Riva del Garda (google image)
Lake Garda - the largest of the Italian lakes - lies just a thirty minute train ride from Verona, yet many American tourists overlook it for the more trafficked Lake Como (Como is the one that Rick Steves recommends). This beautiful lake is situated at the base of the Italian Alps and has many lovely lakeside towns. This destination made it on our list thanks to my friend and ex-coworker, Jenny. Jenny spent a summer (plus several other trips) visiting towns throughout Europe and performing with her UAB choral group (Jenny, if you read this...correct me if I'm wrong. I'm a little fuzzy on the details....I just remember you being gone from the office for an ENTIRE summer, galavanting around Europe while I was stuck at my desk!). Out of all of the places Jenny visited she said this was one of her favorites....and when I started looking at possible destinations for our trip, the beauty of the pictures from this area absolutely blew me away. ....Not to mention the fact that Mark and I felt this place was less likely to be overrun by tourists (which is a huge plus in our eyes)....so it made the list!
I picked the town of Malcesine for us to stay. Malcesine has beautiful medieval streets, nice restaurants and shopping, a beach, a cable car that takes you up to Monte Baldo and even a castle.
Malcesine from the water (google images)
After narrowing down which town we should stay in, picking accommodations was pretty easy. Malcesine is only a town of about 3500 people so accommodations were limited. Our requirements for a hotel here were: a nice view (lake or castle view...or both!), comfortable room, walking distance to restaurants/town, a pleasing aesthetic, less than $150/night and a good TripAdvisor rating. We found all of these specifications met with a little B&B called Hotel Erika.
Hotel Erika (image from website)
Although it has the word "hotel" in it's name, it's listed as a B&B on TripAdvisor and it claims the Number 1 spot. At just $91/night it definitely met our price requirement....and with a beautiful garden, rooms with views of the castle( ..from private balconies!), and modern, updated rooms & bathrooms...it easily won us over as our top choice.
view of Castle from Balcony! (image from Trip Advisor)
We're spending 3 nights at the Hotel Erika, and during our time there we plan to explore several of the beautiful lake towns of Lago di Garda (Riva, Limone, Gargnano, Tremosine, Salo, and Gardone). We'll take day trips to probably 2-3 towns per day by using the very accessible ferries that traverse up and down the lake.
Oh - We're also planning to paraglide down Monte Baldo :)
image from Fly2Fun
Yep.....PARAGLIDE!!! It's gonna be SO freakn' AMAZING!!! I found a company online called Fly2Fun that does tandem flights for 100 euro/person. It's a 20-30 minute flight down from Monte Baldo and you land right beside the lake in a grassy area. The drop from Monte Baldo down to Lake Garda is 1700 meters. .......I can't wait!!
Also, I should mention transportation in case anyone else is planning to go and is trying to figure this out themselves....We're taking a train from Venice to Desenzano del Garda. From there, we're planning to take a ferry up the lake to Malcesine (2hr trip on the fast ferry). You can also take a bus (1 hr trip on the 62-64 bus line), but on the trip up to our destination we wanted to take the scenic route in order to scope out some of the other lake towns along the way. On the trip back from Malcesine to Cinque Terre (our next destination) we plan to take the bus down to Peschiera del Garda (the OTHER train stop besides Desenzano at the Southern end of Lake Garda) and then hop on a train to Cinque Terre.
beach/lakeside walk/castle @ Malcesine
....next up, Cinque Terre.
the indecisive wife
UPDATE POST TRIP: Lake Garda and Malcesine was absolutely AMAZING! Probably our favorite locale of the entire trip. The scenery is breathtaking, the people are warm and gracious, the food is excellent, the area is affordable, it's easy to visit other towns on the lake via ferry and there's plenty to see and do. The tourists are respectful and are at a minimum compared to other locations we visited in Italy (bonus: the number of American tourists is very limited). The clarity of the lake water is unbelievable - this is not your average North American lake! The color of the water is a crystal clear aqua blue and the villages on the lake are so picturesque, with flowers, olive and lemon trees everywhere and a castle in nearly every town. We visited Limone, Riva del Garda and Malcesine while there (limoncino is produced in Limone) and loved every one of them. The paragliding was also a huge highlight of our trip - to be able to see the lake and mountains from that viewpoint was amazing. And, quite honestly, it wasn't scary at all....in fact, it was quite peaceful. I'd HIGHLY recommend that you paraglide while visiting...Fly2Fun was great (although the guides spoke little English)...it was very safe and easy.
Oh - I would be remiss if I didn't mention Hotel Erika. This little inn at the top of hill (coming up from the town center) is the absolute perfect place to stay. Erika runs the inn herself and is SO accommodating and gracious. She serves breakfast herself every morning to the guests and no detail is left unattended. The inn is very clean and modern and Erika treats you as though you're an old friend staying in her home. We stayed in room #16 (at the time it was listed as a Delux Plus with castle view and a/c...although I think the room categories might have been reworked since we've been) - it had the most beautiful view of the castle and the balcony was more private than some of the others. Mark and I both agreed that we thought it was the best room in the entire inn. You can check out the review Mark wrote here and Hotel Erika's website here.
the view from our balcony at Hotel Erika (photo has NOT been retouched - at all!)
view of Limone from the ferry
me paragliding (tandem, of course!) over Lake Garda
view of Malcesine from the air
castle at Malcesine
swans on the beach at Malcesine