Lake Garda off season treasures

What do you think of when you think of Italy? Sun, sea, lakes and crowded beaches lined with umbrella’s?  Classical postcard Italy and the dolce vita.  Have you ever stopped to ask yourself, what is Italy like when all the tourists go home?  I hope to paint you a picture of Italy behind the scenes.  When lady Italy herself takes a little vacation, stops to recharge her batteries, unwind and breath.  I promise you will relax with her, time will stand still and you will be rewarded in an altogether different way.  So join me, put your feet up, sip on a good glass of red wine and say ahhhhhh…….

The light is different. The lake is always beautiful, and photo opportunities are all around.  In the winter however, there is what i can only describe as a magical haze over the water.  The sun is low and the trees have lost their colour.  The result is that the imposing mountains that frame the north end of the lake have a wonderful grey and purple tint to them. The natural canvas of the lake needs #nofilter here.  On this trip we decided to trek around Lago di Ledro which is a short 30 min car trip from Riva del Garda.

Lago di Ledro – yes the lake is frozen!

Snow crunches underfoot on the hiking trails.  The lake has endless hiking trails.  However as it is the first trek of the season (read: post Christmas feasting) we take it easy and keep the distances short and not too strenuous.  Normally hiking at the lake results in sticky sweaty bodies (no thanks to the melting sunscreen).

Hiking around Lago di Ledro

So for me to hike in the hills at this time of year is like being transported into a magical parallel world.  The air is clean, fresh and crispy.  You can wear thermal clothing and great comfortable trekking pants and keep your body temperature just right by dressing in layers, or as I say in my very technical way “dressed like an onion” (trust me it sounds much sexier when you say it in Italian “vestito come una cipolla”!  The best gift for me is to see the mountain trails dusted in crisp fresh white snow.  The crunch under foot is magical and sooooo satisfying. Its soothing just popping bubble wrap!

The sales in the mountain gear shops will melt a hole in your wallet.  Just a few kilometres north of Riva del Garda you step into another world.  Arco is the Mecca of rock climbing.  Just about every shop here sells mountain climbing gear. Clips and ropes, jackets, shoes, backpacks, the list goes on.  I will be the first to admit that I am no climber, but I love trekking and have climbed a few “via ferrata” in Italy.  These are hiking trails which are sufficiently challenging that you require a harness and helmet to clip you safely on to a metal cable on the rock face.  I’ve convinced myself that this is adventurous enough to justify shopping in the coolest mountain gear shops I’ve ever seen.  Outdoor clothing now has come a long way from my girl scout days, and to me now the colours and styles are simply glorious!

Its tough to find a coffee.  Ok, so this is Italy, which means a good coffee is never that far away, but in the off-season many shops, restaurants and bars take
the opportunity to re-charge their batteries by taking some much needed time off.  Its not unusual in the tourist spots to see a sign posted on the door “reopening the end of March”! So you have to search a little more than usual.  However when you stumble upon an open bar, you have the undivided attention of the barista and a whole selection of hand baked cakes to try.

Time stands still at this time of year, so its even acceptable to skip the coffee and order a warm ‘punch’ which is a sugary fruit flavoured liquor served with warm water.  It’s like drinking a warm hug, which especially after a long trek outside makes you go ahhhhhhhh….. after all we come to the lake to relax don’t we?

I will leave you with the question “why are all of Italy’s best drinks are orange?” and I promise to rise to the challenge and investigate further (through tasting)  and let you know the answer!  In the meantime if you have any theories, or better still any tips on off-season lake life, let me know!