For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
There seems to be no more fitting time than this to read William Wordsworth’s “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud”. As our daily lives are disrupted because of Covid-19, we sit cheerfully at home thinking about our next venture.
Spring is clearly in the air, the days are getting longer and the trees blossom, bringing us rays of hope and joy. Along with this wave of novelty comes the merry thought that many gardens are about to open, enveloping us in a blaze of dazzling, vivid colours.
Lake Garda has many aces up its sleeve, including majestic parks and grounds, and we want to share a few of these hidden gems with you.
Gardone Riviera is a garden town and the Heller Garden is its feather in its cap. The entire world is on offer in what is considered the most luxurious garden in Italy, with bamboo woods, streams, waterfalls and ponds, cacti and water lilies, orchids and edelweiss, exotic and centuries-old trees. Harmony sets the tone and nature is displayed alongside man-made structures, contemporary sculptures and exciting scenic effects. The garden was created by Arthur Hruska, a dental surgeon to the Tzars, the Savoy family, the popes Pius XII and John XXII, as well as a botanist and naturalist, who moved to Gardone from Austria in 1901. He fell in love with the area and the special light that permeates there and had the gardens built between 1912 and 1914. The Garden is now run by the Heller Foundation, after another Austrian, multimedia artist and author André Heller, further transformed the garden and made it an idyllic place that hosts plants from all over the world, helped by a climate that he defined as “the air of fortune”. Each species is housed in its natural habitat, paired with art objects by the likes of Roy Lichtenstein, Keith Haring and Erwin Novak: this is a sublime experience that varies each time, year on year, following the circle of nature.
Also known as the “casetta - small house”, Villa Boghi was once a private residence and is now a welcoming little manicured garden, an oasis of peace and colour with the many flowers that are on display. Housed in Limone sul Garda, it is only natural that you will find a gorgeous limonaia here, too; the outstanding local tradition of caring after citrus fruits in a splendid setting triumphs in this pretty town on the lake and here you will see many lemon-trees shaded by the elements in a superb fashion. The villa was built at the beginning of the XX century and is now the town hall, but once hosted the Salò Republic and, prior to that, to the German High Command. Visitors come here to find respite whilst enjoying superb views onto the lake and fabulous examples of topiary art – such as musical instruments – to enjoy a moment of delight.
Tulip Mania, the frenzied era in the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century, when tulips (especially their bulbs) were so expensive that you could buy a posh townhouse in Amsterdam with them, still shines with pride and glory to this day. Tulips are indeed marvellous flowers and not many gardens can proudly boast the World Tulip Award: among them, the Sigurtà Gardens (in 2019). South of Lake Garda, in Valeggio sul Mincio, the original estate of this remarkable garden dates back to 1400 and changed ownership numerous times over the centuries; these days, you can find tulips blossoming in the spring, displayed in a brilliant fashion and giving life to the extraordinary Tulipanomania, a feast for the eyes attracting visitors from far and wide. Along with them, you will see daffodils all around the park, irises to be admired in the Viale delle Fontanelle, peonies close to the Hermitage, sunflowers in several bright spots, water lilies in the many (18!) ponds in the park, hydrangeas in their dedicated line, exquisitely scented roses and many, many other flower genres in the 60 blossomed hectares for you to enjoy. Add a maze featuring 1500 yew trees, a medicinal plants garden, a giant 6 metre-diameter oak, a lovers’ bench and an educational farm and you will see that this place is everyone’s dream escape.
Lake Garda’s sensational Roman past is known to most and the Villa Romana in Desenzano is the most important archaeological evidence of antique villas in northern Italy. Built more than two millennia ago, it once extended over the lake and this position must have determined the layout of the rooms, which all looked out to the lake. Today you will find a series of wooden walkways that snake around the villas amid a series of red, orange and olive mosaics, many of which depict hunting, fishing and chariot riding, adorned by fruit and flower garlands.
The Antiquarium displays the most important relics from the villa, divided in a series of interesting exhibits; they all give an excellent idea of how life was back in the days when the ancient Romans showed their appreciation and love for the pristine waters and exceptionally mild climate on Lake Garda.
Splendidly sited on a rocky outcrop overlooking the lake, the Rocca di Manerba echoes memories of a distant past when a medieval castle was in place – known as the Rock – along with three sets of defensive walls. It is placed within a Nature Reserve offering a variety of plant species that coexist thanks to the surprisingly mild climate: Mediterranean plants and botanical rarities, orchid meadows and evergreen woods live in harmony and can be enjoyed thanks to the many walking trails and fantastic beaches. From a distance, the cliffs throne on the lake and the view from the top is simply mesmerizing, encompassing the entire lake and, in the foreground, tiny Isola di San Biagio. Also known as Rabbit Island, this is a small lake paradise featuring green meadows, cypress trees and blooming shrubs. It is also populated by many wild rabbits, hence the name, who are used to the human presence. The island can be reached on foot at low tide, making it an evocative setting, or by water taxi. Diving enthusiasts will be in their elements as the nearby Scoglio dell’altare is one of the most picturesque diving places on the lake: 150-metre deep, it features two large ledges covered with yellow sponges and a cave featuring large specimens of royal perches, pikes, eels and bleaks.
Whether you love water or flowers, solitude or guided tours, the gardens and parks of Lake Garda will do justice to your thirst for the sublime.
Let’s keep on planning, dreaming and arranging our next trip: we will soon be able to travel again and enjoy this fabulous area in northern Italy where excellence is de rigueur.