I had been standing in line for over a half hour as the line moved glacially up the stairs to the entry platform to the cable cars, trapped in a tourist trap. The thermometer on the wall above the wide and stuffy staircase kept inching up and the sweat kept dripping off of me. I was lodged among a couple hundred tourists mostly Germans waiting to board the noted Malcesine-Monte Baldo Cableway http://www.funiviedelbaldo.it/en/# . Being of German descent, I fit right in (In Europe I’m often mistaken for a German) except I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. The cableway offers sweeping views of Garda on its way up and back from Mt. Baldo.
Italy was suffering through its hottest summer in 130 years. My Italian sister-in-law in Milan advised us to go to Lake Garda, contending it would be cooler there with refreshing breezes. She was only partially right. The thermometer hovered at about 96F instead of 98 or 99 in Milan during the hottest part of the day, but the breezes just blew hot. We spent a lot of time in our air conditioned hotel room.
Lake Garda, Italy’s largest, and the surrounding mountains are, without a doubt, appetizing eye candy. The crowds of tourists, mostly German, made me want to escape. During the height of the tourist season, Germans vastly outnumber Italians in and around the northern end of Garda. They were mostly families and well behaved. My Italian in-laws and the guidebook warned me. Surrounded by German speakers in Italy, not so much fun. However, we had booked a couple of nights in Malcesine and I had researched thoroughly the Cableway with its panoramic views, hiking and mountain biking possibilities. I walked the 1.5 kilometers from our hotel to the cableway and long line to board. By the time I was jammed into the cable cabin with about 30 other hot and sweaty bodies, I was hot, tired and feeling somewhat cranky. The views were indeed spectacular, but marred by a heated and hazy atmosphere hovering over the lake and environs.
When I finally exited the cable cabin, cool mountain air greeted me. I stumbled around the summit for about 10 minutes enough to get some views and decided I had had enough. I caught the next car down the mountainside and headed back to the hotel just in time to collect my wife for a very late lunch. We spent the evening watching TV in our room. So much for Malcesine during the height of the tourist season. Had I not been so obsessed with riding the cable car, I might have heeded the guidebook’s well stated cautions. We checked out the next morning and drove south along the lakeshore before the temperature and traffic congestion climbed to annoying levels. It was good to get back to Italy.
Visit Lake Garda; just don’t go during the height of the tourist season.
One of the greatest advantages of traveling in Italy is that one finds history, agriculture and nature intertwined in almost any corner of the country. I’ve been fortunate to be embedded in the Northern Italian countryside for the past several summers in Villa Pasquali a small agricultural community just down the road from Sabbioneta which is about half way between Parma and Mantua. Sabbioneta , a world heritage site, is a fortified community once ruled by the famed Gonzaga family of Mantua.
The two communities are surrounded by farm fields of corn, soybeans, wheat, tomatoes, watermelons, zucchini, peppers and cantaloupes. This is part of the fertile plain of the Po valley. The “arginelli” or embankments are a flood control system of levees designed to keep the farm fields and communities safe from flooding. The levees are complimented by a system of irrigation and drainage ditches. Farmers use the water from the ditches to irrigate their crops and drain their fields. The system is hundreds of years old, but it doesn’t always work as the Po has a long history of disastrous floods.
My nephew, Alessandro, left a mountain bike at our digs in Villa Pasquali. It is ideal for riding along the levees. I first ventured out along the back roads around Villa Pasquali staying on or near the 40 plus kilometer bike way leading from Sabionetta to Mantua. Part of my route traversed the “arginelli” and one day I discovered a sign outlining a route surrounding Sabionetta and totally dedicated to the levees. Thus I began many hours of solitary riding along the tree lined “arginelli’ and completing the circle after several abortive tries. The route looks great on the signage, but the actual directions don’t deliver at several points along the way. Getting lost was part of the fun and speaking Italian guaranteed I wouldn’t ever be lost for long.
One thing that does deliver is the diversity of the flora and fauna that the route offers. I encountered lots of birds, large and small, the largest being the Airone, a large heron that looks a lot like our great blue heron. Every so often I chanced across a nutria which is a large rodent that somewhat resembles a beaver. Nutrias have been imported from South America and are now pests that have in many areas destroyed aquatic vegetation, marshes and irrigationsystems. The first nutria I ever saw was a road kill and h of ad me wondering, “what is a beaver doing here in Italy?” I subsequently learned what an unwanted invader the nutria is in Italy. Occasionally I saw a European hare of scared up a pheasant or two. I saw lots of egrets, crows and the ubiquitous Merlot, a black bird that is a relative of our American robin. Their song,if not their appearance, is sweeter than our robin’s.
If all goes well, I’ll be back next year and I plan to obtain a field guide to European birds.