We arrived on 22nd December to spend one week’s holiday touring Lake Garda and Venice, Verona and more. We were part of a large group joining another group which arrived two days earlier. We were tired after our flight from Dublin and the subsequent coach journey from Milan-Linate airport. The hotel is an old building in the classical style of Italy with a magnificent garden adorned with old Roman type stone columns, terraces and statues with steps leading to a swimming pool used in warmer months. Riva town centre is one minute’s walk away and the most northern tip of Lake Garda.
The reception is in a long hall with many large beautiful vases. There are many tables where you can seat yourself to take in the surroundings. If you want to smoke there is a large outdoor wooden terrace decorated with flowers. Even for the non-smoker this is a haven of peace. The hotel has been beautifully modernised and two lifts will take you to the four floors plus the Spa and pool in the basement. The artwork is classic and modern; it is magnificent and you spend much time walking from the sketches, landscapes, still life, portraits and modern work. Simply, we hadn’t the time to get all this done (another good reason to return).
Bedrooms:- Spacious, tastefully decorated, large bed, lovely en-suite, small balcony with table and chairs for two and beautiful views of the serene hotel garden. Extra blankets and pillows are supplied. UK/Irish 3 pin sockets + mobile phone charging piece are there along with a large flat screen television (again which we didn’t have time to watch).
Spa and Indoor Swimming Pool:- Available for €15.00 for the week; terrific value and demanded that we make some time for use. The heated pool is surrounded by coloured marble Roman supports. There are plenty of relaxing waterproof sofas where you can lie and chill out. If you want a room of silence it’s just outside of the pool with soundproof glass. Enjoy a free glass of tea or water while you relax or read. There is a sauna in another section of the swimming area and a hotter sauna for the more daring, but we availed of the steam room which soothed all our cares away. I’m not the kind of person who would have beauty treatments, but they are there at an extra charge if you wish. There are two tanning rooms where you can achieve a film star tan lying down or standing up. I don’t think any of the other users were overwhelmed by my over-weight whiter-than-white skin and my glaring and protruding one-pack.
Food:- (i) Breakfast is mainly self service. There is a choice of cereals, juices, breads, cheeses, hams, yogurts, fruit and many sweet cakes. Pots of Coffee/Warm milk and tea are provided by the waiters almost instantly. Tables are pre booked for the Travel Department. You can serve yourself with scrambled eggs, sausages and rashers or a boiled egg if you wish.
(ii) Dinner 7.30pm:- You’ve had time for a shower or a venture to the swimming pool after a long day of touring. Your table is already booked so all you’ve got to do is look at the menu and the only difficulty is choosing from the mouth watering food. The first course is self serving and is the same each night. The waiting staff will take your orders and serve you within minutes. You can order wine/water and if you want beer it is only a case of walking to the adjoining bar and bringing it to your table. You can sit with any group of people and there are enough tables-for-two is you wish. All of the food is excellent and there is plenty of choice. The presentation is second to none and nearly all plates are finished. The deserts are colourful, tasty, beautifully presented and almost licked clean just to get that last taste of magnificence. Don’t forget you can get a cheese plate. Believe me the Italians do cheese with aplomb. I thought I had already experienced every kind of cheese in Ireland, but to be honest, I hadn’t. Give one evening over to cheese instead of dessert. You’ll be glad. Only thing, some of the others at the table will want to savour yours.
Bar:- Piano provided. If nobody can play the piano, don’t worry spontaneous sing-song can erupt at any time. Strangely, this is where the other hotel patrons (mainly Italian and an occasional German/Austrian) can listen and be entertained by us. We were lucky inasmuch one man had good vocal chords and started a sing-along with songs from Oklahoma and some more musicals.
Staff:- They are so good, I should have put my praise and admiration for the Staff as my first point. I can honestly say that I have never experienced such friendly, helpful and efficient people. Their English is good and they are professional in every way. I shouldn’t single out one as they are all excellent, but one is very entertaining. He serves about twenty tables while simultaneously talking to people at another twenty tables. He has the gift of the gab and must have kissed our Blarney Stone. Like me he can talk forever. The whole staff are efficient and ever smiling. Their welcome is genuine and friendly. Your room is cleaned every day and if you should see the household staff they are smiling and friendly and will greet you in Italian.
Riva del Garda:- This is a stunningly beautiful town. It was made for tourism. It is surrounded by magnificent high mountains (Dolomites & Alps) and a perfect location for the landscape artist or camera buff or just anybody seeking relaxation. The town makes you relax. Everywhere you look there is a landscape demanding to be painted.
Most of the streets are narrow and cobbled and decorated with lemon and orange trees and flowers. There are the shoe shops and boutiques and the unmissable cafés. My other half, an Imelda Marcos Wannabe visited all of the shoe shops, even those with three storeys. How many shoes can the Italians buy? She didn’t forget the boutiques either. Mercifully, some were closed for the week. My suitcase and hand-baggage were sacrificed to the unmissable bargains of after Christmas Riva-del-Garda sales.
We were informed it took 1.5 hours to walk up to Cascata del Varone, a grotto high up a huge cliff face overlooking Riva. It took us some time longer but we were rewarded with stunning clear views of Riva and the nearby villages, the lake and the mountains all of which look beautifully different every time you gaze. Though we had no rain, wear water-proof clothing as you will experience waterfalls like you never saw before. Be careful in the descent.
Sitting in an outside café is an experience to behold. You can watch the Italian world walking by. Many Italians travel to Riva del Garda for the Christmas period to enjoy the skiing/winter sports. We visited such a café on Christmas morning. The Italians do excellent coffee. One teenager walking by definitely received a new pair of heavy boots for Christmas. She struggled in walking by and the poor girl, I reckon her ankles were pretty sore the following day. But, she was delighted in the latest of footwear style and I reckon she wouldn’t take off the boots for the world. Several Quartets of brass band players passed entertaining everybody with Christmas music. The Christmas atmosphere was electric and we loved it. Listening to Italians speaking in their language is like listening to living poetry. I don’t know any language as colourful. The men speak with their mouths and arms whereas the ladies speak with the mouth, the eyes, the shoulders, the arms, hands, fingers and even their hair.
Our Tour Guide:- Special Thanks to Renata. She is knowledgeable, friendly, sympathetic. Her English is better than mine. She is softly spoken and I think her voice is suited to television where she could easily if she wanted to be a successful chat show hostess. Certainly, she enhances everybody’s holiday experience. She is a credit to her profession and an additional asset to Italy.
Our Drivers:- Mario and Manuel (father and son) Super-Mario and Mini-Mario respectively who piloted the coach during the week to where many couldn’t push a bicycle. Both loved Italian women car drivers and flashed lights and sounded the horn to fortify this love. The coach arrived before time each morning and left within five minutes of the due time. So, if you were 5.1 minutes late you did not travel. They smiled throughout the days of their driving and were there to help if needed.
Tours:- Venice and Verona. You must know about the waterways in Venice and Juliet’s balcony in the heart of Verona. Somebody forgot to inform Mr Shakespeare that there was no such thing as a house balcony in Verona during the time of Romeo & Juliet. So he didn’t leave the truth get in the way of a good story. The balcony was constructed after World War 1 on the demand of tourists seeking the site of the love between Romeo and Juliet. Youtube can adequately provide the rest of information so I won’t waste your time here.
But, you might not be aware of a tour to the Alps and Dolomites where you take in some of the villages along the way and seeing mountaineers ply their skills on sheer cliff mountains that have fatalities nearly every year. You’re enjoying the local wine on an adjoining mountain while overseeing the climbers in the distance. However, the first stop is at Canale (population 50) where you experience some local craft work and walk in a quaint village that has stunning views. This village was visited by one President John D Higgins on a private holiday to Italy where he charmed the locals by even queueing to buy tickets for the tour of Lake Garda by boat and walking through Canale before signing the Visitors Book. Not many politicians would do the same.