So, after a long silence…. Here we go !
We spent twelve days in Torri di Benaco, Lake Garda, at the Hotel Internazionale, at the end of August (see report on TA hotels site).
We left from Gatwick and went through the discomfort of the ‘security’ set-up… Arriving at the check-in with our ‘liquids’ dutifully packaged in the regulation ziplock plastic bag…together with all my medicines etc. in a regulation size ‘carry-on’ I expected to sail through – no problem. I didn’t reckon with the First Choice check-in lady… She told me my ‘carry-on’ was the correct dimensions, but that First Choice only allowed 5kgs., whereas my ‘carry-on’ weighed 10 kgs. (which Ryanair allow). She insisted that our tickets and the booklet from the travel company would have stated this – but we checked afterwards and no mention was made of a weight limit for ‘carry-on’ bags, only dimensions. My husband’s little ‘carry – on shoulder bag’ only contained reading matter, our passports, money and a camcorder…but we were not allowed to ‘share’ the weight allowance. I pointed out that most of the contents of my bag was my medicines, and medical gear, and that’s allowed separately… so she told me to empty it and send the ‘carry-on’ bag as checked in baggage. I argued that if it was emptied of my medicines, my magazine, book, two sorts of spectacles, my sunglasses (and my camera strung around my neck, as allowed ) it wouldn’t weigh even 5 kgs. At this point, with my stuff all over the floor of the hall, I asked her how she expected me to carry my medicines on to the plane if I had to check-in my empty carry-on bag. She gave me five small First Choice plastic bags in which to put my medical equipment/tablets, saying my husband could ‘carry on’ one plastic bag making up the balance of what he was allowed, I could carry the other plastic bags, and ….. oh …we could trundle the now empty, wheeled ‘carry-on’ suitcase with us too ! By this point, I was so flustered and angry at the stupidity of it all, that I nearly had a screaming fit… but we swallowed our rage and proceeded (with difficulty) carrying the various encumbering plastic bags and the suitcase through to the ‘security’ area.
As I put everything through the scanner, I informed the security guard that the suitcase was empty and why… he grinned and said he had no interest in what I did with my stuff once we’d passed through security. So it all went back into the regulation ‘carry-on’ suitcase the other end. What a farce !!!
Incidentally, someone on the Italy forum said recently that the Italians are very lax and don’t check for anything their end when you arrive, and that you could be carrying drugs etc. But in fact, in confirmation of my reply to that person, when we arrived at Verona airport there were a number of sniffer dogs around, including one with the security guard that had a sniff at every person who approached the exit after picking up their baggage from the carousel. The holders of EU passports were allowed through the EU ‘nothing to declare channel’ but everyone else had to go through customs and a number of people had to open their suitcases and have their belongings checked.
Needless to say, on the return trip, the First Choice (English) check-in lady at Verona airport didn’t even ask to see our carry-on bags, let alone weigh them. I’d already put the contents into five plastic carrier bags inside the case, as a precaution, and we sailed through. My husband, of course, gets stopped every time he goes through the alarmed security arch, in any country, and they are never able to work out what sets it off… each time he jokes that he must have had a metal bone inserted in his leg in childhood, that his mother forgot to tell him about. I tell him it’s the metal cogs in his brain.
We were a little anxious because the reviews of the hotel on TA were not wonderful, and I was expecting the usual end of August thunderstorms ! The thunderstorms never materialised. It was 30 C to 33C most days we were there, at the end of August, and it never rained although there was an electrical storm one evening, with odd flashes of lightning and the occasional rumble. We didn’t have a choice of hotel, as it was a last minute bargain holiday. The room decor was not to my taste, but acceptable and I have posted a ‘hotel review’ for this hotel, with photos. The rooms on the front of the hotel had magnificent views of the lake, and the ones to the rear had what was euphemistically called 'mountain view' by the hotel staff..... a sheer cliff behind ! We went up to the top/fourth floor ‘solarium’ i.e. the paved roof terrace, on a couple of evenings to watch the firework displays held in the little village above called Albisano, and about a mile away, over in Torri del Benaco.
We were on 'half-board' and the food was adequate, but the trek in the dark to the town or the bus stops, meant that we never ventured out for an evening meal elsewhere. There were plenty of restaurants to chose from in Torri, and we found one with a wood burning stove that did wonderful pizzas as well as other dishes - so the main meal was fine - and when we went out for the day we always found a good restaurant in the other towns too.
Torri del Benaco was about a mile away from the hotel. There is a convenient (safer than the road) footpath most of the way around the lake, and it did start close to the hotel. So you could walk (30mins approx brisk walk) to the little town of Torri, and we did this a few times. We used the hotel minibus for returning in the afternoon (around 5.30pm) after day trips out on the buses, because the hotel is midway between the public transport bus stops and you'd have to walk back to it along the road (no pavements) and no footpath along the lake in one direction. But the hotel minibus service did not run after 5.30pm.
We also tried the free public minibus which runs from the car park behind the castle in Torri, to the car park up the mountain in the little village of Albisano. This village was a godsend on the hottest days, because the temperature up there is a few degrees cooler than down by the lake. There is a church with a 'panoramic' forecourt area with benches from which to view the lake and town below, and a little square with a couple of bars. The café staff everywhere always seem amused at my request for a pot of tea and a goblet of ice cubes. Each time I go through the routine of asking if they prepare their own un-sugared iced tea, or if it comes in tins or bottles… of course the tinned and bottled tea is always full of sugar. One little girl at the next table was fascinated by my pouring hot tea into a cup and adding ice cubes ! Her mother was no less perturbed… she must have thought I was totally barmy ! Mad dogs and English-women ! At one café the waiter said he would be happy to do my tea ‘shakerato’ … i.e. in a cocktail shaker, like a milk shake ! I settled for the pot of tea and ice cubes.
The lake was on the doorstep, but there are large pebbles on the shore and into the water, and I couldn’t face walking on them and opted for the pool ! My husband had brought his rubber, thick soled swimming shoes, so didn’t feel the pebbles and went into the lake for a swim. They cost around 10 euro to buy in Torri, as do sunhats. Beautiful scenery – and lovely little towns and villages to visit by bus or boat. I was struck by the fact that at the hotel, the smokers (most of the other guests at the hotel were German) smoked like chimneys so the outside tables were usually all taken or if not, you had to sit at one ingesting their smoke….same in the cafes elsewhere. It is so alien and ‘un-natural’ to smoke, that I feel the unfairness quite strongly, that non-smokers (or those allergic to smoke or who have breathing problems) have to sit and swelter indoors on hot days and balmy summer evenings because the air outside where everyone else is socialising, is being unnecessarily polluted. We hardly heard any Italian spoken except in some of the shops, and most of the waiting staff in cafes were immigrants, so mostly we were addressed in German or English when we tried to speak Italian - much to our disgust ! We took the ferry across to a small town called Maderno - where we discovered a lovely little villa b&b for lunch, set in a pretty garden. The town had fewer tourists too . Still, all round, it was a lovely area, good transport links, good rest (no cleaning or washing up !) , and lots of walking/swimming !
One evening, after our meal at the hotel, we went into the little town of Torri del Benaco for the evening’s live salsa music and dancing in the square. On another day, we went further south, to Lazise, still on the lake, where we had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant by the city walls (we shared a first course of 1kg of mussels, brought in especially from a mussel farm near Venice) and we wandered around – had wonderful ‘home-made’ ice-creams etc. I felt quite queasy walking along the lake front, as the paving there is patterned with a wavy design and I ‘don’t do boats’…and felt sea-sick just looking at it ! The following day, we went back to Lazise to have lunch at the same restaurant – unfortunately, we arrived at 2.30pm just after it had shut for the afternoon… it reopened just before we caught the bus back to Torri ! Shame, we should have caught the earlier bus ! But we found a pizzeria that had a wood oven, and had another pizza (because before we’d even ordered, the waiter said that pizza and salad was all there was, as the chef had already left !) . It does seem important to stick to Italian lunch hours – between 12.30 and 2pm if you want a real meal. Twenty minutes later, we paid up, as the waiter was locking up – but he kindly said we could stay at the outside table as long as we wished for the afternoon. We opted to go ‘walk-about’ to take some photos, and later had iced drinks at a café on the lake front.
On the last day, we went to Torbole for lunch and an afternoon out at the north end of the lake – about an hour and a half on the local bus. At least the buses have airconditioning and are inexpensive. We decided to blow any remaining euros on a ‘good meal’ in the only restaurant we fancied at the head of the lake. Just our luck, we didn’t realise that they served ‘nouvelle cuisine’ type food. I have always had my most comical moments in restaurants serving Nouvelle Cuisine, usually in France. We ordered ‘chub’ (I don’t know lake fish at all, so the Italian was just as incomprehensible to me as the English – we looked at both menus !) described as ‘fish from the lake’ we expected an actual fish so were surprised at the dish that appeared. Strategically placed on three sides of the plate: two horizontally cut slices of courgette and a round slice of aubergine (each about 1 or 2 inches across), a ‘rose’ cut from a miniature tomato, and a one inch pile of tiny carrot cubes… counted as vegetables - or maybe just decoration. It occurred to me later we could have also ordered a grilled vegetable dish as a ‘contorno’ (side-dish) …. Four tiny balls of mashed lake fish piled on a little mound of polenta (aka cold solidified maize porridge) in the middle. I couldn’t touch the lake fish balls, I tried to, ate a couple of mouthfuls, but it looked like something the cat brought up and you could see the tiny fishbones (probably edible like those in tiny sardines) – and I couldn’t eat any more.
I apologise for the simile, to those of you who rightly regard all food as sacred, but humans can do terrible things with food ! My husband ate his (he likes fish cakes) and felt guilty enough to offer me a dessert, usually I don’t eat dessert, only fruit…. And I limit myself to one ‘real, artisan made, ice-cream’ every two days, but only in Italy. The dessert was advertised on the menu in English, and described by the waitress, also in English, as ‘an apricot tart with home-made ice-cream of your choice’ . It arrived on a large, flat, white plate, decorated with ‘jus’ . The ‘tart’ consisted of a miniature muffin (about 3 inches tall) containing ‘plum jam’ (the waitress apologised, the chef told her it was plum now, not apricot) a quarter of a sliced fig (literally just a sliver) placed on one side of the plate, and a sprig of flowering basil placed on the other beside two tiny twigs of rosemary. The single ball of ice cream was homemade and delicious – but both flavour choices looked identical, a bright yellow colour (like custard) my husband’s was cinnamon flavoured, mine hazelnut (our choices). The dessert looked very artistic, and tasted lovely, if leaving you still feeling a bit hungry ! Including a tiny cup of black coffee, a glass of wine for my husband and a bottle of mineral water for me, it was the most expensive meal of the holiday. I would give it 10 out of 10 for artistic merit….9 our of 10 for the dessert because there could have been more of it…. But I couldn’t rate the main course ! So all thoughts of using the last of our euros were dashed, and out came the credit card ! I think I prefer the wonderful, fresh sea food and the abundance of Mediterranean vegetables offered in the South of Italy. It tastes wonderful and looks good straight as it is, and there’s plenty of it, without decoration,adulteration or weird cooking !
I later discovered that one of the regular fish dishes at the hotel, ‘ pangasio’, is actually an Asian river fish extensively used in Vietnam and Cambodia….and related to the catfish. Apparently it’s imported into Italy, frozen, or farmed in enclosed fresh water basins or canals in Europe – including Italy. I was disappointed, I thought it was all 'fish from lake Garda'... well, catering for big groups means 'mass cuisine' and the whole hotel ate the same menu.
One day, earlier in the holiday, we took the ferry across to a small town called Maderno – and arrived a bit late to look for a restaurant for lunch, but we discovered a lovely little villa b&b for lunch, set in a pretty garden. It only had Italian staff, and Italian guests, who were finishing their lunch. I enquired about a meal, and if it was too late, and we were welcomed into the ‘other’ dining room, tables laid with immaculate linen and table-ware, but no people. Within a few minutes, we were joined by the ferry staff, from the boat we had taken. Locals calling in for a late lunch seemed a good advert for the place, if they could rustle up a decent meal for five unexpectedly ! The residents were just finishing their meal, so some of the items on the menu were ‘finished’… but what there was turned out delicious. There was a choice of three dishes for each course. The food was lovely, buffet of antipasti (as much as you wanted of assorted salads and cold meats/cheeses) followed by home-made, fresh linguine with home-made pesto, fresh trout and chips, and tiramisu or fresh fruit, coffee, glass of wine and bottle of mineral water. And it didn’t even cost half the price of the Nouvelle Cuisine meal ! We’ve made a note and will be booking in there for B & B / half board …next time we visit that area of Lake Garda.
The views of the lake changed with every town visited, like a fjord towards the north, wider vistas and more gentle slopes to the south. We also went up Monte Baldo at Malcesine, on revolving cable cars. As they were cramming people in to the cars, we noticed from the signs that they allowed around 80 into the revolving cars from the middle station to the top, and 45 into the smaller, non-revolving cable cars from the base to the middle station. It still seemed an awful lot of bodies crammed together to me. Shorter people were just propped up by other bodies in the middle of the car, because you couldn’t reach the hanging straps in the middle, nor did you get a view out of the windows with your nose in someone’s armpit ! Children and their parents monopolised the hand-bars on the window side of the cars – as is to be expected. There were goats running free on the top of the mountain. One young man enticed a young goat to leave its pack using biscuits and crisps because he wanted to have a photo taken with it. Some people up there were behaving stupidly. They were feeding the goats with crisps and biscuits, then when they’d tired of it and given them all they had, they were getting upset because the goats moved on to devouring clothing and maps or books they had. I thought it was well known that goats will eat anything…. One woman started to unwrap biscuits for her toddler right under the little goat’s nose, it was only a kid, …then the woman got upset when the kid wanted his/her share of the forthcoming biscuits held out to the child in the pushchair….. the toddler was terrified as the goat’s face loomed up, and started screaming, that set off their other pre-school child, the father came over and started whacking the goat to get it away from the child, in case it decided to bite. Someone’s dog had been let off the lead and, alerted by all the commotion of the children screaming, it started barking and chasing the terrified kid round the child’s pushchair – causing more piercing screams. It chased the kid all around the cable car station. The kid took refuge from the dog, trembling, under the tables in the café, upsetting the people sitting there, and then the poor goat nearly leapt to its death from a nearby precipice, smashing into the fencing ….. eventually the dog’s owner turned up and put it back on the lead, and some young adults helped the kid back through the protective fencing and it rejoined its herd along the mountain path. Some people seemed to spend half a day or more on Monte Baldo, and there was a queue snaking right round the cable car station and across the top of the mountain, for what was supposed to be the last car down…. So that seemed to turn into the last six cars down !
We nearly didn’t make it home on the last day… the holiday company rep. left us instructions at Reception to be ready at 7.30am for the coach to the airport. Then we heard from others leaving on the same coach and flight that they’d been left similar instructions but to be ready at 7.15am and 7.10am….. so we rang the ‘resort’ rep’s emergency number, and the next day, she left us another note, plus a text message to say – sorry, she’d made a mistake, but it’s 7.15am for everyone, down by the road outside the hotel. So we arranged with the hotel for an early breakfast (the earliest they’d do, was 7.am). We were all sitting there eating, when suddenly the English rep from the coach breezed in at 7.05am - “oh – quick, the coach is outside, you must have been told the wrong time, we’ll be late, ….we’ve got to go NOW !” So, gulping coffee and grasping a brioche in one hand and wheeled suitcase in the other, we all trundled hurriedly out and down the steep drive to the road ! As we drove up to the airport, the rep announced “well, we’re half an hour early …. But that’s o.k. … I suggest you stay on the Verona side and don’t go through to departures too quickly, because there’s nothing, no shops etc, in the departure lounge….” So I bought a small replacement bottle of mineral water from the café for 1 euro 50 cents , after I had to jettison the one I had before security - before going through to the ‘empty’ departure lounge …. And when we got to the departure lounge there were umpteen coin machines selling the same sized bottles of iced mineral water for just 1 euro instead. Huh !
It was our first ever package deal, a bargain, last minute booking. We had glorious weather, it was too hot really, and the air conditioning in our hotel room wasn’t as good as it should have been ! As usual, my feet and lower legs were massacred by mozzie bites, but I wore long skirts all the time, so it wasn’t as bad as it could have been ! The bite at the back of my arm I only got the night before we left, as I was foolish enough to wear a sleeveless dress. None of the insect repellents I brought with me had any effect ! I missed the …art, music and culture. There were some frescoes in the medieval churches, but one at Maderno was blocked with scaffolding, as they had ‘closed’ the church and were restoring the whole building, so you couldn’t see a thing ! We could have gone to Verona or Venice for the day, but it seemed too long a journey on the bus in the heat…and we’d stayed a week in Verona a few years ago. So we accepted that this was going to be a ‘chill out’ holiday, with minimal ‘culture’. We went back for a swim in the hotel pool every evening before the evening meal and took lots of leisurely walks along the shores of the lake, admiring the beautiful sunsets. We did have a good holiday. I am still a little dubious regarding the cleanliness of the lake water and whether it is polluted with sewage. It appeared to be clean, but it is disconcerting to sea pipes entering the water from under the road. We wondered if it was ‘snow melt’ piped into the lake to avoid flooding the road. But we were a little suspicious, particularly as one of the waitresses and the café owner by the lake confirmed that the sewage from the towns and villages have ‘always been discharged into the lake, for centuries !’ I read in an Italian newspaper that there was a new treatment plant at Peschiera, but it seems that the other towns have old ones… and then where does the effluent go ? I’ve tried to Google it on the internet but I’m still no wiser.
If you’d like to see some photos, I’ve posted some on the hotel review. I haven’t worked out how to do a trip report any other way on this site… I’ll have to look into it, for next time.
Well, it was too hot out there, and now I can’t get used to the cold and wet here !!! We’ve had so much rain and flooding in England this summer. Am I never satisfied ? No… of course not ! I’m now planning the next trip…. back to Italy, of course !