Lake Garda

Lake Garda, in front of our campground near Peschiera in Italy

Mike and I were heading towards Milan when we decided to stop at Lake Garda for a few weeks. Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake. The picture above was taken at the bottom of the campground we stayed in at the south end of the lake near the town of Peschiera. There was a lovely pedestrian path along the waterfront for our 2 ½ km walk into the town. Our weather wasn’t the best. It went from a high of 28°C (82°F) when we arrived to rain and highs of 9°C (48°F). I didn’t mind the cold at all, it just meant a few extra layers of clothing. We did have some German neighbours who knocked on our door one morning to tell us that they had to cancel our dinner arrangements for that night as they were leaving early due to the weather. If they waited an extra couple of days, they would encounter snow in Austria which they didn’t want on their return trip to northern Germany.

The town of Peschiera had its own internet audio guide so Mike and I wore our headsets and wandered around listening to the history of the town and the area. It was quite interesting. In addition to being on a bay on the southern tip of the lake, Peschiera is surrounded by a canal which Mike and I enjoyed with a small boat trip.

Lake Garda is absolutely NOT the best lake to cycle near. The regions around the lake have a plan for a 140+km loop around the lake. A few paths exist in places near the water today. The plan is overdue and over budget and I am not sure if it will ever come to fruition. They built a phenomenally expensive 2 km long path, cantilevered out over the water. Another 6 kilometres is needed to finish this section. This is supposed to be a bike and pedestrian path. It is NOT. The internet calls it “The hanging ‘cycle path of dreams’, an architectural example of sustainable tourism”. In April, it was so busy with pedestrians that you would probably have needed to walk your bicycle. I am guessing that in the summer you wouldn’t even get on the path. Also, to get to and from the path, cyclists currently have to use extremely busy roads. This sounds to me like one of those great sounding ideas that wasn’t properly thought through.

Castle and gate at the entrance to Sirmione

There was an awful lot of rain while we were camped at Lake Garda but we did manage to get some cycling in. From our campground we cycled to a few towns west of us and then to a few towns east of us. Going west we rode down a long peninsula to the tourist town of Sirmione. At the tip of the peninsula is a castle and a bridge that is for pedestrians only (no bicycles). Mike and I listened to one of our self-guided audio tours for Sirmione which is always really nice. We walked to the end of the peninsula where they had a grotto and Roman ruins which were accessible through a museum that turned out to be closed because it was a Monday. This was when the weather was still quite hot and I didn’t appreciate the heat and the hilly walk with my knees acting up.

It turns out that out that some cars are allowed through the pedestrian gate, presumably residents etc.. As we were leaving through the gate a fancy car wasn’t interested in waiting for the pedestrians to move for him, and he started ploughing through. I yelled at him, and he continued and missed my toes by inches. I got mad and wacked the back of the car, thinking at the time that it wasn’t a good thing to do in a foreign country. It turns out that this fancy car was a convertible Maserati. I guess that I am lucky that the driver didn’t get out of his car and have me arrested.

Mike at the entrance to Lazise on Lake Garda

We spent another day cycling northeast from our campsite. There were a number of great villages and towns that we rode through. Above you can see Mike and the entrance into the town of Lazise. You can certainly tell that we aren’t in Canada right now.

Visited Valeggio while cycling along the Mincio River in Italy

Heading south away from Lake Garda there was a lovely official cycle route along the Mincio River/Canal. We did this in a few sections with one major town to visit for each section. We passed by villages with historic centres, ancient churches and castles on hilltops. It was an easy and lovely ride. The picture above is Valeggio from the cycle path. There is a park in Valeggio that was supposedly rated the top one in Europe a few years ago and second best in the world last year. That is what the internet says although I find it hard to believe. We decided that we had to at least ride through the park and see what the fuss was about. We got to the entrance and discovered that there was an entrance fee of 18€ or $27 Cdn per person and the list of rules for your behaviour in the park was unbelievable. The internet says that the park is a nice place to go jogging or for a walk. I don’t think so, not at those prices!

At the end of the path was the town of Mantua or Mantova, depending on your language. We parked our bikes and sat outside for lunch. For those that know my husband, you will know that he doesn’t like eating outside, but this day we did. That was a mistake. As we were finishing our food, but not our drinks, dark clouds started to come in and the waiters all rushed around not only folding up the large umbrellas but also lying them flat on the ground. They were obviously preparing for quite the storm and winds. I had been served a very large glass of wine and I wasn’t anywhere near finishing it. Mike and I thought that we would just go inside and continue with our drinks. Well didn’t it turn out that this “restaurant” has NO inside seating at all. Our waiter didn’t speak much English so I had Google translate my message “do you have a small bottle that I can put my wine in” and showed it to the waiter. Mike thought that this was a bit much, but the waiter smiled and brought me my wine back in a small plastic bottle. By this time all the cafés were full and there were long line-ups for the museums just to get indoors. Mike and I decided we would simply get wet and listen to our audio tour and wander around the city. We were in luck,  the rain stopped shortly before our tour finished as we still had a 20 km bike trip to return back to our car.

In Mantua, we were no longer in Shakespeare’s land but Verdi’s. Like the house of Juliet in Verona, Mantua has the house of Rigoletto, an equally fictional character, this time from the opera.

Mantua is surrounded by three man-made lakes. It was a surprise to me to discover that these lakes were made in 1190. I just assumed that they had to be more modern than that.

Palazzo della Ragione and the Rotonda in Mantua, Italy.

The main building in the centre of the picture is the Palazza della Ragion, meaning reason. It was built around 1250. On the right, the round building is the oldest church in the city, dating back to the 11th century. Apparently, it is based on the design of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It is much lower than the rest of the square. The assumption is that it was built on the remains of a building from the Roman era.

The story goes that the centurion Longinus, who was at the crucifixion of Jesus, collected some earth soaked with the saviour’s blood and in 36 AD brought it here to Mantua. The relic of the blood of Christ was said to be conserved in the building that was once where the Rotonda now stands. From here the blood was moved, hidden and found again over the centuries. It’s authenticity has been recognized by two popes. It is now conserved in one of the two co-cathedrals in Mantua, the Basilica of St. Andrea.

Mike loved the flowers everywhere in Limone on Lake Garda

Mike and I had been trying to find a nice day to drive around Lake Garda in order to visit some of the towns a little further from our camper. We had been told that this would be about a 9 hour trip, including stops and lunch etc.. We looked at the weather every day for almost a week. We decided that Thursday had the least chance of getting wet and being overcast and hiding all the mountains. We were right. We encountered a few small rain showers but not much. Our GPS that has worked really well for our car and RV in Europe kept telling us in a couple of little towns that “you are going the wrong way” on a one-way road system. When you are driving, very slowly down extremely narrow streets, this was quite disconcerting. The GPS was wrong, the town fathers must have reversed the direction of the one-way system and not bothered to update the database used by our Garmin GPS.

The town in the picture above is Limone (Lemon in English). Limone is where the 2 km long cycle path, hovering over the land and water is located. It is probably the most touristy town on the north end. Mike loved what the town had done with their flowers everywhere.

Torbole at the north of Lake Garda

One person that we had met in a previous campground, told us that Torbole, on the north end of the lake, was the most beautiful town and that we shouldn’t stay in the south we should camp in the north. I did find out that the person giving us this advice happened to be from Torbole.

Lucky for Mike, I am not a shopper and even if I was it would be difficult with our storage space constraints in a motor home. The one thing that I have always loved and could easily store in our motor home is jewelry. I look in store windows at the necklaces with lovely drop pendants and various stones and didn’t buy any. The clothes that I wear living in the camper really aren’t conducive to necklaces and pendants and I do already own a fair bit of jewelry.

Entrance to interesting castle/enclosure on Lake Garda

When there are a lot of showers or light rain forecast Mike and I tend to do more driving rather than cycling. One day we came upon the Castello di Moniga on Lake Garda that I found quite interesting. It is called a castle or enclosure. The rectangular perimeter wall was 85 x 55 metres with 7 round towers along it. The towers have no walls on the sides facing the inside of the town. Thus, if the town had ever been overtaken by an adversary, the towers could not have been used by the intruders to keep the town residents under control. There was once a moat. You can still see a small portion covered in vegetation. There are multiple of these enclosures in the region. They were all built in the 13th-14th centuries. The walls are not longer than 100 metres. Country people, in case of danger, used to find shelter for themselves, their animals, the harvest and whatever was considered precious inside the fortified enclosures.

Within Castello di Moniga there were three short lanes with four parallel rows of houses. With the passage of time, the houses within the enclosure that where near the outer wall have been enlarged and now encroach upon the outer walls of the enclosure, so that you can no longer walk along the inside of the wall. Local people own all the houses within the enclosure, while the walls themselves, as well as the access keep (now a clock tower) belong to the larger town of Moniga del Garda that surrounds Castello di Moniga.

We had lunch in a village in the mountains. The road (lane) into the village was so narrow that a bicycle had to back up and move to the side so that our car could get past. As we exited this road into the square, imagine my surprise when another car, travelling in the opposite direction, headed up the road that we had just come down. If a bicycle and car didn’t fit simultaneously on the road between the buildings, then two cars travelling in opposite directions certainly wouldn’t. Backing up on that little lane would have been very tricky.

We had considered going to Milan after Lake Garda but we weren’t really in the mood for a big city. I did make a short trip to Milan when travelling on business in a previous life. Next, we thought of heading to Lake Como. At the last minute, we changed our minds again. As I write this, we are in the middle of a long drive through the Swiss Alps to Lake Constance/ Bodensee where we will camp on the Swiss side. The cycling around the lake and along the Rhine River looks like it should be excellent, providing that the weather cooperates.

Nice shot of Bardolino on Lake Garda

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