As your ferry nears the northern shores of Lake Garda the mountains on either side close in. But other things are afoot: the wind noticeably freshens stirring the lake’s surface, a multitude of brightly coloured sails come into view, windsurfers speed across the foam flecked surface making way for the ferry’s passage. Torbole beckons.
Torbole is a compact village whose colourful houses are set as an amphitheatre around a smallish bay. It only has about 2500 residents, and for administrative purposes is joined to the nearby hill village of Nago.
Although travellers toing and froing between Italy and Germany were passing through Torbole back in the 15th century, it was Goethe’s visit in 1786 that sparked increased interest. His description of the area as being ‘a marvel of nature’ acted as a magnet to artists of the late Romantic period. But the real tourist boom began in the second half of the 20th century, and nowadays the big draw is the plethora of outdoor activities on offer.
From the ferry stop it is only a short walk to the picturesque old harbour. Here your eye will immediately be drawn to one of Torbole’s famous buildings – the tiny, quaint, flower bedecked 18th century Austrian custom’s house. Close by is Casa Beust, a 15th century house with a fresco by the German artist Hans Lietzmann. There are plenty of cafés, bars and a few public benches where you can relax and soak up the ambience.
Suitably refreshed it is worth taking the short, uphill path leading to Chiesa di Sant’ Andrea, a small church, first recorded in 1154 but re-built in late Baroque style in the 18th century. The altar piece in the apse is a fine work by the Veronese artist Gianbettino Cignaroli. From the peaceful surrounds of the church you look out over the roof tops of the old part of Torbole to the lake and its enclosing mountains.
But for a really stunning panoramic view you need to take the longer, steeper path to the Belvedere viewpoint, located on a small rock outcrop above Torbole. If you are a day visitor you might not be able to squeeze this into your schedule.
The modernistic Piazzetta Lietzmann provides a sharp contrast to the architecture of old Torbole. At the far end is Chiesa di Santa Maria al Lago, which was built in 1939. The tranquil piazzetta has flower beds, fountains and some benches. There are two memorials: one to Colonel William Darby, who was mortally wounded on 30th April 1945 as he led the landing of a contingent of American troops. The other is to 25 soldiers who drowned on the same day.
Torbole is the windiest resort on Lake Garda. The wind might be most welcome on an unusually hot summer day, but can prove chilly early and late in the season. The most talked about wind is the Ora. Blowing from the south of the lake it reaches Torbole shortly after lunch, continuing through the afternoon and into the evening. Then the Peler takes over, blowing from the north throughout the night and morning.
The constancy of the wind coupled with a ban on motor boats have made Torbole an international centre for sailing and wind surfing. But it is not all about water sports, the surrounding mountains offer a variety of hiking trails and the opportunity for some serious climbing. The lure of outdoor pursuits means that the visitor profile is rather different to that of most of the other resorts on the lake.
A Gentle Walk to Riva
This undemanding walk can easily be completed in 40 minutes. The path initially takes you past shingle beaches and wind surfing schools. Then for a short stretch you walk alongside the busy main road, though you are well protected by a barrier. Soon you reach Forte San Nicolò, and the final km is along a good, wide path through well maintained parkland. If you are a day visitor you might consider spending a couple of hours or so in Torbole, then walking to Riva where you can board the ferry for the return to your resort.
The journey from the southern most resorts is prolonged, with the ‘rapid’ boat from Desenzano taking 3 hours. And it can be even longer if you have to change at Limone, although the 40 minute stop will enable you to get a flavour of this small, attractive town. A journey from the mid-lake resort of Gardone, however, takes under 1.5 hours.
Bus services run the length of the lake, both on the east and the west coast. But it is important to check the timetables very carefully as changes may be involved. Journeys from the southern resorts are unlikely to be a practical proposition. Journeys from some of the mid-lake resorts are manageable e.g. Garda 1 hour.
If you are staying in Torbole and wish to explore further afield, then a 30minute bus ride will take you to the railway station at Rovereto, from where you can catch trains to Verona and Bolzano. It is essential, though, to check your connection times very carefully or you might have problems!