DH Lawrence may be best known for writing about naughty ladies and randy gamekeepers, but he was a dab hand when it came to Italy, too. The original beard-and- sandals Brit abroad, Lawrence came to Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) just before the First World War and marvelled, with arty-farty lyricism, at ‘cypress trees poised like flames of forgotten darkness’ and ‘the green-silver smoke of olive trees’ – enough to make your mouth water.
Lake Garda, Italy’s largest and grandest lake, might have lost some of the romanticism of Lawrence’s time since tourists started turning up in droves, but the cypress and olive trees still grow amidst the terracotta- roofed houses and now they have citrus orchards and vineyards to add extra charm.
The campsite at San Biagio is on the western side of the lake, in the lushly green region of Brescia, near Salò. It occupies its very own private, sandy peninsula, Belvedere Point, which juts northeasterly into the water, a bit like an accusing finger.
Its 165 pitches, all power-connected, extend along the narrow stretch of land, cleverly creating the intimate ambience of a much smaller campsite. Most pitches are either shimmied up against the water’s edge (for a small extra fee) or not too far from it. Others are slightly elevated so that you peer through the boughs of enormous blossoming magnolia trees to the blue water beyond, a vista enhanced by the soft, floral waft of magnolias in the fresh air.
But, wherever you end up pitching, you’re never far from a bit of water-based activity. In most cases sink-your-toes-in sandy beaches allow easy access, but where sharp boulders nudge the edge of the lake, there are handy steps into the water – just the job for launching your inflatable mattress when you go for a relaxing drift around the lake.
If you can drag yourself away from the crystal-blue lake water lapping languidly on three sides of you, there’s plenty in the surrounding countryside to keep you amused. Towards the east there’s Rocca di Manerba, a 222-acre natural archeological park, where a re-discovered fortress dominates the skyline. How anyone lost it in the first place is a bit of a mystery, but there you go – these things happen.
At the northeastern tip of the peninsula, where six of the best pitches hide amongst the reedy waterfront, you can see Isola San Biagio, known locally as Isola dei Conigli, or Rabbit Island. It sits on the horizon, closely resembling something straight from the tropics. When the water is particularly low you can reach the island by picking your way along a narrow strip of white sand. When it is high, wading knee-deep with a towel around your neck and a bucket and spade in your hand makes for a perfect little adventure. Once across you can pull up a bench seat at the island kiosk and relax with a cool drink whilst the hours tick by.
If you’re feeling a bit more energetic, there is a smattering of small towns – complete with typically Italian piazzas, churches and pizzerias – all a short drive away. And further afield still is Salò, the capital of Mussolini’s Nazi-backed puppet state. Luckily the old man is long-gone and this beautiful town has a waterfront that will make you feel as though you’ve just stepped, Alice Through the Looking Glass-style, right into a Venetian painting. Its little lanes are full of the kinds of tempting shops, cafés and bars that exude the very essence of the Italy DH Lawrence would still recognise.
All in all, a terrific reason to strap on your sandals, with or without Brit-man-abroad socks, and go and take a look.
FacilitiesA large, clean, central block has male and female toilets, hot showers with separate changing areas, washing machines, a dryer and basins. There is a fridge for freezing cooler blocks and ice packs. There’s also a small playground, an onsite shop and free wi-fi. The campsite has its own Bar and Restaurant/Pizzeria, overlooking the waters, and there is a slipway for campers to launch boats.
Tents, campervans, caravans, dogs (on a lead at all times) – yes.
NearbyWater and swimming options are endless here. In July and August the nearby village of Manerba plays host to an evening market each Tuesday night. Head into nearby Salò for a typically Italian evening at Cantina Santa Giustina (Salita Santa Giustina 6, 25487 Salò; 00 39 0365 520 320). This rustic and cavernous eatery promises cheese, charcuterie, wine and, if Vasco, the owner, has anything to do with it, a hangover.
Food & DrinkMauro, the campsite’s own waterside bar, with gaudy orange table cloths, is a great spot for a cold beer, espresso or pizza.
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