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July 17, 2006
From journal Lake Garda, Italy
Ayr, Scotland, United Kingdom
September 13, 2004
Over five million tourists explore it yearly. Visiting in July, I expected Lake Garda to be heaving with tourists, but the large area and day trips to the cities of Verona, Venice, Florence, and to the Dolomite mountains absorbed them easily.
Gazing across Lake Garda from the town of Desenzano on its southwest bank, the view resembles the "bonny, bonny banks" of Loch Lomond in Scotland. However, while Loch Lomond’s vegetation consists of trees, heather, and green grass, Lake Garda’s has more in common with southern Italy. The Veronese east bank of the Lake produces olive oil and famous wines, such as Bianco di Custoza and Bardolino. Looming above the area is Mount Baldo with its three peaks. Projecting through the last glacial sheet, its unique flora is a throwback to pre-glacial times. Cable cars and ski lifts sway up its slopes.
Ferries both fast and slow cast their billowing furrows between the lakeside towns - the east side is touristy while the west side is more Italian. The lake can get remarkably rough on a windy day. A ‘rapido’ aborted its 30-mile voyage to the north end of the lake one windy day I was aboard – the trip ended at Garda. Winds gust down through the narrow confines of the north end offering thrilling windsurfing for those so inclined.
On the southern shore, at the end of a slender peninsula jutting into the lake, reposes Sirmione with its quiet cobblestone streets, thermal baths, fairytale castle, olive grove, and remains of either an enormous Roman villa or spa, the Grotto. Desenzano, close to Sirmione, has the site of a definite Roman villa, much of its mosaic floors still intact.
The surrounding lake towns, as well as having historic centers of architectural beauty, have many artistic churches like the 10th century church and frescoes of S.Andrea di Sommacampagna. Bardolino has the 10th century basilica of S. Severo with its huge frescoes of the Story of the Cross and the Apocalypse as well as the 7th century Palatine Chapel of S. Zeno.
The Scaliger family who once governed the region built the castle at Malcesine, the 10th century Castle of Torri del Benaco, and a fortress at Garda to defend the lake area. In the 15th century, the Venetians took control of the territory. They built the Arnese Fort at Peschiera, a military citadel standing on the River Mincio, and villas and public palaces such as the Captain's Palace in Malcesine, the Customs House at Lazise, and the Lodge built by Sanmicheli at Garda.
The attractions around Lake Garda and the surrounding area certainly keep tourists busy.
From journal LAKE GARDA- A tourist magnet