe. We docked at Peschiera Maraglia, a beautiful sleepy village where no cars are allowed. From here, many stunning walks across the steep valleys of the island can be taken.
That rounds up my visit to Lake Garda and Lake Iseo. If you want to find out more or would like help planning your own holiday to Italy, you can call me on 01293 765 478.
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