A Rough Guide to Lake Garda : Things to Do in Valeggio and Borghetto Sul Mincio
A Rough Guide to Lake Garda: Things to do in Valeggio and Borghetto sul Mincio
When I was living and working over in Lake Garda I often went off the beaten track.
It can be easy to get transfixed on the glamour of the lake with all its attractions and beauty.
However I remembered a cycling trip in the hinterland and how I enjoyed the scenery of the fields, hills and valleys.
So I thought it would be a good idea to head down the River Mincio and forego the pleasures of the lake for one day at least.
The River Mincio
I decided to go for a cycle to the town of Valegggio about 6 miles inland from Peschiera and to enjoy an escape from the lake for a while.
It was an easy ride, even on my less than sleek Chinese import of an excuse for a bike, as the cycle track was well laid out with gravel and really flat all the way along the river bank.
Maybe too well laid out as the river seemed too precisely landscaped for my liking.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN VALEGGIO AND BORGHETTO
1. Enjoy the natural beauty and colour of the Parco Giardino Sigurta.
2. Walk up the hill to the old 10th century Scaligeri Castle in Valeggio
3. Dine out beside the flowing river for a romantic meal in Borghetto
4. Take a stroll around the pleasant streets and piazzas of Valeggio.
5. For exercise you can walk or cycle along the River MIncio.
It had the flat cycle path running alongside very neat riverbanks with cypress trees stationed perfectly at regular intervals to slide-rule perfection.
It wasn't perfect though as I passed the Carabinieri barracks, a water treatment plant that I think must have been a sewage works and further up a factory with a huge chimney and finally a slaughterhouse, all the requisite attractions for a riverside jaunt.
The River Mincio is famous for its eels and what do you know? I saw one crawling along the path in front of me but when I got within 10 feet, it slipped away into the undergrowth.
A memorable slither and with a really effective early warning radar as he disappeared into safety. The local fishermen were out in force with huge rods that looked as if they could reach the other side of the river.
I don't know why they go to all that bother as I could just have run over an eel with my bike and saved a fortune on expensive fishing equipment.
The river was actually a very important waterway at one time as boats would transport cargo from the lake, entering at Peschiera and sailing into the hinterland.
It then joins the Po River and produce from the lake could be sent all the way to Venice. It also had strategic military importance, especially during the Risorgimento of 1848-49 when Italy fought and won its independence.
I came to a weir which was most refreshing on this hot day as lots of spray from the water cooled me down as I crossed over the bridge. Unfortunately I went the wrong way and reached a dead end so I had to go back over the weir which was actually a nice added bonus as I got sprayed again.
Now on the right path I continued on my merry way and observed that there were now two small canals either side of the river presumably providing irrigation for the many vineyards in the area. There were also many fields of maize flowing in golden waves in the breeze that made this cycle all the more pleasant.
I eventually reached the little medieval village of Borghetto.
It sits under the hill with the castle sitting majestically on top.
A very picturesque area with charming riverside restaurants providing the perfect setting for a romantic meal.
Preparations were under way for the annual 'Nodo d'Amore' festival along the local bridge.
This translates as 'Love-Knot' and is a celebration of romance and love within a medieval theme as the hosts dress as dashing gentlemen and the hostesses as pretty damsels.
The bridge is famous and dates from the middle-ages, built in 1393 by Gian Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan and thus called the 'Ponte Visconteo' in his name.
During the following evening the visitors would be treated to the best cuisine and wine of the area among the many tables set out on the bridge. This would be accompanied by Italian Opera music and a spectacular fireworks display as a finale.
But there are permanent local attractions to see in Borghetto. For example the Church of St Mark the Evangelist which dates from the 18th century. Next to the church is a tower containing a bell which dates from 1381, forged during the Scaligera period.
You can also see restored water wheels revolving in the waters of the river. The old mills were an important facet of local life and economy fed by the endless flow of the Mincio.
I left the bike there at Borghetto and continued up into Valeggio itself on foot. The town was totally free of tourists as it was off the beaten track.
In Valeggio you will find a particularly fine church building. The 18th century Church of St Peter designed by Adriano Cristofali and with paintings from that period in the interior. Other attractions are the Villa Portalupi and the Palazzo Guarienti. The latter is referred to as the 'Home of the Patriot'
But a highlight of my visit was the Municipio, or town hall, which was very colourful, painted in the light yellow paint and pale green shutters typical of the area's municipal buildings.
This building was particularly attractive as it also had white brick trimmings and mauve flowers in its window boxes which provided a vivid and memorable picture. In the afternoon sunshine it really glowed in its pleasing colour scheme.
It was refreshing to get away from the hurly-burly of the tourist centres and sample a small slice of real Italian life in the little towns and villages around the region.
The Scaligeri Castle
It was a pleasant surprise to find that the Scaligeri Castle at Valeggio was completely empty when I arrived save for lots of pigeons.
A young couple dropped by for a while but apart from them I spent about 45 minutes by myself.
I simply enjoyed the relative peace and quiet among the cooing birds and their piles of accumulated droppings all over the fortifications.
Can't they be house-trained?
Below was Valeggio itself and beyond stood the beginnings of the vast Venetian Plain which stretched about 100 miles to the Adriatic Coast. Looking down on the rooftops the town seemed completely still.
The exceptions only the sounds of children playing, dogs barking, scooters purring along the road and also the background sound of traffic on a busy road outside of the town.
A church bell rang and birds were chirping as they flew amongst the trees at the base of the castle. It's a relaxing experience just sitting there gazing out over nothing in particular as you concentrate on the sounds instead.
All things considered thought the scenery over the Venetian Plain was not that impressive
However on the other side there was a pleasant vista of the Mincio Valley.
In the distance you can see the Lake Garda.
As for the castle itself the old round tower is all that remains of the original 10th century construction.
In 1117 there was an earthquake in Northern Italy which destroyed much of the structure.
But in 1285 rebuilding began as the castle was of strategic importance.
The land below was the safest, most important point of the Mincio between Lake Garda and Mantova.
Inside the ramparts I sat in the little shade available as the castle was bathed almost completely in the strong sunshine but luckily most of the pigeons' business was well dried in. Otherwise, it could have been an uncomfortable experience without a whiff of sarcasm from me.
For some strange reason I felt like I was sitting alone in a Castle of the Crusades somewhere out in the sun-baked lands of the Middle-East centuries ago. The birds were ghosts of the past like sentinels on the ramparts belonging to a lost and long forgotten legion.
My imagination was running riot. Perhaps I should have wore a proper hat in the sun. Back to the history, or at least my interpretation of it.
In 1345 local ruler Maschino II della Scala ordered 16 kilometres of fortifications to strengthen the base here. Because he was buying in bulk he got a special discount.
The local fortification warehouse only supplied batches of 5 kilometres but they gave him 20 for the price of 15 so he had 4 extra kilometres of the stuff to play with. It perhaps explains why there are so many of the Scaligeri forts all around Garda.
Staring at the sky
I headed back down the hill and lay down in the park on a stone bench looking upwards and watched the sky.
This was my own personal piece of sky.
My very own personal piece of sky that belonged to me and me alone for that brief period of respite from the heat of the afternoon.
My piece of sky was framed by the green circular framework of the nearby trees that focused my eyes, my ears, my thoughts and my mind on that little portrait of sky that was truly mine and mine alone for the duration of my stay.
Indulge me folks, I know that stuff up there belongs to us all but for that half-an-hour that bit belonged to me. In the gentle breeze the leaves and branches of the trees formed an animated picture frame for my personal view of the bright blue ceiling above and all its accompanying attractions.
This was my nature-watch as I lay back and observed whatever came into view into my little piece of blue sky. What would venture into my sky, what would cross my vision, what would enter the tiny microcosm of my world?
Several pigeons, a couple of sparrows and on the periphery next to the tree-line an aircraft dared to intrude its engines upon my solace from high above. But only on the periphery as it soared away on its flight-path.
One or two dragonflies flickered around and some swallows glided past very noisily which surprised me I must say as I had a really silent experience of them before. But this time they sounded like horny chimpanzees in a springtime frenzy.
No matter, because this was my sky, this was my sky at this moment, at this place and at this time and no-one could else could take that away.
If you love nature and all its colour then visit the Parco Giardino Sigurta in the area. It's a beautiful, tenderly maintained slice of horticultural beauty in the Garda region. Its lush and varied vegetation flourishes due to the waters of the Mincio.
It's named after Carlo Sigurta who bought the land in 1941 and developed the area as private gardens. It was eventually opened to the public in 1978. In spring there are countless tulips and throughout the summer there are beautiful roses. Also on the 18 ponds of the Park are a vast array of bright lilies.
What about out you folk there reading this? Have you ever taken possession of a little piece of your environment and decided to call it your own for a little while? Have you ever sat or lay down and welcomed our fellow creatures to your parlour and marvelled at their exploits? Have you sat by the river? Have you gazed at your garden?
Have you laid back on the grass and stared at the sky? In fact, have you lay back and gazed at the stars at night? There's nothing on earth to give you a sense of perspective than to stare at the stars and wonder what the hell this is all about. We're on a lump of rock spinning around a huge cinder.
Talking of which, I had forgotten my sunglasses.
After collecting my bicycle I was facing into the early evening sun all the way back.
I lowered my cap and squinted my way along the cycle path.
I had to stop on the way several times as I kept getting those tea-time flies in the eyes.
On one occasion I actually got two flies, one in each eye at exactly the same time.
So I had to hit the brakes as I was momentarily blinded by the bombardment. It seemed like a long way back on that bike and it didn't help matters that other cyclists on racers and mountain bikes were overtaking me with ease.
It would help if I had a decent bike as I was struggling up those hills while the 'Tour de France' set streamed past leaving me trailing in their wake.
But maybe they didn't have time to appreciate their surroundings. Take a visit yourself and take your time. You've got all day to enjoy Valeggio and Borghetto.