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Active options on Italy’s Lake Garda

Use the words “lakes”, “Riviera” or “cruise” and you may as well rip any travel article into tiny pieces and make a paper snow mountain out of it for the amount of appeal it will have for a younger audience. The simple fact is, we don’t want to go on the same kind of holidays as Nan and Grandad – picturesque is great ‘n’ all, but where the thrills at?

Lake Garda doesn’t have to be a snoozefest, nor result in your bank balance dipping so dangerously towards zero that the only variation in your diet will be which type of sugary topping you’ll thinly spread on your delicious dinners of grilled toast.

I went, sceptical, expecting to be surrounded by pensioners and their best ‘are you going to mug me’ stares. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case at all. The fact is, Italy’s lakes aren’t so much for old-school types as for those who like towns and scenery that are easy on the eye (and ice cream, pasta and gnocchi that are not easy on the waistline).
Lake Garda, Italy
Getting there is simple – there are good connections from Verona airport to the lake’s surrounding towns (check out the train timetable in English, but no need to book a ticket beforehand unless you want to be super prepared). You could hotel hop around the lake, spending a few nights in each of the surrounding towns, but I’d recommend picking one hotel out of the bunch, setting up home there and then using the lake ferries to get to the various hotspots. I stayed in Sirmione and had no problem town-hopping across the lake, although the slightly erratic ferry timetables made me truly appreciate the Italian expression ‘dolce far niente’ – the pleasure of idleness, which seems to set the pace of life around here (when do they get anything done?)

Aside from admiring the effortlessly glamourous Italians sipping espressos on kerb-side cafes, the spots worth your crowd invoked-frustrations definitely include Sirmione’s Castello Scaligero. Even if old, crumbling stuff isn’t your thing, this moated 13th century beauty will appeal, particularly if you’ve eaten enough Weetabix that morning to make it to the top of the towers for the views out over the lake. Consider it an athletic, as well as a historical, tour.

If, like me, the thought of sight-seeing makes you question the sanity of those who see life entirely through a lense, the main attractions definitely lie in the north part of the lake, where action-packed activities provide for endless injuries, memorable scars and potential drowning incidents to keep your friends entertained when you return home. The winds on the lake make it a great spot for sailing (apparently) or windsurfing – the easier option for any amateur who has enough muscle mass to be able to lift the sail. (They are excruciatingly heavy to pull up off the water. Bring your dumbells).

When getting rescued by the instructor became too tiring, I booked myself onto a canyoning tour. For those who have never heard of canyoning, it essentially entails jumping down waterfalls and generally tempting fate by climbing over slippery rocks and into rushing pools of water. It can be pricy, but it’s definitely worth paying for a tour with a respectable company. After all, they know the best anti-death spots.

And when you’re finally sick of fantasising of your future lakeside home, one final memorable activity offered around Italy’s lakes is seaplane lessons. You have to have some flying experience, or be fortunate enough to know someone who does, to take part, but zipping over the mountains and houses so that it all resembles a model village will be the highlight of your trip (especially for the passenger who gets to sit back and take in the views).
Lake Garda Aerial, Italy
Even the most adventurous traveller needs a rest however, and the best way to relax on Lake Garda comes in the form of its natural, bubbling hot springs. Even if you think the words “essential minerals” were thought up by a clever marketing team, visit one of the springs (such as Terme di Sirmione) you’ll come out with baby soft skin and mind so relaxed you’ll want to sleep away the rest of your days. Finish off with an Italian gelato (I recommend Gelateria Flora in Riva Del Garda at the top of the lake for a sundae that will have you racing back for round two) and voila – your action, packed, anti-OAP Lake Garda trip is done.

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