“We’ve been coming here for ten years…” – the casual expression doesn’t help much: Anyone who wants to show off just one decade of experience at Lake Garda can say right away that it is their first time on Lake Garda.
The Roman poets Catullus and Virgil already sang about Lacus Benacus or Lago di Bènaco, as it is sometimes still called. And sometimes you might think that half of all holidaymakers on Lake Garda today still knew the two ancient Romans personally. One thing is certain: Italy’s largest lake is a popular holiday destination for all generations.
Dad and mom in the 1960s are now grandpa and grandma. The daughter was already in her mother’s womb at the lake, after the birth for the following 34 years, before she, meanwhile pregnant herself, continues the Lago tradition: Her child will learn to love the lake too. First as a clumsy man on the beach, then as a teenager, maybe with the first great love, and finally like grandma and mom as a mother.
The pension, where the room cost 20 D-Marks a night, has become a pretty four-star hotel with a pool. And the pension owners from back then are not only old themselves, but have also gotten rich – like so many at the lake.
What makes Lake Garda a destination of longing
Do you have a love for Lago in your genes? The wonderful childhood memories? Or simply by the picturesque castles and charming harbors, the olive groves and cypress trees, the mild evenings until after midnight? It’s all in the mix. It is addicting.
Heinrich Laube, a forgotten German poet, wrote about this lake feeling in his travel novels of 1834: “The lake is not a masculinum, but a feminine one. He is the first Italian virgin who looks into the heart of the stupid, blond German, who is descending from the Alps, with a dark southern look. “
His colleague Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is considered to be the multiplier of longing for Italy. But how banal the master’s praise to Lake sounds compared to Laube: “A delicious spectacle, Lake Garda”, he wrote in 1786, succinctly. The great poet stayed on the lake for only two days, then moved on to Verona and Rome.
So he missed Cassone – and with it the Aril, which is considered to be the shortest river in the world. In the small town of Cassone, which today belongs to Malcesine, the Aril flows into Lake Garda. The special thing about it is that immediately after the source it becomes several meters wide, flows under a few houses and bridges and disappears into the lake after 175 meters.
First came camping holidaymakers, then hotels came into being
Lake Garda experienced its most glamorous times when the high society of the Austro-Hungarian monarchy and writers such as DH Lawrence, Henrik Ibsen, Rainer Maria Rilke, Friedrich Nietzsche or Thomas Mann visited the lake and were inspired. Heinrich Mann even came to visit 20 times and was even then what is now called a repeater.
Sigmund Freud and Karl May also recharged their batteries in the then Austrian spa town of Riva del Garda, about which Franz Kafka wrote: “In Riva I was a guest from the south who never met me again so graciously and magnificently.”
The area around the lake was then and for a long time still quite poor, inhabited by fishermen, olive and mountain farmers. It was a two-class society; the gap between poor local residents and rich visitors was great.
Camping tourism was introduced in the 1950s and albergo tourism in the 1960s. At first, the cows were driven from the pastures with a pitchfork to make room for tents. The children’s room was later rented out in the summer in order to be able to offer a bed to the guests who came back then.
Gradually the standard rose and the first private hotels with a few rooms were built. Meanwhile, three- and four-star hotels dominate the lake – without luxury and world stars like George Clooney on neighboring Lake Como.
Regular guests booked their vacation despite Corona
Many vacationers have accompanied the development for years. This creates friendships: “Our regular guests didn’t let us down in the first Corona year,” says Anna Brighenti, owner of the charming four-star hotel “Brenzone” right on the lake. “During Corona you booked, paid and said: ‘We’ll come next year.’” Many a paid voucher helped a lot during the Corona period.
Others also come outside of the summer holidays to celebrate Easter Monday with Italian friends in the almost deserted village of Campo, which has only five inhabitants Spaghetti con le sarde, which are cooked in large copper kettles on an open fire after the fair and served free of charge. Such traditions turn a vacation destination into a longing destination.
Whether James Bond also played his part in making Lake Garda a dream destination is a matter of debate. At least it was ennobled as an attractive 007 backdrop. For “Quantum of Solace”, the 22nd Bond film (from 2008), the team spent two weeks on Lake Garda. The result is less than three minutes of film sequence before the opening credits:
Residents and visitors alike were disappointed. The opening scene in the film with Daniel Craig is a breathtaking start – and sets the lake spectacularly in scene when the secret agent delivers a rapid chase directly on Lake Garda.
Hiking, water sports and an amusement park
Of course, there are also practical answers to the question of why the lake is visited again and again by most of the guests. For example the amusement parks like Gardaland near Peschiera, sports tourism, which offers many possibilities on the water and on the mountain, the huge selection of campsites.
And in the off-season bus tourists come with seniors who rediscover Lake after years of abstinence. It seems that everyone who knows him succumbs to the same attraction.
Expressed in numbers, the Lake Garda passion reads like this: an estimated five million overnight and day guests, almost two thirds of them from Germany, leave around three billion euros a year at the lake, at least that was the case before Corona.
Some of them are certainly significantly more than the average citizen: King Juan Carlos, for example, Prince Charles, the former Federal President Richard von Weizsäcker, actor Matthias Schweighöfer. Unlike the average, each of them was only spotted once on the lake – and according to Lake Garda arithmetic, that is not once, if ten times only counts as once.
Tips and information
Getting there: By car via the Brenner motorway to Rovereto-Sud for the northern part of the lake and to Affi for the southern part. Alternatively by train to Rovereto (northern part) or Verona (southern part).
Accommodation: The most beautiful hotel on the lake has an unobstructed panoramic view of the lake, which seems to merge with the two outdoor pools despite the 300 meter difference in altitude. There are only suites, they are designed with marble, walnut and olive wood: “Lefay Resort & Spa Lago di Garda”, Gargnano, suite including breakfast and spa use from 350 euros (lefayresorts.com/de).
The cozy “Hotel Brenzone” of the Brighenti-Veronesi family has existed since 1911, and they warmly look after their guests. Four stars, all rooms newly renovated, directly on the Magugnano waterfront, double rooms with breakfast from 134 euros (hotelbrenzone.eu).
Further information: gardatrentino.it (northern part), gardalombardia.de (western part), lagodigardaveneto.com (eastern part). Current corona rules at Auswaertiges-amt.de
Book tip: The author published the book “Reisemomente Gardasee” in 2021, Verlag 360 ° Medien, 256 pages, 14.95 euros.