January 15, 2016 Eddie Shanahan


Hiking above Lake Garda, Italy

A wide meandering path runs through alpine summer meadows at Monte Baldo, 1760 metres up in the Alps above Lake Garda. The barely noticable hiker in the picture gives some idea the scale of the area. On a summer’s day the temperature could be 18 degrees, whereas at the lakeside below it might tipping 40. The air up there has a clarity, both visual and breathable. It makes an interesting day trip from a base in one of the local towns like Mantova where classical art, ancient architecture and easy living merge. Dinner on the pavement’s edge outside Mantova’s Hysteria Leon D’Oro provides a special taste of life. Around the corner tiny local Hotel Broletto offers a friendly welcome right in the heart of ‘medieval’ Italy. 

”1760 metres up in the Alps above Lake Garda…the air…has a clarity, both visual and breathable…Italy provides much for the explorer”

Italy provides much for the explorer… towns like Pescheria for wonderful restaurants at the edge of Lake Garda, Sermione for its expansive Roman citadel, Ravello for its sea views, central piazza and music festival, Verona for the spectacle of favourite operas set in its Roman arena. Milan with its dusty cobbled streets leading away from the Duomo square throws up traditional and contemporary cafes and restaurants along the Via Mercato or the Corso Garibaldi. There too one finds the charming authenticity of Da Bruno on the Via M. Gonzaga.

Mallorca also provides a refuge from the commonplace …especially in Deia where the tiny hilltop churchyard and the spartan house and fertile gardens of Ca n’Alluny, once home to Robert Graves, are quiet but powerful spiritual touchstones of the poet’s life. The walks around here, over cryptically marked trails and terraces are taxing but enjoyable. There is wonderful food at the buzzy restaurant Sebastian or at the more discreet es Raco d’es Teix. Luxurious relaxation and excellent service awaits at La Resedencia.

To ramble round Palma’s side streets and alleyways is to discover delightful cafes full of locals. Here diverse memories will please and amuse, from wonderful rich roasted coffee to a waitress wearing a tee shirt nonchantly printed with the slogan …’Who is the Queen ? ’. Nearby Puigpuyent is cloaked in rural secrecy, a haven of quiet at the foot of the hills. Its Son Net hotel is casually elegant and friendly in equal measure. Higher up beyond the meandering terraces and craggy peaks lies the village of Esporles, lazy and welcoming in the heat and shade of late morning.

Further over in the tiny hill village of Fornalutz you can hear the quiet up there in the Tramuntana, broken only by the tingling bells that help trace flocks across the spines and valleys of the towering hills. The streets are twisting passageways, more often climbed than walked. The scent of jasmine is everywhere. The best hotel is a converted convent with furniture that looks left over from long forgotten film set. The sunshades in the garden are orange trees spreading their spindly shadows over state of the art sun loungers.

There is much to be discovered and enjoyed beyond the horizons of the standard itineraries, brochures and travel guides. Often you find the most enriching travel experiences off the beaten track.