Monday, July 27, 2009

A tour of Lake Garda's western shores

My favorite view, originally uploaded by sky#walker.

If Quantum of Solace had chosen to film elsewhere, I might've never made the effort to visit Lake Garda. Two days and two nights only allowed us to scratch the surface, not nearly enough time to explore the high mountains with the dogs, or check out all of the Slow Food restaurants in this part of the region. Next time it'll have to be 5 days minimun - at least to find the very spot where that photo above was taken!

All of the towns along Lake Garda's western shores are very touristic, appealing greatly to german and dutch visitors. We chose to stay in Gargnano mainly because I was able to find a reasonably-priced hotel that allowed small pets, but also for the fact that Benito Mussolini (Italy's last dictator) spent his final days at Villa Feltrinelli which is located on a private stretch of beach in Gargnano. The luxury hotel is an historical building which has been restored with truly impeccable taste (you have to see the website) commanding upwards of 6265+ dollars a night in high season. I have to admit to being a bit curious, but those people are prepared for snooping paparazzi wannabes. All in all, Gargnano turned out to be a wise choice because of it's in-the-middle location, and because while it does cater to tourists, the layout of the town had a more intimate appeal. Riva del Garda was by far the most hectic, apparently home to a sizeable leisure boat community. The map below demonstrates the towns we visited, all of which are in order from Gavardo to Riva del Garda. The detour off of the main highway is the famous SP 38 that twists and turns up the mountain between Tignale and Tremosine.

Visualizza Tour of Lake Garda's western shores in una mappa di dimensioni maggiori

- Gavardo
- Salò
- Gardone Riviera
- Gargnano
- SP 38 at midpoint
- SP 38 at the bottom of Tremosine
- Limone sul Garda
- Riva del Garda

SP 38 on the descent to Tremosine
SP 38's descent toward Tremosine narrows considerably, but only non-italian drivers get themselves in a mess like this.

Lemons and other citrus fruit trees grow abundantly at Lake Garda. A visit to a limonaia (lemon farm) is worth a visit for its cultural aspect.

Limone sul Garda
Limone sul Garda.

Villa Feltrinelli entrance
Gated entrance to Villa Feltrinelli. Maybe one day...

Villa Feltrinelli pool
It's not tiled with plain old cement, but gray-green granite. The towel girl must get paid beaucoup bucks...

Outside of Pra de la fam
The lemon farms are easy to spot, just look for a building like this. Only a few are open to the public.


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Lunch at Lake Garda - eating in the wake of agent 007

“Shaken, not stirred”

And how! Sometimes the best way to explore Italy is to pretend that you're a spy, as in “I spy this” and “I spy that”. All kidding aside, we followed in the wake of 007 as he was seen in the movie Quantum of Solace. Remember the high-speed chase in the first few minutes of the film? That was shot at Lago di Garda, less than 80 miles east from the environs of Lago di Como/Lecco where I call home. Lake Garda (as I will refer to from now on) is a massive fresh water oasis in the easternmost part of the Lombardy region, but also partially belongs to the regions of Veneto and Trentino on the north and eastern shores. Dotted by old limonaie (lemon farms), lush olive groves, and gorgeous lakeside resorts, I knew that it would make the ideal setting for our weekend agenda.

Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda

This agenda involved making stops along the route where Bond's Aston Martin might have heated up the asphalt, as there is no way for him to end up at the marble quarries in Carrara (160+ miles south) without driving through some of the most loveliest towns this side of Italy. By following in his wake, we were able to slow the pace down, portraying Lake Garda and its postcard perfect villages in the best way I know how - through food and drink. A visit to Pasticceria Vassalli, a well-known pastry/chocolate shop in the town of Salò, was first on the list, as well as a mandatory stop at a notable cheese shop in Gavardo. These, however, would precede the ultimate target: lunch at Trattoria Agli Angeli in Gardone Riviera. The whole idea for this mission was to explore lakefish cuisine as the menu saw fit, putting ourselves at the mercy of whatever the fishermen caught that day. This post constitutes the actual food part of our Saturday outing, for I'm doing an entry on a tour of Lake Garda itself. Not wanting to drive the 80 miles just for a day, we decided to get a headstart on Friday in order to stake out the area, and booked ourselves into a discreet hotel. The following has been expedited in a top-secret dossier to blogspot headquarters.

Pasticceria Vassalli
Pasticceria Vassalli in the town of Salò

Dessert before lunch? It had to be, especially after stumbling across an interesting post by World Foodie Guide. I was only going to walk in there and buy a bagful of chocolates and walk right out, but what kind of fool would want to pass up tantalizing desserts? We still had a couple of hours until noon, so an order of a lighter-than-air ricotta cheesecake and an almond-studded cookie basket filled with fresh custard and fruit were set before us. They were both excellent on all counts - flavor, texture contrast between filling/crust, with the right amount of sweetness. But together with a glass of shakerato each, the whole sugar rush got to be a bit too much, and off we went to a Slow Food-recognized cheese shop nearby, with the intent to counter the sweet high with something aged and strongly-flavored.

Torta di ricotta
Cestino di frutta e crema Shakerato

Borders and language are no barriers where cheese is concerned, and this was clearly evident with the german license plates lined up next to Al Mercato Coperto dei Formaggi, a nondescript cheese store in Gavardo. The selection offered by the proprietors are primarily from Brescia's environs, with every square, round and wedge exuding the most mesmerizing of scents. We purchased a flavorful Stracchino di Bagolino (made from goat's milk), of which the proprietor suggested drizzling with olive oil from Lake Garda, and opted for a mild cow's milk cheese (for the life of me I can't remember the name). Both are great table cheese to be enjoyed with a good crusty loaf of bread and a glass of red wine.

Formaggi at Al Mercato in Gavardo
Display case at Al Mercato Coperto dei Formaggi (At the covered cheese market)
Stracchino di Bagolino
Stracchino di Bagolino
Formaggio d'alpeggio
Formaggio d'alpeggio

Trattoria Agli Angeli
Trattoria Agli Angeli

Finally, Trattoria Agli Angeli, a Slow Food-listed restaurant set in an intimate little square in Gardone Riviera. It must have been in the high 80's on Saturday, and with only a faint breeze occasionally wafting through, I'll admit that while everything was wonderful, the dessert (again!) at the end really hit the spot, but I'll get to that eventually. We immediately reviewed the fish secondi (second plates) and honed in on the coregone (common whitefish) done simpy over the grill, and panfried sarde, which was coated with breadcrumbs and served with herbed olive oil. Fish, from what I've experienced in Italy, is usually done without a lot of fussy ingredients and elaborate presentations. Together with the local cheeses, local wines and unique ambience, we've already got it in our heads to hop into our imaginary Aston Martin (no harm in pretending) and visit the lake again soon.

Polenta con salsa di peperone Breadsticks Lugana

An appetizer teaser compliments of the chef: local polenta with braised red bell pepper. Housemade breadsticks and olive rolls. A bottle of chilled Lugana.

Coregone alla griglia Serving coregone

Grilled coregone (common whitefish) being filleted and plated by our server.

Sarde pangrattato

Breaded and fried sarde topped with datterino tomatoes, served with polenta.

Cheese platter

Local cheeses served with nuts and fruit conserves.

Cantaloupe gelato Sambuco sorbetto Olive oil from Gargnano

Housemade cantaloupe gelato, sambuca sorbet topped with coffee-flavored whipped cream and ground coffee (this was SO unbelievably good!!!!), the local olive oil from Gargnano.