Tom Richmond follows in Winston Churchill’s footsteps and enjoys some quintessential Italian hospitality on the shores of Lake Garda.
As the late morning sun glistens down on the water lapping against the inlet wall, it’s clear why Winston Churchill spent some of his post-war recuperation at Lago di Garda.
With unspolit views of Italy’s largest lake, and fortifying hospitality that would almost certainly have been to Churchill’s taste as he painted the scene before him while smoking his trademark cigar, the silence is broken only by the uncorking of the first bottle of the day.
Italians here are proud of their historic association with Churchill. They’re also honoured to welcome a burgeoning number of Britons each year.
This is self-evident on the airport train link from Leeds to Manchester to catch the plane to Verona – the TransPennine Express carries a discernible number of travellers from Yorkshire venturing to one of the few areas of Europe to rival God’s own country. They’re shrewd judges.
Like Yorkshire, tourist businesses on Lake Garda’s shores are fiercely proud of their reputation for hospitality, history, local produce – and bicycles. It’s crystal clear that one of the best ways to explore the area is on two wheels. Don’t worry about those Lycra louts that give cycling a bad name here, this is altogether far more genteel – riders, runners and pedestrians are all respectful of each other as they work up an appetite at their own pace.
It’s also disingenuous to characterise Lake Garda as a holiday destination for those who are more mature in age – the stunning terrain and bustling bars in lakeside towns like Lazise are the ideal ingredients for a spot of R&R like no other.
Base camp is the four star Hotel Corte Valier. One of the more modern buildings in Lasize, all 84 bedrooms have individual balconies which all, crucially, have unimpeded lake views – indeed my suite had more real estate than Richmond Towers and I needed a search party to find the mini-bar.
Marketing itself as a spa hotel thanks to its alluring outdoor and indoor pools, as well as specially-designed eating areas which make the most of the panoramic views at all times of day, it’s telling – over a recuperating chilled beer – that visitors have come for different reasons. There’s a group from Germany on a gentlemen’s golfing trip. There’s a cycling-mad French family who are trying out some of the Giro d’Italia’s more challenging routes.
Others are venturing to museums and towns of historical significance. And with good reason. Whether it be taking a boat to enjoy the best views of Peschiera del Garda and its 16th walls, or the bus to visit Valeggio sul Mincio and the Tortellini Laboratory, the civic pride is tangible.
Just six miles from Lake Garda, you can actually watch your pasta being made in a traditional shop before moving to an adjacent restaurant to sample tasty and tender tortellini like no other. Like all those who savour Yorkshire’s gastronomical delights, the tastes and traditions of the Verona region are sufficient to make a holiday on their own. Locals are understandably proud of their olive oil heritage – and the pride is palpable at the lovingly restored Museo dell’Ollio d’Oliva.
An ancient, powerful lever press, millstones, screw presses and a reconstruction of a 19th century water mill are the highlights of an enlightening display. The ingenuity of previous generations can only be marvelled at.
It’s the same at the Museo del Vino which pays homage to the Zeni family which traces its roots back to 1800 when Bartolomeo Zeni, a professional carter with a passion for painting, carried local wine towards the villages along the shore of Lake Garda. Here visitors can admire ancient tools and machinery used for the grape harvest and vinification. From ploughs to wine presses and from wine pumps to vessels, every single item tells the story of passion and dedication of a farming family renowned in this corner of Italy.
This is self-evident at the hotels and restaurants around Lazise – they say they would be doing a disservice to their region, their country and their customers if their menus (and, just as importantly, wine lists) were not brimming with local produce and specialities.
Though attitudes here in Yorkshire have changed as families start to appreciate the agricultural industry, Italy still sets a high benchmark and my suspicions were confirmed by mouth-watering meals at the Enjoy Garda Hotel, Bellavista Hotel and Bardolino’s La Cantinetta restaurant. Waiters take it as a personal insult if they’re even asked if their food is locally sourced or not.
Though Lake Garda is in total contrast to the hustle and bustle of great cities like Rome and Milan, there’s an Italian authenticity here because the pace of life is slightly more laidback. It’s a special ingredient well worth savouring in 2017. After all, it’s why Sir Winston Churchill, a man of impeccable taste, so loved to visit.
Tom Richmond travelled to Lake Garda with Monarch which operates flights to Verona from Manchester Airport with fares, including taxes, starting from £64 one way (£122 return).
For further information or to book Monarch flights, Monarch Holidays or Monarch Hotels, visit monarch.co.uk
Details about the Hotel Corte Valier can be found at cortevalier.com/en