We had had a very long day of sightseeing on the previous day but that didn’t stop me from getting up early and checking out the views from our Hotel verandah. Hotel Meridiana is marked with a star on the map of Malcesine below and the photo to the right confirms that the castle by the lake was part of our view for many days. It was our base camp for visiting towns at the top of the lake and on the western side of Lake Garda but we did spend a fair bit of time checking out the country in and around Malcesine.
As can be seen on the map to the left, Malcesine is on a lake in the centre of Northern Italy and so has been at the crossroads of history for more than the last 2000 years. Not only was the area fought over between Italian superpowers Milan and Italy, it was also on the route to Rome if Austria or France happened to be quarrelling with the Pope in Rome. While the town was under the control of the Roman Empire, a major fortification wasn’t built until 590 when the Lombards built a castle on the huge lakeside rock where today’s castle stands. It was destroyed and rebuilt over the next few centuries until it fell to old friends, the della Scala family from Verona. The city of Milan took control of the area in the late 14th century and then the Venetians for almost 400 years until 1797.
Castello Scaligero is the most important structure in Malcesine and holds the layers of history of all those warlords that have passed along this coastline of Lake Garda. Today it is open to visitors and has a small museum on natural history inside. We visited the castle at the end of our first day and had a great meal in the small restaurant that also takes advantage of its atmospheric location. Every Italian tourist town likes to advertise famous visitors and Malcesine is no different. In the castle there was a memorial to the visit of the German, Johan Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832), famous in his day as a poet, playwright, novelist etc. He visited here in 1786 and was briefly suspected of being a spy as he was spotted making a drawing of the castle.
While our tour around Lake Garda took us to many places, we had a number of days when the daily tour didn’t start until later in the morning when we had time to stroll Malcesine. Being a lake side town, there was a lovely walk along the waterfront as well as among the alleyways. The image on the left below indicates the slow place in the town’s piazzas, but the tortoise was a surprise feature, I have never seen a tortoise with human feet before. The building on the right is called Palazzo dei Capitani and was constructed by the della Scalla family sometime in the late 13th century. It has done amazingly well to survive almost seven centuries intact and today is a National Monument and houses the local library as well as exhibitions and other local events.
As the map on the left below suggests, on one of our days beside Lake Garda we were driven down the coast of the lake to the Brenzone area. After we were dropped off, we were led on a walk that took us slowly up the hillside with beautiful views back down the mountain to the lake and over to the other side where we could see Limone sul Garda on the edge of the opposite bank of the lake.
Our walk took us through the small hillside villages that were still eking a living out of fishing in the lake or their ancient olive groves. It was a sad walk in some ways as many of the houses were empty as their owners had moved on to places where jobs were more reliable or emigrated.
Our hiking trail was a stone paved mule track that took us up to a ‘ghost hamlet’; most of the houses were empty but our tour guide had an old friend Olga still living in the medieval village of Campo and she had organised lunch for us at the top of our walk. Before heading to lunch we stopped and were shown through a small mountain Church, St Pietro in Vincoli (St Peter in Chains) that is estimated to have served the people of Camp since the start of the 11th century. It was a surprising treasure with the inside walls covered in vibrant mosaics.
On Day 4 of our visit to Lake Garda we were gathered for a short car trip around the corner and up the hill to the San Michele station of the Monte Baldo Cable Car. As somebody not fond of suspended vehicles gliding up steep mountain sides, I was not happy to also discover that the Cable Car capsule revolved at the same time as it ascended the 1800 metres up to the top of Mount Baldo. I couldn’t hide at the back of the capsule as I cowered waiting for the inevitable failure of the cable car; it kept returning to the ever expanding view out over Lake Garda which the rest of the passengers were very impressed by. I am always surprised by surviving these trips but happy I came as the views were stupendous over the lake and across the Dolomite mountains.
I discovered that people don’t just come to the top of Mount Baldo for the views, they also come here with large pieces of coloured canvas that they then attached themselves to with strings before leaping off the cliffs! I was horrified, mystified but compelled to watch these crazy people go paragliding, I was quite surprised that there were no reports of lost souls blown all the way to Austria after taking to the winds off Mount Baldo.
After deciding we had seen enough paragliding action, our guides encouraged us to take the long walk further up the mountain where they assured us there would be a mountain restaurant waiting there to provide us with the lunch we rightly deserved.
We decided that the views were endless, the food fantastic and that we were living life to the full. My only concern was whether I would survive the revolving cable car on the trip back to our hotel.