I wandered out of the hotel this afternoon and into a group of English women having a chat about a mutual (theirs not mine) acquaintance. Most of the tourists strolling around Malcesine appear to be German.
The women were not only English they were from the Northeast (adopted Mancunian here) and it’s not unusual to hear Geordies and Mackems around the world – they are allowed to leave the confines of the area now. It’s just that this group had the same accent as my family and were talking about places I know.
I’m not going to say where that is because the next sentence I heard was: “Well, mind you, she is a character. She was done for fraud, you know.”
Sometimes, it’s a really small world.
Readers with a memory will know that I arrived in Malcesine yesterday afternoon with a plan to use this as a base for exploring the North part of the lake.
It is one of the smallest places I’ve visited so far. You could be through and three miles down the road, driving a car, before you realised. That may be a slight exaggeration but only slightly.
I did find myself wondering if I had overdone it in booking three nights last night (I hadn’t yet done everything I came to do, just the vast majority of it) and did some Googling.
In an attempt to sound authentic, few travel writers provide a top ten or twenty of things to do. They go with the “Top Eleven” or “Top Seventeen” in an effort to sound more authentic or at least less contrived that an artificial ten or twenty. One writer claimed that there were no less than nineteen things to do in Malcesine.
Nineteen? Intrigued, I had a look… five of them aren’t in Malcesine: see other lakeside towns, go to Limone (that’s another lakeside town so not sure why it’s not bundled into other lakeside towns), take a ferry (and to do the previous two suggestions, it’s generally necessary to do this (so that’s now one idea stretched into three), visit other towns (such as Venice or Verona) and visit other villages (not the ones on the lakeshore). As for the other fourteen suggestions, I’d done nine by last night with a tenth completed today.
However, I was assured that three nights would not be too much time here.
Number two on the top nineteen waa to ride the cable car to Monte Baldo. I added to that by hiking down the mountain. An entirely downhill hike is not great on the knees but there was no way I was contemplating a hot weather entirely uphill hike. I’m not a masochist.
A single ticket to the top is €17 for an adult and it’s easy to reserve online otherwise you’ll be paying an extra €2 to buy one at the office. (Jobs for people are being phased out).
I joined an already busy queue at 8.45am for the first ride of the day at 9 o’clock. We queued to go into the building to walk past the ticket office, back outside and then through the same building in the same part but along the other side of the corridor, up the stairs and do the carriage.
The wearing of facemasks is required.
The ride took less than 30 minutes, calling first at the San Michele Station (around a quarter of the way up) and walking through to a second gondolier and up the rest of the way to the summit.
As we arrived into Monte Baldo, the carriage seemed to stall just short of the entrance. In the words of Fascinating Aida in their satirical ode to the likes of Ryanair (other airlines are available with interesting charging policies), I was wondering: “If we haven’t paid the fee, will we have to feckin’ jump?”
With a final juddering effort, the carriage did reach the ‘landing bay’, the doors opened smoothly and everyone walked off. No jumping involved.
The temperature had dropped approximately ten degrees and it was blissfully cool. Perfect hiking weather a bright and sunny day but sharp and crisp. As I descended it was only going to get hotter and I had reckoned that walking up would coincide with rising temperatures the higher I climbed, so I wouldn’t get the benefit of the cool air.
At 1760m, Monte Baldo is an Alpine mountain chain that shelters the eastern shores of Lake Garda. Apparently known as the Garden of Europe for its remarkable botanical diversity, the mountain is crisscrossed by hiking paths that are clearly signposted and also provided an estimate on how long it will take you to walk the distance – I can confidently report that these don’t take into account how often you’re going to sit down on one of the provided benches to just take in the view – it is breathtaking.
For geology, botany and history geeks there is extensive signage that provides extensive information about the area.
The descent took me through alpine meadows, beech forest and pine woodlands – the scent of the latter almost overpowering – before reaching olive groves. The paths are rocky and occasionally slippery with loose stones or pine needles.
Many of the paths up Monte Baldo are mule paths. The centuries-old stone paved mule tracks that climb their way tortuously, semi-vertical hairpin bends up (and down) the steep mountain slopes, still have long portions of the original and distinctive pavement.
The animals would transport materials and various products collected on the mountain, such as wood, hay and chestnuts, and this was done by sliding or dragging them with the help of a special sled made entirely of wood, called “caréta” or “barùsola”.
In order to ease the sliding of the sled along the pavement, two pieces of wood were atta hed to the sled as runners and were, additionally, spread with oil dregs or with the remains of lard. It didn’t entirely eliminate the friction caused by dragging the sled and there were still ruts produced, in many parts of the pavement that are still visible.
In some places along the mule tracks, where the sides are the steepest, you can still see a number of iron hooks lodged in the rocks. They were used as a break: by tying the sled to the hooks with a rope the descent could be kept under control and slowed down.
It’s an incredible hike. The views, whether at the summit or once the end is in sight are astonishing.