We went to Lake Garda for a wedding in the summer of 2022. My God, Lake Garda in Italy is sexy. Like, not just a tiny bit sexy, like I am, but more like that deep, passionate, wonderful, all-consuming, sexy that overloads the eyes, the soul and the heart.
Alright, I might have just been lucky with visiting the lakeside town of Malcesine during a beautiful summer’s weekend, which is every inch the perfect Italian dream, but I left there physically reeling from the unexpected surprise, like a man being mugged in a summer meadow.
A wedding in Italy? In the summer? By Lake Garda? What am I, an extra in a Richard Curtis film? Love, Actually? Italy, actually.
Like all surprising love affairs, it started under a reluctant neon light in the prosaically boring setting of the Departures Lounge (North) of Gatwick Airport, followed by the masochistic torture of an EasyJet flight at a not-so-bargain price once you had paid for the “add ons”, like bags, food, and actual seats.
As we cruised lazily over the Alps, I felt conscious that wasn’t sure what to expect of Italy – like most children of the 90s, my previous experiences of Italian culture were strictly confined to playing Super Mario Brothers, occasional teenage visits to Pizza Hut and watching The Italian Job on Channel Four every now and then.
I mean, none of that was a bad thing, and all very enjoyable, but being there is a very different gravy. It’s the difference between having a faded, torn and much-loved Smash Hits poster of Kylie Minogue on your bedroom wall and suddenly meeting her in the flesh. And she’s wearing hot pants.
It’s that sort of overwhelming.
How to get to Malcesine >>>
Malcesine is served by the nearby Verona Airport (yes – that Verona; the Verona of Shakespeare fame) and a pretty good variety of airlines fly there.
Depending on where you are in the UK, Wizz Air, Ryanair and EasyJet all fly there if you’re on a budget, with flights priced from anywhere between £24 and £67 quid, depending on the season, time and if the CEO of the airline needs a new yacht that year.
If you wanted a full-priced – and rather more Teutonic option – Lufthansa also fly there from £176 in what I assume is a very stern and efficient Germanic way.
There are a couple of options to get to Malcesine from Verona Airport, which, in order of my personal preference, are private transfer via taxi, train, walk, or bus.
Mrs B rolls her eyes are my irrational dislike of buses, but as this is a Lazy Man’s Travel Guide, I feel almost duty-bound to point out the amount of effort versus comfort required to use buses in a foreign country.
Which means I place them at the very bottom of the pile, even though they are a reasonable 5 euros each way per person.
The train starts at 19 euros and gets you most of the way, but you’d have to combine it with a further bus or taxi to do the last leg.
Lastly, a taxi transfer can take you all the way to the door but can be about 100 euros for the hour-long drive. I dutifully explained the costs, pros and cons of each option to Mrs B, who shrugged and decided to let me choose.
So, choosing a taxi, our Italian Taxi Driver drove us in a sparklingly clean Mercedes over the brow of a hill and suddenly, below us, like a resplendent blue sapphire, sat Lake Garda.
The first thing to you’ll notice about Lake Garda is that is properly massive. Google tells me it covers about 140 square miles, which certainly feels about right, and the closer you get, the bigger that feeling gets.
The second thing you’ll notice is the sheer beauty of the surrounding area as you drive towards town.
Everything is very clean. Everything feels very safe. It’s perfectly lovely.
Your second biggest risk in Malcesine is that, at some stage, you might think you’re in a Disney cartoon and break out into a song as you walk through the perfectly cobbled streets.
The actual biggest risk is that the locals look like they might join in. It’s probably a regular occurrence.
Where to stay in Malcesine >>>
Malcesine is well-catered for hotels for a range of budgets. From one to five stars, ranging from bunk rooms for backpackers for a couple of euros a night, all the way through to discretely luxurious 5-star hotels running at between 200 and 300 euros a night.
If you’re going in the summer, no matter your budget or the prevailing opinions of your partner, I do heartily recommend the one thing you die on a hill over is a place with air conditioning.
Lake Garda in the summer months is only slightly less humid than a nightclub in Saigon at 3 am and your body will become equally as sweaty.
Much like with the transfer options, I ran the accommodation choices all past Mrs B, explaining the costs and benefits of each location that was available, and Mrs B dutifully shrugged and let me choose.
As our air-conditioned Mercedes transfer pulled into the sleekly modern five-star Wellness Hotel Casa Barca, I once again congratulated myself on making good life choices, which naturally started with the selection of Mrs B as the wife.
Wellness Hotel Casa Barca is nestled on a hillside overlooking the stunningly blue waters of Lake Garda and from the start to the end of our stay we were beautifully looked after by the staff.
We were lucky enough to have a double aspect corner room with views over the lake, a balcony view of the lake, an incredibly well-appointed room with all the mod cons, and of course lashings of cold air con blasting over us over the summer nights.
The hotel has a small pool, a medium rooftop balcony and a huge amount of friendliness, which extended to putting up with my not-very-good-Italian as I tried to explain how lovely the hotel was.
Malcesine town itself is an absolute treasure. Nestled between the lake and the mountains, it’s an achingly beautiful old town with a myriad of tiny harbours, which clearly displays a civic pride that has transcended the ages.
You get the strongest feeling that if you dropped any litter, the mayor himself would suddenly appear and string you up from the nearest lamppost by your right testicle (other body parts are available for other genders), cheered on by the local populace. And rightly so.
During high season, the town is full of tourists, and while there’s a pleasant energy around the place, it doesn’t feel crowded or congested.
Sure, the picturesque alleyways and lakeside paths certainly have a steady flow of people, but it’s a relaxed, gentle flow like the people have all collectively decided to mirror the ebb and flow of the lake.
Where to eat in Malcesine
If like me, you like eating, you’re absolutely spoiled for choice.
There are no chain restaurants in view – it’s all local places run by excited-looking families who specialise in pasta, pizza and arm excited arm waving.
Cafes and restaurants are tucked away in side streets and provide a wonderful intimacy for you and your dinner date!
We wandered happily from local taverns hidden in local caverns and busy cafes serving exciting frappes before settling on a riverside restaurant for our evening haunt.
There’s very little advertising and my wallet was pleasantly surprised to find you could get a decent dinner for two for about 33 euros – pizza, pasta and a couple of beers which were well received on such a warm night.
The next day was an early start for our friend’s wedding. She’s made the excellent choice to get married in Castello Scaligero.
Standing on top of the historic building, drinking in the views and doing your best James Bond impressions in the warm breeze, you get a wonderful view of the area and you can certainly appreciate the area in all of its glory.
From the lush green hillsides, down to the charmingly chaotic rooftops of the town and out to the glorious lake where brightly coloured sailboats lazily crisscross the horizon.
Below, someone is singing and there’s a smell of food from somewhere that reminds you that tonight, there might be a massive bowl of pasta and really good wine for dinner.
You’ll feel a strange feeling that is often missing from British people these days. I think it’s called happy. Or I might just have been high from the thermal updrafts. Both possible.
Weddings in Lake Garda
The local people are obviously used to people getting married in their perfect town.
From the Town Clerk delivering the ceremony in perfect English, to the cheerful shopkeepers cheering as the wedding party made their way through the cobbled streets you do feel genuinely welcome, happy, at home.
Things to do in Malcesine
Of course, if you’re not there for a wedding, there’s still plenty to do.
There’s the option of boat rides around the lake, from 10 euros for a quick trip, up to over 100 euros for a whole day out.
There’s a cable car up to the top of the local hills 1.7kms up, at 25 euros for adults, with kids paying 15 euros for the uninterrupted views of the area.
The Monte Baldo cableway takes 10 minutes to reach the top and on a clear day, you can see the whole of Lake Garda
For the more adventurous, day trips to Venice are bookable through either local agents or through TripAdvisor and of course for history fans, a trip back to Verona is also a must so you can relive your Romeo and Juliet GCSE texts.
All too quickly, it was time to return home, and as I stared wistfully at the view in the rearview mirror of our airport transfer, I knew this was a place that would live on in my heart for a long time after the hangover from the red wine had faded.
In Italian culture, I’m told that taking on a sexy mistress is par for the course for a lot of men.
I’ve decided to get on board with that idea, but I’m going to go one step further and just love all of Malcesine.
Because, as I said right at the start, it’s incredibly sexy. You should definitely go.