The Italian Job: Day 11 – Sailing to Malcesine

After ten days in Italy, what was I craving? As an adopted Mancunian woman travelling through a country that creates some of the most amazing food, what did I want to eat on my last night in Desenzano?

You’re absolutely right. I wanted a curry. I’m only surprised that it took this long for the craving to strike though, if truth be told, I wouldn’t have minded a curry on Tuesday night in Bergamo (Day 5). It’s just that last night the fancy, nay need could not be ignored. Nothing else was going to satisfy.

Thankfully, Desenzano does have a curry house… just the one… and the next nearest option is seven miles away in Portese. Would I have gone that far?

Off I went to Desenzano’s one curry house. It was doing a good trade but I managed to get a table.

Just what I needed to end the day.

Craving Satisfied

I’ve always wanted to visit Lake Garda and decided in the planning stages that I would visit the North as well as the South of the Lake.

Desenzano provided a great base for visiting the Southern shore’s towns. It’s better connected with more regular ferries than some of the others: Salò, for example. Tbe raway station also allows fast and cheap connections to Verona and Venice (though I was ignoring those on this trip as I’ve visited both but only ever passed through Desenzano by train). Malcesine, I chose because I liked the fact that it is at a very narrow part of the Lake and I reckoned the views would be spectacular. It also seemed pretty well connected to some of the Northern Lake’s towns that I had my eye on for a visit.

Last evening in Desenzano

Did I choose wisely? We’ll find out.

I was pleasantly surprised by the sunshine glistening on the lake when I opened the curtains this morning. Yes, it was forecast… but rain wasn’t forecast for Salò yesterday and yet there it was.

After a last stroll around Desenzano to get some views across the water in actual sunshine and a beautifully presented breakfast at the gorgeous Hello Darling Flower Bar, it was time to check out and catch the ferry.

Gorgeous spot to start the day

There is a direct (with copious stops) ferry to Malcesine from Desenzano, but on a Monday I wouldn’t get there until the evening. Therefore I took the 0910 boat to Garda, changing there to jump on another ferry 15 minutes later to continue up to Malcesine. This would get me there around one o’clock.

In comparison with previous days, the boat was positively busy though I strongly suspected that sixteen of the seventeen would be getting off at Sirmione, the next stop. (Even if the weather had been rubbish, it had been the weekend).

I was wrong. Only thirteen disembarked  and quite a crowd boarded.

Rough Map

After Sirmione, the ferry headed for Garda where I changed for an ultimately Northbound ferry… ultimately? Well, first we’d cross from the East to West to work our way from Portese, North past Salo with a few more stops to Maderno; and a fairly long stretch, entering the narrow part of Lake Garda still up the Western shore to Gargnano; before crossing back to the East to Assenza and finally into Malcesine where I would leave and not continue to the final destination of Riva at the most Northern point of the lake. It promised to be an amazing way to incorporate some sightseeing into the journey.

The ferry emptied at Garda but was quickly replaced by a small crowd. A much larger ferry (three decks rather than two) arrived ten minutes later and an even larger mob (including myself), quickly organised by the jetty staff into a queue “two by two, per favore”, boarded. He said this with a completely straight face.

While train ticket inspections are relaxed here (in my opinion, certainly in comparison with travelling in China), then Garda ferry travel more than makes up for this. You buy your ticket, you join the queue for the boat, your ticket is inspected and you board; for the larger ferry to Malcesine, my ticket was inspected on the jetty, required to be at least waved as I boarded and then inspected again once all of the passengers were onboard.

The crossing to the Western shore was incredibly leisurely and gentle. Even in comparison with the other ferries, (and acknowledging that the previous evening’s catamaran crossing felt like Lewis Hamilton was at the helm), this felt slow.

I don’t think anybody left the boat at Portese – the three people, you can see with cycles on the jetty below, were already there as we moored. A small group did board or, as we learned yesterday, the boat wouldn’t have even stopped.


My money was on the majority leaving at Salò, our next stop… Around half did and a quarter left at Gardone, where a small crowd had been (I assume) waiting patiently.

I was entertained by the fact that most people would make a beeline for the open top deck of the boat and then realise it was windy and rather chilly. Why was I entertained? This isn’t my first boatride and I was already comfortably seated by a window. (My mother didn’t raise a complete numpty).By the time the last stalwarts had made there way downstairs to some warmth, they discovered that all of the windowseats had already been comandeered by people giving up on the deck sooner.

I wasn’t chuckling that these were the circumstances. I was tickled by how surprised every one of them appeared when they came down the stairs, surprisingly not wearing masks (actually taking them off as they stepped inside). Surely this wasn’t their first boatride? (They all looked a lot older than me).

By the time we left Maderno, gliding past the mountains, the boat was around a quarter full.

Gargnano was stunning. The shore was lined with orange trees and lemon trees.

It’s another one of Garda’s settlements that dates back to the 10th Century and has a similar history to the others: who’s the boss of who – Milan, Venice, Napoleon, Austria and Italy. Like Bergamo, it prides itself on the numbers of men who volunteered for Garibaldi’s army.

Other notable residents included Mussolino, during the Republic of Saló period, and he lived in the Villa delle Orsoline (Villa Feltrinelli). DH Lawrence, the novelist, also lived here – from 18 September 1912 to 30 March 1913, having ran away with Frieda Weekley von Richthofen while she awaited her divorce to be finalised.

I couldn’t find anything to rival the gushing description, about Maria Callas and Sirmione, to describe how Lawrence felt about Gargnano, but I did find this, from a 2012 exhibition about Lawrence’s time here.

The most beautiful and fascinating words he surely intended for the landscape and nature in which he found himself immersed. In this way, the English guest photographed daily moments and images, able to describe a reality that accompanies us today and which, at the time, for its uniqueness, managed to soothe the pains of the young writer.

The writer then seems ever so disappointed to discover that Lawrence wasn’t entirely complimentary about his time in Gargnano.

But not everything he said about us is so pleasant. He wrote to his friend Holdbrook that we … Theatrical performances that he witnessed (which took place in the current Castellani Hall) did not leave a very positive impression: … And without being overly complimentary, he also recalled the teacher Feltrelline (perhaps Feltrinelli), from whom they received lessons in French and German, as well as Italian.

Personally, I’ve heard worse. I may have even said worse about some theatrical performances. I know I’ve certainly left one or two at the interval.

From here, although the ferry had entered into the narrowest part of the lake after Maderno, the views really made that clear – mountains like walls stood on both sides of the lake – as we continued to Assenzo, the last stop before Malcesine.

While I was sitting on the wrong side of the boat to see Assenza as we sailed in, a wander over to opposite windows indicated that I wasn’t missing much in staying on the left side of the boat.

The weather turned a little more... atmospheric… as the boat continued up the channel to Malcesine and for this part of the journey, I was going to sit at the front of the boat.

My hotel is one minute’s walk from the jetty so when it’s time to leave, there’s going to need to be a seriously impressive excuse for missing the boat.

Categories: Italy, Lake Garda, Public Transport, The Italian Job, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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