Despite the continuing wintery conditions we had a totally fabulous day today around Lake Garda. At last the fog lifted enough for us to espy the towns and villages on the opposite side of the shore and the snowy slopes of Monte Baldo. Discovering that mooning around the lake shoreline was only a fraction of the picture in this enchanting part of Italy we ventured into the mountains and, in particular, the regional park. An untarred, but not too puddly road, took us to near San Michele hermitage where we climbed to a place guaranteed to protect one from worldly temptations by its splendid isolation. San Michele dates from the 15th century and once housed a hermit or two. Incredible pink hellebores and tiny winter campanule made us believe that spring would indeed return. The views from the place were cosmic, casting across still snowy mountains, savage ravines and ebullient streams. We wondered at the life of the hermit loners so many hundreds of years ago and felt that their experience was still something valuable and good to know about in this tainted age.
A descent into wide alpine meadows took us to a local agricultural centre where we were able to buy some products from this region. Fresh cow milk and yogurt and a deliciously savoury cheese re-awakened our taste buds. The road continued through perfumed Scots pines woods before precipitously descending again to the lakeside.
Yet there was still time to visit another “”eremo”, that of Montecastello. I would be glad to die in peace after having seen this place poised in a fantasy world between sky, mountain and water with its ethereal views transporting one to a world beyond this world: climbing past the little chapels, each one dedicated to an episode of Christ’s life we reached the top in our little cinquina – on Good Friday of all days.
Yes, it was cold but we had the whole area to ourselves freed from the hoards of marauding tourists (mainly of the teutonic race) which invade the lake area during the hot months. Gladly we sacrificed the climate beloved of the likes of Goethe (who wrote “I could have already been in Verona this evening, but I was close to a magnificent product of nature, a splendid spectacle, Lake Garda. I did not want to miss it, and I was repaid for my detour.” ) and DH Lawrence (“It was all clear and overwhelming, a platform hung in the light. Just below where the confused, tiled roofs of the village, and beyond them the pale blue water, down below; and opposite, opposite my face and breast, clear, luminous snow of the mountain across the lake”) for the freedom of the empty roads and few “turisti”
Lake Garda is not just about the waters of this charmed valley but of its wondrous frame – the precipitous (and sometimes calamitous) mountains surrounding it and the little humble villages dotting the higher slopes from which the most magical views of lago Benaco ever may be had.