Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda came highly recommended from a number of people. It seemed that there was something there for everybody. We weren’t disappointed! I’d also been told that it was an expensive place to visit but I think it depends on your tastes and where you stay. We had some really nice food and wine for a lot less than you’d pay in the UK.

We arrived at Verona Airport at about 11am with the temperature already in the low 90s. The transfer to the hotel took about 90 minutes even with several drop-off points along the way. The tour rep did his thing en-route to the hotel which I thought was a good idea – saves time having to turn up to an orientation meeting the following day. However, I’m not sure everyone appreciated it so soon after the flight.

The family-run hotel was really comfortable. The room didn’t have air-conditioning but it was still quite cool with the wooden blinds kept shut. The en-suite bathroom was tiny and a bit cramped but it served it’s purpose well. I thought that being next to the main road around the lake was going to be a problem. The road can get very busy during the day but I can’t say I really noticed any traffic noise from the room. The restaurant had some really nice food albeit very simple. Overall, it gets a thumbs-up!

The cable car from Malcesine is the easiest way to get to the top of Monte Baldo. At over 2,200 meters, there is a path you can walk up/down but I wouldn’t recommend it; the heat would zap the energy from all but the toughest walkers. From the top of the cable car, it’s an easy walk to a platform where the views are spectacular. From there, you can see for miles and miles in every direction. Not far from the platform, there’s a cafe where you can sit and take in the view. Even in full sunshine, it can still be cold if the wind picks up.

We decided to be a little more energetic and do some hill walking along the ridge. We’d bought a walkers map of the mountain range which showed a path further along the top that leads back down to Malcesine. We walked for about 3 hours, covered 2 peaks and still didn’t find it. We didn’t want to get caught out on the mountain in the dark so we turned back in the end and got a cable-car back down instead.

To get to the lake from the hotel, all you have to do is cross the road and you’re there. I tried to do a few early morning swims but failed miserably for 2 reasons:

  • the water’s freezing first thing in the morning ; &
  • the lake is taken over by wind-surfing and 1 or 2 kitesurfers

Both sports are very popular around the lake shore in the morning. On the eastern shore, the sun doesn’t rise above the surrounding mountains until after 9am. As a result, the early morning is fairly breezy. Once the sun does rise, the wind dies down completely but it means the wind-surfers have the beach to themselves for most of the early morning.

Fishing on the lake doesn’t seem to be very popular around Malcesine. There are fish in the lake; some of the restaurants have a speciality fish dish. It’s main ingredient is a cross between salmon and trout and it’s very tasty!

There’s a lot of boating as you would expect. Boats are continually zig-zagging the lake with a number of car and passenger ferries crossing the lake at various points.

There are a number of organised tours of the lake, visiting places like Tòrbole – the most northern point of the lake – and Sirmione on the south shore.

Malcesine itself is quite a nice little town. I don’t know how busy it is in the winter months but in the summer, it’s packed. Lake Garda is close to the Swiss/Austrian border and it would seem that people from these countries ( and Germany ) get away to Lake Garda in the same way as people in the UK go to Blackpool for the weekend. However, the nightlife in Malcesine isn’t quite the same. There is a nightclub but it’s nothing like those of the UK or other Mediterranean resorts.

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Madrid & Valencia, Spain

This holiday did not have a good start at all! Some stupid idiot left some luggage on the plane. This was mistaken for a bomb and so emergency procedures were put in place. The whole airport was evacuated and a lot of flights were diverted. We were over 6 hours late in taking off so I was really NOT impressed!

We arrived in Madrid late on the Saturday afternoon. The taxi drivers in Spain are absolutely bonkers so if you’re a nervous passenger, take my advice and sit in the back. Nothing happened to us while we were there but it wasn’t for the want of trying by the taxi drivers we had.

All the stuff we’d planned to do in Madrid that afternoon/night was ruined because we were so late. To whomever owned that bag, “Thanks very much, you pillock!” We just went for something to eat and to stretch our legs. We had a really nice meal in a square somewhere in the old part of the city. I couldn’t take you there again if I tried; there’s loads of squares like that and the whole place is just 1 big rabbit warren.

While we were eating, along came a couple of buskers who were really quite good!. They stood there and played for about 10 to 15 minutes and then moved off to the middle of the square. It was really pleasant.

I guess I’m the typical english-speaking tourist in that I expect everyone in the whole world to be able to understand what I say. I was in for a nasty surprise the next morning. We almost missed our train to Valencia because I couldn’t get it across to the guy in the tourist information office what I wanted. Our train was boarding in another building; it’s all part of the same station but Madrid Central Station is HUGE! To cut a long story short, we just made it. We settled down for a comfy and very relaxing journey towards the coast – nothing like UK trains.

The rest of the week was relatively boring really but then again we were on holiday. Valencia is a beautiful place, full of interesting little nooks and crannies. It was amazing the shops, buildings and squares we found just wandering down side-streets and what looked like dead-ends. I’m not into architecture at all but even I could appreciate the skill that went into building various monuments and buildings.

The weather was fabulous! It wasn’t too hot during the day – it averaged about 35 degrees Celsius each day. I expected it to get really cool in the evenings but not at all. More than once we ended up sitting in pavement
cafe-bars after midnight in just short-sleeved shirts; the beer helped I guess.

The food is excellent but I guess it could get a bit boring if you’re not that adventurous when it comes to food. There’s a huge choice of places to eat on the beach-front and in the centre but instead of having completely different menus, they each have their own variation of certain dishes.

By the way, the architecture isn’t the only thing of beauty in Spain. Several times, myself and a lesbian friend would get caught out, drooling like idiots as absolutely drop-dead gorgeous girls walked by. We saw some truly amazing creatures.