We kicked off our trip to Austria, itself a bit of a gander down memory lane, with an even bigger one. The summer after my beloved and I got married, we went to Lake Garda for our summer vacation. Funds were limited. I recall going into the travel agent – remember this would have been 1978 – and asking where could we go for a week for £85.00 that wasn’t Spain? My parents were in the process of buying a holiday villa in Spain so we knew that plenty of holidays in southern Spain would be in the offing. Hence my comment to the agent who suggested Lake Garda – sold!
We stayed in a small family run hotel on the shores of the north-eastern part of the lake in Malcesine. I had looked forward to practising my Italian but, because my beloved looked like everyone’s idea of a typical German – tall, blond-haired, blue-eyed and speaks the lingo fluently – we spent the entire vacation talking German. Aside from plenty of walks and boat trips around the lake, my beloved impressed the hell out of the other lake-side sun worshippers, mostly Germans, by swimming across the lake and back (It’s a long thin lake at the northern end).
Our drive to Austria exceeded my beloved’s new daily limit so we needed to stop somewhere on route. Initially, he suggested Brescia but I prefer not to leave a car full of stuff in an urban environment and I know parking’s difficult in the centre of Brescia, which we last visited for the 2013 Giro d’Italia. Verona’s not too far from the lake but we’d spent a long week-end there more recently. So that left Lake Garda.
Of course, December is not necessarily the best time to visit the Italian Lakes but, on the plus side, it was free from the summer hordes and the weather was bright and sunny. My beloved chose the hotel, which I carefully vetted, and we decided to stay two nights so that we could explore more of the southern shores of the lake.
After arriving early on Saturday afternoon, we walked around the lake. Not Lake Garda, but the small lake next to the hotel which is surrounded by vineyards. We then relaxed in the hotel’s spa before supping some pre-dinner Aperol Spritzes, as good in winter as they are in summer. We ate in the hotel restaurant overlooking the lake. I can always find something to eat on Italian menus.
A good night’s sleep was followed by a hearty breakfast and then we drove into Sirmione for a stroll around its shoreline and pretty Old Town. The wind off the lake was bitterly cold but we’d wrapped up well though, once we spotted the outdoor thermal baths I would have been happy to fling everything off and sink beneath the steaming water. Unfortunately our swimming stuff was back at the hotel.
My disappointment was soothed by another Aperol Spritz – well it is nearly Xmas – in the sunshine where we were dive bombed by cheeky sparrows hoping for crumbs from our plate of nibbles. Then it was time for lunch at a small Osteria I’d clocked while walking around where I ate quite possibly the best tomato sauce ever and my beloved’s lasagna smelt divine.
We then drove back to the old fortified town of Peschiera which was celebrating with a small Christmas market. We just wandered around, soaking up the atmosphere and watching the sun go down over the lake. Time to head back to the hotel for a warm up in the spa and dinner.
Before we left on Monday morning, I purchased some of the local wine which includes two of my favourite red wines for winter, Amarone and Recioto. As we headed to Austria the snow became thicker and thicker. We’ve previously spent a number of Xmas holidays in the area but this was definitely the best pre-Xmas snow ever – a good omen.