Walking at Lake Garda

I live in a cul de sac – physically, not metaphorically. What would the latter mean anyway? Does it imply peace and a sense of rounded harmony within a safe, and not necessarily uninteresting, place or does it mean you’ve reached the end of a road and are stuck there with the only option for exploration the way you’ve already experienced? It’s just a thought exercise because today I’m talking about physical exercise.

The cul de sac of my physical life is a wide, quiet place where children ride bikes and make cubbies (and water and sand collect in a really bad storm). It’s a lovely place to be except when I’m setting out for a walk. Always: turn left, up the hill.

Of the many moments in a walk, one of the sweetest is that thread-hanging moment of decision: ‘Which way shall I go?’ When one lives in a cul de sac that ‘on the doorstep’ decision is removed. Of course, choice is simply deferred but how refreshing to be suddenly in a place of the doorstep decision.

So it was in Italy at Lake Garda. Doorstep options (beach or road or little laneways within the holiday accommodation area) and plenty of walks further afield. Three of the latter took our fancy.

This is Rocca di Manerba on the south-west side of the lake. We parked in the town (Manerba) although it is possible to drive quite a long way up the hill. The area has had human occupation from Mesolithic times (8000-5000BC) to the 1500s AD. The Romans built a sanctuary there which included a temple to Minerva.

Now, of course, only ruins remain – ruins and a stunning 360 degree view over lake, farmland, mountains and the Nature and ArchaeologicalPark. Pop into the visitor centre or just make your own way around.

By the way, it really does only take 20 minutes to walk from the ruins at the top, down and up to the cliff edge. The path is narrow and steep. The photo above shows the sheer drop. We had a very pleasant walk back along some of the many well-signposted paths on the farm side.

 Another supposedly great walk is the one we planned from Sasso on the western side of the lake. Park in the asphalt area at the entrance of the town – you’ll be inclined to anyway as the roads within the town are almost donkey-cart width. Walk northwards through the town to pick up the route markers.

When we arrived, rain was threatening down the valley and around the mountains to the south. We visited the 17th century church, built on an 11th or 12th century site while we waited for the weather to fully announce its intentions. The church, soaringly high, has only two windows. However, inside there’s a bit of sleight of hand with another two fresco, almost trompe-l’oeil ones, seemingly without any religious content, on the opposite side.

Eventually we decided to call the rain’s bluff and set off. It ensured we were a sufficient distance into our walk to realise the beauty we would be missing out as we dashed back to the car to avoid being drenched.

We did accomplish another lovely walk. Again, one can drive to the Madonna di Monte Castello at the top of the hill close to Tignale or park at the base on the main road and enjoy a leisurely stroll past the images of Jesus’ life until finally arriving at the impressive white building with its porch and two staircases.

There is much to see in the church: a number of confessionals, completely open at the front but with the standard grille at the sides (no anonymous confessions here perhaps); a ceiling fresco which appears to depict Mary’s halo in collage;     a black Madonna and child.

Juxtaposed with this holiness is the café at the church’s feet catering for the flesh with small, bitter coffees and a variety of alcohol.

Behind the church is an operational monastery. We took the path that leads past then overlooks it. Such elevation must be good for anyone’s spirit. Beyond this one is immersed in forest with views of the mountains and of the lake narrowing to the north, steep drops and numerous caves – bear holes, in the language of our seven year old fellow walker. The path curves back on an, at times, steep descent. One finishes with a short walk up the road back to the car.

We checked maps for these walks but, if you are in the mood for a wander in new parts, why not find a village or a bus stop or a parking bay and start walking? Step out and choose.

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