“Strange times are these in which we live…” Allegedly attributed to Plato, this is a universal quote, no more fitting than for our contemporary times. Uncertainties aside, we have a brilliant excuse to explore and re-evaluate our environs.
We are lucky. Yes, indeed. Can you think of another place surrounded by such sweeping, all-embracing beauty as Lake Garda? Water and mountains, boat rides and wild swimming, ancient Roman ruins and glorious castles, and then endless vineyards, olive groves and citrus orchards. That’s right. Lake Garda is a foodie heaven and we are taking you for a the ride of a lifetime.
This is the realm of water. Enjoy the gentle lull of calm waves while sipping some vino and taking in the view, or surf rushing waters amid gusty winds; hike to the top of Monte Baldo and admire this illustrious and ever changing speck of water. It’s only natural that local cuisine makes freshwater fish its strongpoint: pike, tench, carp, lavaret and the rare carpione, only found on Lake Garda, are just a few examples of local fish that’s loved well beyond the boundaries of the lake. Pair them with rice or pasta and you are in for a treat: Risotto con la tinca is delicious – tinca is a tender local fish - and should ripple like an ocean wave. Bigoli con le sarde is a pasta dish with a sardine-type fish, called agone: delicious. Eat it and be merry at the Palio de la Sardela, a fair that takes place in Lazise in June. And then it’s Zuppa di pesce (fish soup) or Luccio e polenta (polenta with pike), Sarde in Saor – marinated sardines –Saor is a sweet-sour conservation method for fish, formerly used by fishermen, who had to stay at sea at length. You could spend a lifetime on the lake and be tempted by a new recipe every day.
Bearing in mind that Lake Garda spans over three regions – Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino – and that Italy is a kaleidoscope of cultures and traditions, you can only expect nothing but excellence in this gourmet variety at your disposal.
Opt for Tortellini di Valeggio if you are keen on the delicate taste of thin pastry and the most refined filled pasta you can think of: also called “love nests”, they are celebrated in a dedicated festival that takes place in Valeggio sul Mincio every year. Try Risotto all’Amarone and enjoy the Vialone Nano IGP rice variety from Isola della Scala, south of Verona, combined with a superbly rich, dry red Amarone DOCG wine. What about carne salada – salted beef? Stemming from the northern, Trentino shores of the lake, this is a seasoned lean cut of beef, rolled in coarse salt and various leaves (bay leaves, juniper berries, garlic cloves and rosemary). Traditionally cured in terracotta jars or glass containers for ten days, it is served with local olive oil.
Accompany it with Broccoletti di Custoza – part of the
Slow food circle, picked between December and early February, or white asparagus from Cavaion and Rivoli Veronese (when in season), mushrooms and black truffle from Monte Baldo and finish off with Fogassa cake or Monte Baldo chestnuts (awarded a DOP variety), seasoned with local honey. If this is a dream, please do not wake me up.
Speaking of olive oil, did you know that it was employed on Lake Garda as early as the Bronze Age? Producing olive oil at such an altitude may come as a surprise, but the lake possesses a microclimate that makes life sweeter, in every sense. Arco, Riva del Garda and Tenno are part of the National City of Oil Association and the eastern shore of Lake Garda is called the Olive Tree Riviera. What’s not to like about all this? The Extra-virgin Garda variety was certified as DOP in 1997 – employing mainly the Casaliva variety - fruity and very elegant - produced in the provinces of Verona, Brescia, Mantova and Trento, although the Frantoio and Leccino varieties are used as well. Each area produces a type of olive oil that may differ in taste and aroma: make sure you taste them all to try all the delicious types.
The Mediterranean climate is owed a debt of gratitude for another stunning product: lemons. Citrus Orchards on Lake Garda are the northernmost ones you can find. Grown in this area ever since the Quattrocento, thanks to the diligent work of Franciscan friars – the construction of limonaie helped raising awareness about Garda lemons, with more and more people discovering their exceptional flavour. Their expansion bloomed in the mid 1800, when there were as many as 12,000 lemon trees all around the lake – thus requiring 24,000 pillars for the erection of precious limonaie, where the golden fruit was kept in the winter and was sheltered from the elements all year round. These days, very few of them are still in use, but a local festival held in Gargnano in April – called Citrus Gardens – is the perfect occasion to get to know local beauties, discover new recipes, try out something new. This really is a world full of surprises!
And of course no respectable foodie would ever leave a place without having tried local wine. Where to start? Here, too, you are simply spoilt for choice with a vast array of white, red, rosé wines, plus passito and riserva. Every shore gives rise to a different taste and connotation, in a delicious journey of Bacchus that reveals the intensity of an unforgettable setting. Starting from the north-east banks, Riviera del Garda Classico DOC enjoys Barbera, Sangiovese, Groppello and Marzemino varieties; further to the south you will find Lugana DOC - a historical white white, whose grapes grow between Brescia and Verona, not far from our hotel - and San Martino della Battaglia DOC, then it’s Garda Colli Mantovani DOC, Bianco di Custoza DOC to the east and then Bardolino Superiore DOCG, with Bardolino DOC. This apparent DOC foray is only a prelude to something magnificent.
We also produce our own wine with the Cantina Ca’ Maiol: will you join us for a glass?
Clearly such a variety of climate, landscape, soil and mood is reflected in our culinary offer. 130 years of history and events mean the food you will find here embodies dedication, passion and respect for local products. This is what chef Matteo Felter, in charge of our restaurants, aims for: his cuisine is “sincere and concrete” and for him cooking means being “open minded”, setting no limits. Reinterpreting classic dishes and adding modern twists or inspirations taken from journeys around the world is pivotal. And of course rigour and attention for details are paramount: every single thing, from the breadbasket to a gourmet dish, needs to be lovingly looked after.
At GHF you can choose among five different options: La Darsena Shore Club, a superb bar on the terrace, La Magnolia, Trattoria il Pescatore, and Il Fagiano
Whether it’s traditional Italian cuisine, the catch of the day or a new experimentation, you know you are never far from something extraordinary at our Grand Hotel.
Have you thought about recreating our magic at home? Try it with a classic, the Club Sandwich, here in an exclusive recipe created by our Matteo Felter.
Club Sandwich Praga pancetta and roasted Porchetta and hollandaise sauce
Praga Levoni pancetta (bacon)
Levoni porchetta (roast pork)
aromatic oil with thyme, garlic and rosemary
1 egg yolk
shallot, tarragon, vinegar
Cook the tomatoes and the Tropea onions, previously cut in thin slices, with the aromatic oil, thyme, garlic and rosemary at a temperature of 65-70º for one hour. Cut the Praga Levoni pancetta in slices and place in a pan or the oven for ten minutes, until it caramelises. Thinly slice the Levoni porchetta. Toast the white bread slices, spread the mayonnaise on both sides of a bread slice and fill one side with bacon, tomatoes and lettuce, the other half with the Tropea onions, lettuce and porchetta. Seal with a slice of bread and place in the oven to make it crispy. Serve with the hollandaise sauce.
For the mayonnaise:
Whip an egg yolk, adding the seed oil. Add a little vinegar for acidity or some lemon juice, when it’s ready.
For the hollandaise sauce:
Make an infusion with vinegar, shallot and tarragon. When the water boils, remove the ingredients. Whip the egg yolk with the clarified butter; at the end, add the liquid obtained from the infusion to add some aroma to the sauce. Serve at room temperature.