My grandfather gave me a copy of Goethe’s Italian Letters before I took the train south from Frankfurt to Lake Garda, in the Sudtirol region of northern Italy. I read as much as I could as I wound through the summer valleys of the Alps that peeked at me as I sped past, finding just enough time to display wildflowers before we rounded another bend, another peak, past another valley.
Northern Italy has always been a special place for Germans, and Torbole, on Lake Garda’s northwest tip, was Goethe’s first introduction to that special world of romance and splendor that one is magically transported to just south of the Alps. Torbole was built specifically for those who wish to praise the lake. The town starts on a small rise back from the lake and extends arms of cobblestone and cottages down to the lake shore in an ever-widening embrace. Lake Garda is a clear, crisp Alpine lake, and Italy’s largest. The small waves of this lake caress their audience softly like a beautiful woman ruffling a young man’s hair.
Goethe quoted Virgil’s lines as he sat looking out over the lake one afternoon: “Fluctibus et fremitu resonans, Benace, marino”, which can be translated as:
“The flow and hum of the sea resonates across Benace (Benace being the old name for Lake Garda)”
My grandfather smiled wistfully and told me about a town located south of Torbole called Limone. Here he sat as Goethe sat and let dreams wash over him like the wind that blows steady north during the day. He described the robust, pleasing fragrance of Limone’s lemon trees and he asked me to report back and let him know that everything is still the same. I did take a small boat from Torbole south toward Limone and I too smelled the strong lemon scent emanating from the trees as we pulled into Limone for the day.
The lanes of Limone snake up the cliff side and through gateways to courtyards that reminded me of the summer valleys of the Alps, shy and inviting — places so filled with beauty and longing that a man would never want to escape. I think the smile on my face, fixed and self conscious, was the same for every man, poet or otherwise, that ever came here. The sky is always blue in Limone and the limestone cliffs that stand sentinel over Lake Garda give off no color save that which reflects and augments the blues of the sky and the sea.
Dumbstruck by the surrounding beauty, I wanted so desperately to fall in love with someone here, but who could possibly tear his eyes away from Benace? If you do come here, bring a sheaf of papers, a pen and a heart laden with love, like fruit from Gibran’s tree.
For additional information, I refer you to the official Italian web site for lake Garda (with English), GardaInforma. Moreover, I highly recommend reading Goethe’s words on the Lake Garda area ( available at Amazon and other book stores.) As a travel writer, I know about the travel industry and the need for fresh reviews, and up to date information. But, only a fool would ignore what the old poets and writers had to say about a place. What was beautiful to them? What did they love that still exists? What did they see that we no longer see or experience?
Here is a link to Goethe’s Italian Journeys — Check it against your own travel adventure to beautiful Lake Garda.