We woke up to a glorious mountain view and a hearty breakfast. Although not flash and outside the centre of Riva del Garda, hotel Virgilio was the perfect base for us and just a few minutes by car from the only place of interest we had actually planned to visit that day. Everything else was to be played by ear and, as it turned out, it was a gloriously active and adventurous day.
First though we were off to Cascata del Varone.
I had glimpsed a comment about it in a travel forum online. People described it simply as ‘a waterfall in a cave’, which picked my curiosity. We tried to check its website to find out more, but it wouldn’t load fully on a tablet, so we just had to go and see it for ourselves.
A winding road took us to the bottom of the steep hills surrounding Riva del Garda. We went up some stone stairs brimming with lush foliage in the most beautiful autumnal colours, we reached the ticket office and as luck would have it, we were sandwiched right between two huge groups of tourists.
Everyone was really busy putting on plastic ponchos and opening huge umbrellas. Apparently, it could get really wet in there. A kind lady even warned us against going in at all. Well, we had our waterproof jackets on, baby included, so decided to see how far we could make it.
This was the first scene that greeted us.
No, it’s not the actual waterfall, just something like a natural scaled down model of it, I thought. Then we progressed further.
Metal platforms, suspended above the rapid stream, led us inside the gorge.
Fine droplets of water were suspended in the air, making it super moist and refreshing. Purple and blue lights coloured the rocks, calling our attention to their powerful, rugged surface.
It had taken the water 20 000 years to shape the gorge and it was falling through it with such frenzied fury that it drowned all conversation.
Anyway, what do you say when faced with such a spectacle of nature?! Amazing? Stunning?
Silent admiration was best on our part.
This was only half of the show though. A sloping path led us high up the mountain. High speakers, hidden among the flowers, cacti and palms planted alongside it, filled the air with classical music.
The higher we went, the more majestic the view became – with the valley stretching out to Lake Garda and surrounded by powerful mountains and hills. The landscape was surprisingly green, offset by the blue of the lake. The sun shone bright. It felt good!
Forty metres up the face of the mountain we came to the entrance of a small tunnel. It was dark and damp. We went in.
We found ourselves in a small alcove with a metal platform and railings beyond which the waterfall was tumbling straight down into its vertical cave. The sound of the water hitting the rock 40 meters below us was deafening.
I stood there, baby tightly strapped against my chest, almost sipping in the wet air, when a huge horse head came out of the dark at me. Horses are such noble animals, but this one seemed really angry. Its nostrils were puffing and its eyes were open wide. I turned and ran off squealing in fright.
Yes, we had read the sign at the entrance to the alcove describing the horse-head-shaped rock that could be seen inside. Still, in the blackness of the gorge and overwhelmed by the sight of the waterfall, our eyes needed a little time to adjust in order to distinguish it clearly. At which point the horse head seemed to surge forward in the darkness to its full optical effect, leaving me a bit shaken and very spooked.
Having ticked Cascata del Varone off our to do list and with it not being lunchtime yet, we considered what to do next. A quick search (don’t you just love mobile internet?!) revealed that we were less than 10 km away from Lake Tenno and that, if we wanted to go on a boat on Lake Garda, the easiest and quickest way to do it was to catch the ferry from Limone sul Garda to Malcesine.
We decided to do both!
So, we piled back in the car and drove up the mountains getting higher and higher with every turn. The view amazed us with its sheer scale. Our ears started to pop with the change of altitude. We passed by pretty little villages with houses made of stone, terraced vineyards and a charming little castle perched precariously on a ridge.
After a while, a cluster of hotels and restaurants appeared. Right beyond them lay a gorgeous lake.
Lago di Tenno was surrounded by steep hills all dressed up in their autumnal best. The waters of the lake were crystal clear and as we walked down the steps towards it, they changed quickly from emerald green to turquoise blue depending on the angle we viewed it from.
It was really quiet. A wide path led us along the edge of the lake. The wind rustled the leaves in the trees around us. It was so peaceful that along with the leaves I could hear my own inner thoughts, usually silenced by the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The sun was high in the sky. Fish swam lazily in the shallows, coming really close to the shore, completely unperturbed by our presence. A cow-bell rang somewhere on the other side of the lake.
It was truly idyllic!
Too soon it was time to leave. Once more we piled in our little red car and drove off. A quick drive through the many tunnels with mythological names and we were pulling into Limone sul Garda. Kind locals pointed us to the ferry terminal, assuring us it would only take us about seven minutes to get there from the car park.
By the time we got out of the car, unfolded the buggy and loaded it with everything you need when travelling with a baby, we could see the ferry, ploughing through the waters of Lake Garda and getting closer and closer to Limone with every passing second.
We were nowhere near the ferry terminal though. We started to run.
My husband in front, leading the way, me gripping tightly the handles of the buggy and wheeling it as fast as I could up and down cobbled streets, past gelato shops, souvenir shops, clothes shops, a little harbour and various snack shops.
It was all a blur. People were jumping out of our way. The ferry was now docking. And we kept running as fast as we could. It was comical. Had I not been so out of breath, I would have laughed.
We managed to reach the ferry just as the last couple of passengers were boarding. We bought tickets in a jiffy and boarded ourselves. A minute later we were off cruising swiftly across Lake Garda.
It was now 3:10 pm. The wind blew through our hair. The water was an incredible deep blue and the sunrays painted Malcesine on the eastern shores of the lake.
Not too long ago, Malcesine could be reached only by water. The German poet and writer Goethe spent a short time in this charming village during his grand Italian journey, on which he had embarked in the throes of a deep life crisis. I know it sounds pretentious, but I felt such an affinity with him in that respect and could perfectly understand why he chose Italy in order to find himself and awaken his creativity again.
The ferry drew nearer and nearer to the shore. We glimpsed the Scaliger castle, the funicular going up to Mount Baldo, the harbour embraced by the colourful houses.
We docked. Two hours were at our whim and disposal, before the last ferry left Malcesine for the night.
Off we went in search of the castle, walking up steep cobbled streets and admiring the old houses along the way.
People were out, enjoying their evening passegiata in the small squares of the village.
The most amazing brick-a-brack store had spilled its wares onto a tiny cobbled piazza.
The castle hung straight above the waters of the lake and the rooftops of Malcesine.
It was quiet in the late afternoon hours. The sun was now setting. Going up a wide stone staircase, we reached a wide stone platform with chairs and a small stage. It was all laid out for a concert and yes, it must be a once in a lifetime experience to listen to music in this beautiful setting between water, earth and sky underneath a moon, nestling on Mount Baldo.
Our time in Malcesine had come to an end. We rushed down the sloped streets towards the harbour, feeling like we would rather stay.