It’s simple: At Garda, everything comes back to that lake

Food markets, petrol pumps of wine and coffee all part of the Italian experience

Trentino on the northern part of Lake Garda.

Trentino on the northern part of Lake Garda.

 

I’m hazarding a bet that any member of our country’s police force who goes to northern Italy for a holiday buys a few branded souvenirs. Riva del Garda, at the north end of Lake Garda, must be a source of amusement to anyone who has ever passed through Templemore. Pretty much all the souvenirs on sale – hats, t-shirts, snowglobes – have “Garda” written on them somewhere.

It’s all about the lake in this part of Italy. Lake Garda is so huge that each of its various districts around the lake has a distinctly different character. We were in Trentino, at the northern end, but every district has those beautiful, vast views of the lake, no matter where you are.

This is a region with superlative produce, and while you might not associate a supermarket with a must-see attraction when on holiday, Garda’s Agraria’s co-op is exactly that. It is a glorious place of local produce. Everything from olive oil glowing like gold in bottles, to charcuteurte, cheese and vegetables that look like art, is all sourced from the surrounding areas. If you think all that sounds lovely, but really, what makes this co-op so different? That would be the full-size petrol-station fuel pumps, which dispense wine by the gallon.

I watched agog as members of the public walked in briskly with their empty gallon containers and choose which pump – house red, white and rose – they wished to fill up on. There are also shelves upon shelves of wine that comes in more conventional forms, ie bottles, but it’s the pumps that are by far the most popular with the locals.

Special sword

Also on sale here are the items needed for sabrage. That would be opening a bottle of champagne, not by twisting off the foil and the little metal yoke and then popping the cork, but by slicing off the neck by using a special sword. A sword and a bottle of suitably showy and expensive champagne come on sale in boxes that look like something Long John Silver would have buried his treasure in. You won’t get it past carry-on, however, and you may not get the sword in the hold either.

Acetaia del Balsamico in the hills.
Acetaia del Balsamico in the hills.

You see the Omkafe logo on cups in cafes all over northern Italy. This artisan espresso coffee is an old family business, located near Riva de Garda, at Arco. The Martinelli family founded this roastery in 1947, and it is still a family-owned business. There is a little museum on site, and you can have a tour of the roastery itself. The coffee doesn’t come in gallon cans, but in exquisite little espresso cups at the end of the tour. Two mouthfuls of that coffee and I almost started levitating, it had such a powerful effect.

The lake is not just for surfing and boating on; it is also, for the less active tourists, for looking at, walking by and dreaming beside. Many of the lakeside cafes and restaurants have fabulous views, but those much higher up, such as Acetaia del Balsamico, have even better ones. Acetaia del Balsamico is a working farm with a restaurant and rooms, and a terrace that appears to float over the lake 4km beneath. They make their own balsamic vinegar here, and incorporate it into the menu in unusual ways.

Walks and cycles

Everything comes back to that magnificent lake. There are such beautiful walks and cycles, for all levels of fitness. We took electric bikes, a form of transport new to me, and rode a route called Ferrata Colodri. It brought us away from the lake, along a river and through forests and eventually back to the lake again. It was a novel and welcome experience not to have to expend so much energy in getting up hills, and instead having that energy to fully enjoy the gorgeous pastoral surroundings.

Unsurprisingly, the lakeside itself is abuzz with bars and cafes, and simple as it sounds, having a coffee or a glass of wine looking onto Lake Garda either by day or evening is just plain good for the soul.

Rosita Boland was a guest of the Lake Garda Trentino Tourist Board.

Aer Lingus flies up four times a week to Verona from Dublin aerlingus.com.

gardatrentino.it

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