Leaving Lido de Jesolo, in north east Italy, we headed along the Trieste coast in the Motorhome, towards Lake Garda. ''Plenty of pitches available at the back' the snooty receptionist dismissed us at the next recommended campsite. Motorhomes were packed tight and over the sea of people lounging in the sun was lake Garda, shimmering in the distance, and already overwhelmed by the scale of the camp, it was the ugly water flume blocking out the sun, and the queues of irate parents and excitable kids that finally made us decide to move on. And so leaving the nightmare, camp behind we headed further along the lake.
The moment we parked under the olive trees in camp Baldo, we knew we'd found our spot. Favoured by German families, seasoned surfers were launching from the white, rocky beach, the surfboards flying across the lake like a kaleidoscope of butterflies. And wasting no time, we plunged into the lake to cool down from a perfectly situated jetty. The jetty though belonged to the rental properties across the way, we discovered a couple of days later when the owner asked us to leave - how embarrassing!! The poor man was very apologetic though about throwing us off, 'Senora she is a coming, you can -a -use eet when no one ees ere he panicked, helping us to pack up towels, sun cream and flip-flops. And so lurking amongst the olive trees we waited to claim the jetty whenever the coast was clear.
Most days, we cycled along the crystal clear, blue lake, which was busy with the fishermen hauling in nets of sardines and queues of tourists waiting for the ferries to Limone and Malcesine, or dining outside of the lakeside hotels.
The camp, run by Guiseppe and Delores with their son Nickel, is situated in Brenzone, in Magugnano, one of five Hamlets including Marniga, Porto, Assenza and Castelletto, that lie on the lower slopes of Mount Baldo. We wandered Castellettos quaint streets which reminded us of a long ago era, and the cool alleyways which led too charming, hidden, restaurants under bright awnings. The typical shuttered buildings wound uphill into the vineyards and the olive groves, and pure spring water trickled from a tap in the wall. And persuaded by three German tourists that it was a mere ''ten-minute climb'' to the uninhabited village of Campo we carried on in the heat. It was however, a good thirty minutes before we reached the top and gasping we gratefully plunged our red hot, faces into a trough of mountain water.
Mentioned in documents from the 11th century, Campo is a fascinating place, two hundred metres above lake Garda, it has crumbling buildings, dark tunnels, mysterious passageways and the most magnificent views. We thought we were alone except for the two Bavarian, ladies we'd spoken to on the way up, so imagine our surprise to find a coffee shop in the corner of the tranquil village. Olga, the café owner, ground her own coffee beans and served us the best coffee we've ever tasted, along with olives, delicate biscuits, and cashew nuts. And sitting in the shade with the Bavarian ladies, we discovered that Olga runs the cafe every summer while her husband and son are away fishing, staying in the ancient stone house behind the shop. And inviting us inside, where it was as cool a fridge due to the thickness of the walls, she enthusiastically showed us her family photographs. Ellen are you on- a face- a – book? she asked, a strange question from an inhabitant of an, abandoned village in Italy, and one that made me feel like a complete dinosaur.
LAKE GARDA - the Highlights
By Helen Burke
The cable car in Malcesine, climbed one thousand, eight hundred, metres to the top of Mount Baldo, the Hamlets turning to miniatures as we left them behind. Cyclists and hikers disappeared rapidly over the well-worn paths of the mountain top as paragliders got ready to launch themselves over the edge. Alpacas, reared for their wool grazed on the lush, grass, alongside goats and wild horses, and sipping coffee in the chilly, mountain air we appreciated the view over the stunning, blue, lake Garda and the hills beyond.
That evening we enjoyed a meal in one of the hidden restaurants, the Italian tempo just right for dining outside. And wandering downhill to Castelletto's little harbour to took a seat for the free Opera, featuring Ida Turri, her husband, Stefano Romani, on the piano, and Tenor, Francesco Medda. Their beautiful, voices carried across the lake one after the other. And then together, they burst into Funiculi Funicula while encouraging the diners outside the restaurants to sing along, each restaurant trying to outdo the other, until finally, a winner was declared. The wonderful night, finished with a breath-taking rendition of Nessun Dorma' and a well-deserved standing ovation from the appreciative crowd.
We stayed at camp Baldo for a month, thanking God every day that we'd left the hundred-foot water flume behind. We'd enjoyed the impromptu concerts, dining al fresco on the terrace of the Restaurant Belvedere, and wed claimed the jetty back whenever the coast was clear. Richard and Guiseppe enjoyed their little chats even though neither had a clue what the other was saying, and every morning wed watch the fishermen hauling in the catch of the day. Sadly, however, it was time to move on, there were ten months of our year long trip left but as wed already discovered, time really does fly when youre having fun.