Lake Garda, Italy
Lake Garda is special. So special in fact it seems to have a make-believe quality. With sublime architecture, pretty beaches, a mountain backdrop and miles of warm, gentle waters, it is almost too perfect. Sitting between Venice to the east, and Milan to the west, it is Italy’s largest lake.

While nearby Lake Como grabs the headlines for its A-list stars, like George Clooney, Lake Garda seems to go slightly under the radar.

For my visit with my girlfriend, Lake Garda, Italy, remains relatively quiet – even at the height of summer. We are staying in Garda town, on the south-east side of the lake.

The best way to get around is on the ferries that criss-cross the lake. With a 26 euro hop-on hop-off ticket, we are free to visit as many towns as we wish during the day.

Lake Garda, Italy

Sirmione is a great stop-off

But don’t expect to get there quickly. The lake is 30 miles long and 11 across at its widest, and it’s a slow journey. That gives you more time to take in the surroundings.

Sirmione, one of the lake’s prettiest spots, takes 45 minutes to reach. It is busier than Garda, with tourists flooding narrow, cobbled streets.

At its gateway is the 13th-century Rocca Scaligera castle. The interior is not much more than an empty shell but you can explore the ramparts and climb the tower. The views are well worth it. Entry is six euros.

The narrow backstreets are full of small shops and bars but the main attraction is the long lakeside promenade, with its colourful buildings and busy restaurants.

As we walk a few streets away, leaving the cafes and ice cream sellers behind, the crowds soon thin. From here, a miniature train can take you up the gentle hill to the town’s Roman ruins but we decide on a 15-minute stroll up the largely shaded path to the huge Roman villa, dating back to 150AD.

We are also rewarded with spectacular views of the lake below.

When we arrive back in Garda, our hotel shuttle is waiting for us, saving us a one-kilometre climb back up the hill in 30C heat.

We are staying at Hotel Eden, a small family-run business. The accommodation is recently being upgraded and our large, stylish room has a balcony overlooking the pool, a 40in flatscreen TV and an extravagant shower.

Lake Garda, Italy

The rooftop jacuzzi at the hotel

After a four-course dinner we take a walk into town. The narrow backstreets are full of small shops and bars but the main attraction is the long lakeside promenade, with its colourful buildings and busy restaurants. After an Aperol Spritz – Prosecco, Aperol liqueur and soda water – on the main square we go in search of a livelier venue.

Lido Garda Beach Cafe, at the end of the promenade, has live music and dancing until late. Or just stretch out on one of the beds by the little beach and sip some cocktails.

The next day is spent lounging by the hotel’s pool. There are lots of sunbeds and the lunches are good value and excellent quality. But the hotel’s star attraction is up on the roof. The recently installed Jacuzzi is a stunning place to cool down and enjoy the views.

Away from the lake there are also plenty of places to visit. Venice, Milan and the Dolomites are all accessible on a day trip. We decide to stay a little closer with a visit to Verona. Buses leave regularly from the bus station, taking just under an hour.

Lake Garda, Italy

Chris at the opera in Verona

First up, we wander into the city’s most famous square, the Piazza delle Erbe, which is lined with palaces, merchants’ houses, towers and statues. Close by is Casa di Giulietta and the famous balcony, although the throngs of tourists seem more interested in posing for pictures with the bronze statue of Juliet and sticking a love note, along with the thousands of others, to the walls.

A short stroll away, past the designer shops is the vast Roman amphitheatre, known today as the Arena. Built outside the city walls in around AD 30, it has a capacity of around 30,000. Watching a performance here during the summer opera season is as much about the vast spectacle as it is about the music.

If you plan on buying tickets for the stone steps (35 euros) as we do, then invest in a cushion – you can hire them inside.

Before heading home the next day, we just have enough time to pick up a couple of bottles of the best-known local wine, Bardolino, then tuck into what must be the biggest pizza in Garda in the frog-themed spectacle of Giardino delle Rane.

FACTBOX

Thomson Lakes & Mountains (www.thomsonlakes.co.uk) offers a week’s stay at the four-star Hotel Eden in Garda, Italy, from £643 per person (based on two sharing) including flights from Manchester and transfers departing during May.

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