Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake, but that is not the only reason that it is remarkable.
The soaring, limestone peaks of the western Brenta Dolomites rise straight out of its crystal waters, but you will find no fir trees or alpine meadows here.
The lake’s Mediterranean micro-climate supports Cyprus and olive groves. Palm and lemon trees grow and since ancient times, vines have been cultivated, which produce the classic wines of the region. Internationally famous reds, such as Valpolicella, Bardolino and Amarone as well as lesser-known whites, such as Lugana and Custoza. (Click here to link to a list of the Top 10 wines of the Garda region.)
In 2015, the biodiversity of the area led to its designation as a UNESCO Biosphere reserve. You might find lynx and brown bear if you’re lucky – and the people here have committed to live in harmony with nature.
But while wine, beauty and biodiversity played a part, they were not the real reason behind us being here. The real reason was… WIND!
Lake Garda is a long, narrow channel connecting the lowlands of the River Po with the mountains – and this makes for another wonderful microclimate. Strong and consistent winds, especially at the narrow, northern end of the lake, where high mountains create a venturi to funnel and further strengthen the wind!
Garda is a Mecca for wind-based watersports. When we arrived, there were so many sails on the water that we thought that we had been transported to that other Mecca, Maui – or back to Britain in the 1970s. Those heady days when windsurfing was The New Big Thing (probably The Only Big Thing – other than The Bay City Rollers and Chopper bikes!)
It was our Wedding Anniversary – and what a way to break a 3-month wind drought!
We simply shed a B since Croatia and exchanged ‘The Bora’ for ‘The Ora’ – not gold, but more precious, rare and sought-after. The Ora is the southerly blow that happens in the afternoons on Lake Garda as the air heats up and is pulled along the lake to rise up the mountains. An anabatic wind; if you want to get all meteorological. (The Pelèr is the northerly wind that happens in the mornings as the cold air falls down the mountainside. My favourite – I do love a ‘katabatic’ wind. But I’m not getting up at 5am to ride one!)
We gave a mixed account of ourselves; carrying our fully-rigged sails over the bridge from Campsite Maroadi, we had to avoid impatient cyclists (they just COULDN’T wait, even when we had let loads of them pass through before us.)
There seems to be an Italian tradition of affixing padlocks to the bridge here as a sign of unending love and togetherness. Ever the romantic, Mark went one step further for our Anniversary. He wobbled unstably to one side as an impatient cyclist barged past, trying not to let the wind catch his sail. In doing this, he attached himself to the bridge by the hook on his windsurfing waist harness. It didn’t make for an elegant traverse!
(Non-windsurfers may not appreciate that to carry a sail safely, you have at all times to keep it in a certain orientation to the wind, or bad things happen – although watching a windsurfer struggle with a sail caught by the wind is very entertaining to watch!)
We were soon blasting on a surprisingly choppy lake – it had looked like a mirror for the whole of the last week.
We chased each other across the lake, our boards whooshing as they left turbid, white trails in the clear, blue water. Wind whipped my face and my hair streamed out behind me like a Dacian Draco pennant being galloped into battle. The eerie howl of the Draco’s war cry came from the wind as it charged through my rigging.
Droplets in our wakes caught the sun; glistening and tumbling behind us like showers of sparks. As we ripped our lines and carved our turns, we were treated to different views of the sheer, golden cliffs, which soared in majesty above us and enclosed us in their embrace. All the while, the ruin of the 13th Century Penede Castle looked down like a dark sentinel from its commanding rock spur above Torbole.
We came back to shore, shattered but exhilarated. No words were needed. We had shared an elemental experience. We had ridden on the wings of the wind in the most stunning setting. We gave each other a high five and grinned our way back to the caravan. As we tucked into our Anniversary steak dinner with a glass of Barolo, our cheeks were still burning with sun, wind and joy.
We have never managed to windsurf on our Anniversary before. Last year we had to leave Barbâtre on the Island of Noirmoutier in a 25-knot blast because the campsite closed that day!
This well and truly made up for it.
I can honestly say that it was the best anniversary present EVER!
Join us next time for a bit of Dangling in the Dolomites, where I learn a valuable Life Lesson from the face of a 3000ft cliff!
Want to join the pack? Click ‘Follow’ and our adventures will pop straight into your inbox!
Thanks to Karen Bornhoft Photography for the photograph of me windsurfing.
And yes – the ‘Britain in the 1970’s’ photo was taken on Maui – from Kanaha Beach Park. The Maui shot was taken at Hayling Island during a fancy dress competition at the National Watersports Festival!
For more windy wonders and details of the National Watersports Festival, see the Windsurfing section of my blog.
For information about the winds on Lake Garda, click here!