Tucked up in the olive groves at the back of Limone sul Garda, this quiet, unpretentious, little osteria with it's laid back, friendly service is a great place for lunch in the shade of the vines and olive trees or just for lingering over a bottle of wine in the candlelit garden in the evening. Walk a few metres downhill to the ancient chapel of San Pietro which has 13th century frescoes and notes on the portico recalling the plague, bad olive harvests and the defeat of Napoleon. This incredibly peaceful spot is only about 20 minutes walk from the centre of Limone but you're likely to have it all to yourself.
Hotel Cannero is on the banks of Lake Maggiore. It was previously a monastery and has been owned by the same family since 1902. It's situated at the end of a pedestrianised area on the bank of the lake and the views of the surrounding mountains and lake are amazing.
From the moment you arrive the staff make you feel so welcome. It's easy to understand why so many guests return year after year.
Breakfasts consist of every fresh fruit imaginable, meats, assorted cheeses, ham, pannacotta, cereals and pastries. There is a superb choice of evening meals.You will not be interested in dining elsewhere.
The small ferry terminal outside the hotel is a huge bonus. Some passengers choose to arrive at the hotel by water taxi. You can catch the ferry boat to numerous destinations including The Three Lake Maggiore Island Wonders (Isola Bella, Isola Madre and Rocca Borromeo. The ferry to Locarno in Switzerland followed by train journey to Domodossola and Stressa is a must.
If embarking on another Interrail trip round Europe, you can't go wrong with this gem of a hotel in a beautiful location. The staff are friendly and welcoming, the rooms are comfortable and very clean and you even get a free breakfast! I love the fact that you can get there by train direct from Venice, it's right next to the railway station, and only a 10 minute walk to the town centre.
Down by the waterfront where the ferries leave is a colonnaded area where there is a small local travel agent. They sell reasonably priced local trips by coach and boat, but also in the Verona Opera season. They sell tickets for the opera and also provide the coach travel from hotel to Opera and return.
Google map: bit.ly/LigKyu
Back in 1990, when England were preparing to be beaten again by Argentina, my boss took me to Italy for a work trip. Since his wife was joining us, I was asked to find somewhere to stay on Lake Garda that was “not too shabby”. The Villa Cortine wasn't quite the exquisite mound of gleaming marble it is today, but its columns and oil paintings gave it a faded aristocratic gracefulness. What really made it, though, was its seclusion and the lush park in which it is still set. Through the palms and conifers, we found our way to the most elegant swimming pool I have ever seen. An occasional leaf, or a fragrant blossom from the overhanging branches, drifted onto the water, while crumbling statues stood sentry at either end. As we lolled in the shallow end with a glass of wine each, it seemed less and less necessary to attend any meetings.
Via Grotte, 6, 25010 Sirmione, Lake Garda, Italy
Google map: bit.ly/R11LYg
Stay in Bellagio and then you are in a prime position to explore the attractions of the lake by boats which go in all directions. Bellagio has plenty of nice restaurants and we have always found Hotel Florence very comfortable but you can also catch a small boat in the early evening and have supper in Varenna and watch the sun go down across the lake and then catch the last boat back to Bellagio. Magic!
After you have visited the villages around Lake Como head north for the Balcone d' Italia. Standing on the edge of a cliff you cast your eyes over the green valleys and vineyards of Italy and Switzerland but are drawn to the mountains behind them. In one astonishing sweep you have the south slopes of some of the biggest mountains in the Alps - Monte Rosa at 4634m and the Matahorn at 4478m and nestled beneath them are Lake Lugano, Lake Varese and Lake Maggiore. Travel north from Argegno to Lanzo d'Intelvi where you can drive, bus or walk through the forests up to the Balcone. For those who want to stop awhile and absorb the spectacular views and atmosphere have a coffee in the small cafe or relax on one of the seats nestled in the trees. The day we arrived we were lucky enough to be entertained by some local 'singing' walkers who just added that something special to make our trip unforgettable.
Take the S340 along side Lake Como, turn left at Argegno and travel through the Intelvi Valley. The road climbs steeply offering increasingly wide beautiful views of Lake Como, the villages and villas along both shores. 12 miles further on through the spa resort of Lanzo d'Intelvi, the road leads to the viewing point of Balcone d'Italia.
Google map: bit.ly/MmWDyL
If you are going to, or passing through, Milan make time to get the train to Como (just over an hour) and then the slow ferry to Bellagio. Perch yourself by ancient cobbled streets at the Trattoria San Giacomo and feast on freshly made pasta washed down with exquisite local Bardolino wine. Heaven.
Almost hidden valley, just inland from the village of Toscolano-Maderno on the western shore of Lake Garda is the Valle delle Cartiere. Now a peaceful and green place - not on most tourist agendas - this valley has a history of paper production on a huge scale, making use of the river to power the machinery. The ruins of the old factories litter the valley and some are made visitor friendly with exhibits and information plaques and there is a visitor centre at the start of the trail. Allow a couple of hours to walk to the top and back. Pack reasonable walking shoes for the walk, and swim wear if you want to cool off in the icy stream - good shallow swim area at the top of the valley.
Interesting day out, with a chance to see some different scenery from the lakes - despite being very close.
Driving north on the main road up the lake, take the first left after crossing the small river, follow the road past some houses and then through some tunnels until you come to the car park - you will have to continue on foot after this.
Google map: bit.ly/LJFHMW
There are spectacular views from the elegant lakeside promenade to the Borromean Islands while the restaurants and bars have a more relaxed, less “touristy” atmosphere than the larger resorts on Lake Maggiore. Baveno may not be as famous or as fashionable as its larger neighbour, Stresa – it’s probably as well known for the red granite quarried behind the town as for tourism, but it was good enough for both Queen Victoria to stay and as the destination for Winston Churchill’s honeymoon. It’s also an ideal centre for exploring the lake, either to visit the nearby islands or to sail to the Swiss towns at the north of the lake.
Cannot recommend this hotel enough! After a mix-up with the B&B that we had booked for our honeymoon, my husband and I were left without a place to stay in Alghero on one of the busiest weekends of the high season. By chance, we walked past this place - the only hotel within the walls of Alghero old town. Luckily for us there had been a cancellation only half an hour before, and the lovely staff welcomed us in. Fantastic value (100 euros/night) considering its location in the heart of Alghero, the San Francesco is based in an old Catalan gothic monastery, abutting the church, with a spectacular cloister dating back to the 14th century where in the mornings breakfast is served. In the summer, the cloister courtyard is used for classical concerts and it's possible to sit and enjoy the music for free from the cloister balcony. The rooms are simple (much in the way the original monks' rooms would have been in fact) but it's a real gem of a hotel.
One of the most amazing sights to see if you're near Alghero, the large coastal town to the north of Sardinia, is the Grotta di Nettuno, an incredible cave network of stalactites which are tens of thousands of years old. Standing only one metre above sea level, the caves can be reached by a winding staircase of steps cut into the rock, leading you down 100 metres from the cliffs above. It costs 10 euros, but you won't regret paying for this experience once you're inside - the clever lighting and majesty of the stalactites creates an eerie subterranean environment that makes you feel like you've travelled back to the beginning of time. Guided tours run every half hour, and although these are nearly always full, the enormity of the caves and the long and winding trail through them means that you never feel too crowded by other tourists. Well worth a visit, particularly if you have kids.
With just a population of 1500 and a spattering of small hotels, the gulf of Orosei's Cala Gonone is the perfect base to explore the surrounding regions. It is so small that there is no taxi firm, so you will need a car from the closest airport, some two hours away.
The gulf's many beaches are some of the best in the world and only one is obtainable by foot, Cala Luna, the rest you will need a boat for. Stranded on a perfect beach for a couple of hours - the horror.
Gorropu gorge is the most unbelievable walk you'll ever do. It's so off the beaten track it took us 45 minutes to actually get IN to it from the path we'd enjoyed for three hours around mountainous, beautiful scenery - there are no signs. There are no roads. It was akin to a level of Tomb Raider, circa 2000.
Cala Osala to the north was a deserted kilometre of white sand perfection, mid week.
The fresh gulf fish and local Dorgali wines are something to shout about and the little delis in Cala Gonone make taking packed lunches on mega day walks/bathes a truly delicious experience.
It's the luxury package of life people pay a lot for but you don't have to pay the huge prices if you know it's there.
After enjoying the beaches and busy old town of Alghero, take the bus down the winding coastal road to Bosa and from there to Oristano. Make sure you sit on the righthand side for the best views and photos of the cliffs and beaches! Explore the alleyways and narrow cobbled streets between Bosa’s multicoloured buildings. Cross the river to gain a better perspective of the Havana-esque street next to the river. Oristano is a smart city with a stunning baroque cathedral and pleasant streets to wander around and have a coffee or gelato. The city is also a great base for visiting the famous Is Aruttas beach and the Roman site of Tharros. Bed and Breakfast Porta a Mari is a great budget option – it’s a traditional Sardinian house within walking distance of the city centre.
B&B Porta a Mari
Via Cagliari 308, 09170, Oristano
Google map: bit.ly/MAz3KG
Bus timetable for Alghero - Bosa
Bus timetable for Bosa - Oristano
Escape from the city and catch the Porto Conte/Capo Caccia bus from Alghero to the stunning Il Lazzaretto beach. Located in the Porto Conte Regional Park, the beach is sheltered by a headland on which stands a sixteenth century tower. With views across the bay towards Alghero, you can wiggle your toes in the soft white sand or cool them in the crystal-clear water while listening to the sound of the cicadas. Plus it’s only a mile along a vine- and olive-lined road from the spectacular prehistoric settlement of Nuraghe Palmavera.
Sardinia has a bit of a reputation as a playground for the rich and famous, but don’t let this put you off. Head for Alghero - fly into its airport and it’s only a euro to take the bus into town. It might not be one of the more glamorous spots on Sardinia but it has a delightful old town with well preserved bastions, excellent restaurants specialising in seafood and plenty of places to sit with a cocktail watching the sun go down. There is a working harbour and port and the town is not reliant on tourism, although it does get busy in July and August. An excellent large gently shelving sandy beach stretches the length of the bay, making it an excellent choice for families.
North west coast of Sardinia
Google map: bit.ly/QgnVWe
By far the best way to see the stunning coastline near the beach town of Cala Gonone, on the east side of Sardinia, is by kayak. My husband and I hired a couple of kayaks for a day and paddled our way to some of the area's most secluded beaches, including the idyllic Cala Luna (setting to Madonna's film Swept Away), which is only accessible by boat. A fun and self suffiicient way to view sealife such as jellyfish and the cavernous caves along the coast, not to mention a great way to introduce some exercise to a beach holiday.
Kayaks are readily available from the promenade in Cala Gonone.
Google map: bit.ly/MzlwWF
The plateau of the Giara di Gesturi stands 500 metres above the surrounding Sardinian farmland: a startling, rocky ecosystem of twisted cork oaks, scrubland and shallow lakes.
A thunderstorm was building one September evening when we first encountered the surreal terrain and we were so spooked by its sharp contrast to the rest of the island we left almost immediately.
The following morning, feeling braver in the sunshine, we returned and hired mountain bikes to explore.
We’d been warned of the feral pigs who can be rather curious of visitors, but the highlight was undoubtedly the scores of miniature wild horses we encountered – another oddity in this curious landscape.
Castelsardo is a picturesque historic town on the northern coast of Sardinia. Perched on a volcanic headland, the old town, fortified with a castle, is an interesting and enchanting place to visit. After visiting the citadel, explore the neatly packed and atmospheric streets of Castelsardo's medieval quarters. Better still stay over a night or two (any of the B&B's nestled within the castle walls would be ideal - Smorfiosa & Calarina next to the Cathedral was charming), and see the town at its best in the evening when restaurants and cafes set up tables among the stairways and doorways (the pick being La Cisterne Wine Bar - more than just a wine bar with the best food we ate in Sardinia.)
You will be familiar with the charity event of trying to squeeze as many people as possible into a Mini. Now imagine that lack of personal space but in a beach setting. What you are visualising is the renowned La Pelosa beach at the north-western tip of Sardinia. A triangle of glowing white sand set below a watchtower and surrounded by water with the clarity and colours of the Caribbean.
It is visual perfection and it is very, very popular. It is also rather small. In high summer you will find that every inch is covered by either a towel or a lounger. If there is not space to lay a towel, sun worshippers simply stand on the sand (looking very stylish as is the Italian way). If there is no space to stand on the sand they stand in the sea. It is a spectacle to behold and you must visit but unless you are planning to get there very early in the morning don’t bother bringing your towel and parasol.
La Pelosa, Stintino, Sardinia
Google map: bit.ly/QbKtHw
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