By Will Holmes, Digital Travel Editor
A personal account of Italy's most beautiful lake, and why it deserves to be a part of our new series 'Travel Treasures'. Covering over 143 square miles, Lake Garda combines rich history with astounding beauty that simply cannot be missed. If it's good enough for Clooney, it's good enough for students.
Lake Garda is the definition of a travel treasure. Left largely off the beaten track, it is an oasis of calm for any traveller that wants to relax and wonder at the towering Baldo mountains or swim in the crystal-clear waters. The lake reminds me of how the likes of Byron and Blake must have felt when they gazed upon nature, in awe of its timeless power. I felt honoured and humbled by its serene water, a fusion of power and beauty muddled with a history that has been far from peaceful.
Carved out by glaciers 1.5 million years ago, the lake has been the sight of bloody conflict from Roman times until World War II. Many European enemies have fought over Lake Garda. The Battle of Lake Bernacus was fought in 269 AD between the Romans and Germanic tribes, and both the French and the Austrians laid claim to it during the 1797 Battle of Rivoli and a series of naval battles in 1866.
Garda has also been a forgery for a united and divided Italy. Firstly united by the Battle of Solferino during the Risorgimento (the unification of Italy), so violent that its aftermath provoked the Geneva Convention and the Red Cross. Then divided in 1438, it witnessed the pioneering of the military engineering technique ‘galeas per monte’ when the Milanese and Venetians fought over the wondrous waters, transporting ships from the Adriatic Sea to the lake to wage war. Under Mussolini in late 1943, the town of Salò on the shores of Lake Garda was even pronounced the capital of Italy.
The lake reminds me of how the likes of Byron and Blake must have felt when they gazed upon nature, in awe of its timeless power.
Today, Garda is still relevant to Italian identity. Populist politician Matteo Salvini bases his ideology on northern independence and the creation of a separate northern state named Padania. It is hardly surprising that his party, formerly called 'Lega Nord'(the Northern League), regards the Lake as a prominent example of the wealth divide between North and South, since it attracts so many affluent Italians and their flashy Ferraris each year.
The lake’s beauty makes it symbolic both politically and poetically. Even if my photos and words don’t do it justice, I hope the words of great poets will stand as a lofty testament.
The Roman poet Catullus wrote: “What full, extended glee, Sirmione, seeing you again more beautiful than all the islands and peninsulas that Neptune raises on the different waters of transparent lakes or the immense sea”.
D.H. Lawrence added: “The waters of this lake are the loveliest colour imaginable: purple in the shade and emerald green when they break on the white rocks.”.
And to add to the list of famous poets, there is Tennyson, Goethe, Virgil, Byron and Dante. It must be something special.
It is true that Lake Garda is not the most convenient to get to, nor the easiest to get around (unless you have a car at your disposal), but it offers a truly unique experience worth travelling for. From the popular Jamaica beach and quirky dog beaches, to the adrenaline-fuelled water parks Garda Land and Caneva and many water sports available, there is something for everyone in Lake Garda. My advice would be to get lost in this haven of tranquillity.
And after considering all this history, acknowledging its references in Roman, Romantic and Epic poetry, wondering at its huge offering of activities and unique experiences that leave you speechless, I can confidently conclude that Lake Garda is worthy of the title of Epigram's Travel Treasure.
Featured image: Epigram / Will Holmes
Have you ever visited the luscious littoral of Lake Garda? Tell us your thoughts, and about your own travel treasures!