Let’s spend a weekend traipsing between the Riviera and the hills in the Valtènesi area, the western part of Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake.
This area is also referred to as the Gardasee, introduced by the German tourists who even prefer Lake Garda to the actual sea. Based on the Germanic word Warda, the name literally translates into “place of guard.”
The Lake Garda area is large enough to enjoy its own microclimate, almost an outpost of the South in Northern Italy - here we find lemon trees protected in “limonaia,” (greenhouses to protect the trees from frosts), capers on the islands of Lake Garda, and even olive tree groves that produce enough oil to meet Northern Italian demands.
How about those wines? Join Filippo Bartolotta for a quick exploration of the traditional wines from the Valtènesi wine region, Rosé Wines from Valtènesi, Lake Garda.
FRIDAY EVENING FOR DINNER AND A STROLL
Let’s get started with our entrance right through the front door: our itinerary will kick off with an exploration of Desenzano del Garda. And what better way to start than with dinner at Osteria Gattolardo?
The quite folkloristic name of this restaurant belies its very serious nature. The menu offers traditional Garda specialties like Sauced Pike, or Bigoli Pasta with Whitefish and Lake Garda Sardines. You can even find a proper Amatriciana Sauce, for those afraid of heretical misinterpretations of classic Italian cuisine.
Once you’ve selected your preferred options, the restaurant’s maitre Matteo Silva proves to be an eager guide in selecting a lovely bottle from the restaurant’s well-stocked wine cellar.
Summer evenings prove to be a wonderful time for a stroll in town. We’d suggest the scenic walk from the city’s port to the lighthouse, offering panoramic views of the entire Garda area.
SATURDAY ALL DAY IN THE LAP OF RELAXATION
Breakfast anywhere is an important way to kick off the day, and Desenzano does it right. Head outdoors for breakfast in the piazzetta, while the morning light skims off the lake. What to select? How about a slice of Ricotta and Saffron cake from Pozzolengo? Saffron is grown and harvested here as well, thanks once again to the area’s mild climate that allows the Saffron flowers to thrive.
If you’re feeling active, head north along the lake’s coastal roads. If you’re feeling not so active, the same road can also be enjoyed from the comfort of your vehicle. If you need a bicycle rental however, there are various spots in town that handle rentals, or the Hotel Mayer & Splendid offers bikes to guests as part of their hotel amenity services.
As you head north, you’ll arrive in Lonato del Garda - be sure to stop at the Rocca Viscontea, one of Northern Italy’s most important castles. This is also the home of the Fondazione Ugo da Como, a massive reference library and a major repository of Brescia-area history. As if this wasn’t appetizing enough, this collection is also home to one of Italy’s most important antique book collections.
Nothing could go hand in hand better than a good chapter of a good book, and a glass of Valtènesi area wine in your other hand. Learn more about these romance-laden wines with Filippo, in Valtènesi Rosa del Vittoriale - Molmenti’s Wine-Inspired Love Ode to Amalia.
Getting hungry again? Lunch is served in the Pratello farmhouse restaurant. Here you can enjoy a lovely traditional meal as well as a guided vineyard visit. Let’s take a look at the house specialities - explore food nostalgia with a Casoncelli Pasta Brescia-style with Butter, Sage and Hazelnut Powder dish, or Homemade Pickled Vegetables with a generous serving of local Grilled Meats. You’re going to want to wash that down with wines - here, the wine-making philosophy goes beyond mere organic principles.
The winemakers at Pratello also focus on a strong inclination for the presence of biodiversity. That helps explain the presence of geese waddling amongst the vineyards. The presence of the fluffy, smiling alpaca remains something of a mystery, but they are irresistible, particularly if you’ve got small kids in tow.
Keep exploring as you reach Rocca di Manerba. An easy walk here brings you to the top of the area to enjoy a splendid lake view, sweeping from the beaches below to the town’s ancient fortress. Your glorious view includes distant islands in the center of the lake, and the far-away peninsula of Sirmione.
Walking can bring on the hunger pangs, and as we’re not ones to overlook that, you can stop en route for a coffee and slice of cake at the sumptuous Creazioni, a luxurious pastry shop opened by the dynamic duo of Giulia Cerboneschi and Francesca Serra, whose age does not belie their experience and exciting interpretations of local sweet favorites.
Leaping right ahead to dinner, you’ve got two choices we’d recommend. Stay longer and try both! Da Rino provides an informal restaurant options specialized in lake fish dishes. Soak up the panorama with dinner served on the restaurant’s terrace overlooking the bay to make it a visual feast as well as a tasty dinner.
If you’ve got something more serious in mind, brothers Andrea and Marco Leali leap to the forefront in Casa Leali, in the town of Puegnago del Garda. Chef Andrea provides a highly original menu brimming with exciting options and ideas. Here, the culinary team evaluates every ingredient and interprets them with a scientific approach. Maitre and sommelier Marco provides a perfect foil to his brother’s creative culinary expressions, matching wines seamlessly and ensuring a polished dining experience of unparalleled enjoyment.
Have you found your favorite Valtènesi wine? Curious about how to pair it? Filippo is joined by Chef Sara Lai for a terrific wine and food pairing lesson and tips. Check it out: Wine Pairing | Asparagus paired with Valtènesi Rosé.
SUNDAY IS MADE TO MOVE AROUND
We’ve got one for the books: Villa Galnica in Puegnago del Garda, will open in 2022 as a wine estate. For now, you can enjoy this Valtènesi area villa as it stands now, with a splendid terrace overlooking Lake Garda. This is also the ideal starting point for a walk to nearby Salò and San Felice.
Skipping head directly to lunch, the Locanda del Benaco in Salò is a recently opened casual dining option that has already won the hearts of both the public and food critics. The restaurant is manned and run by an enthusiastic, young team. You can expect to enjoy local specialties with a modern twist, like Veal Guanciale with Bedizzole Polenta (Guancialino di vitello con polenta di Bedizzole), or Squid Stuffed with Shrimp and Roman Chicory (Calamaro ripieno di gamberi e puntarelle).
This segment of Lake Garda, Gardone Riviera, is also home to one of Italy’s finest restaurants, Lido84. Manned by Chef Riccardo Camanini, the restaurant’s impeccable dining room managed by Giancarlo Camanini (Riccardo’s brother) expresses the notions of local cuisine and flavors put together by the kitchen brigade. No wonder Lido84 gained its first Michelin star only 6 months after opening.
Just across the street from Lido84, we find the Vittoriale, the home and mausoleum of Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. The villa’s gloomy ambiance is offset by the joviality of its gardens. Ask your tour guide to open your visit up to include the garden’s vineyards - this special request must be visited with a special permission granted by your guide.
Keep your memories of your visit alive and delicious with a culinary memento. Manerba’s superb wine shop, B-Wine or the Luta-based Sapore Divino in Salò are two top-notch shops where you can buy the bottles you might have discovered during your weekend wanderings in the Valtènesi area.
If you want to bump up your gift-giving (to yourself or other lucky friends and loved ones), add some local extra-virgin olive oil and treat yourselves right!
Check out how the Valtènesi Wine Corsortium is making the area’s wines appreciated internationally!
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