A walk around Lake Garda, Italy

Lake Garda is one of those iconic beauty sports with its turquoise blue waters framed by mountains rising steeply upwards with their peaks topped with snow. In summer the place gets extraordinarily busy as coaches bring in an endless stream of tourists choking its narrow roads. But in spring, when the season is just getting started, it’s mercifully quiet and temperatures are warm enough to hike in shorts and tee shirt.

I base myself in Riva del Garda, the northernmost town on the lake, at the foot of the Alps. Dramatic daunting cliffs rise up on either side looking at first almost impenetrable but closer inspection reveals narrow paths etched into their sides. It’s these that I’m going to be following over the next few days.

I can see one, impossibly working its way up along the Western edge of the lake, the Strada del Ponale, and that’s going to be my starting point. Apparently it was constructed by entrepreneur Giacomo Cis but he before it was completed. The modern road runs along the lakeshore through a series of tunnels and I turn off to start climbing. Unfortunately there’s a sign saying that it’s closed due to renovations and I can’t proceed.

Day 1: Strada del Ponale to Pregasina -12km, ascent/descent 470m

Instead I go and collect my car and drive to the beginning of the path I was planning to reach after the Strada del Ponale. I park by the Regina Mundi Madonna statue, staring out across the lake, and leave the road to follow the old route zig-zagging down the hillside. It turns abruptly and then starts to climb, following the Ponale valley inland on a cobbled road past a shrine and the remains of a mill.

I reach the road again briefly before a steep ascent through woodland, passing a series of trenches from WW1. This was the front line of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the mountain was strongly fortified.

I reach the saddle Bocca da Le at 800m and am rewarded with terrific views over the lake.

Then there’s a further scramble up to the summit of 859m Monte Nodice riddled with fortifications. To reach these a spectacular series of steps into the rock, the Scala Santa, and I take these down to the village of Pregasina, where I sit and enjoy a well-earned beer of the Panorama. Below me wind-surfers and yachts are taking advantage of the afternoon breeze on the lake. It’s a short walk downhill back to my car.

Day 2: Torbole to Tempesta and Monte Brione – 22 km, ascent/descent 1047m

Next day I set out in the opposite direction to the village of Torbole following the lakeshore east. It’s too early for the wind-surfers as the lake is like a mirror, but joggers and cyclists are out in force. After 45 minutes I reach Torbole and take the scalinata, a flight of steps up through olive groves much admired by Goethe.

This leads through a Parco Avventure, designed for kids on mountain bikes, to the start of the Sentiero Panoramica Busatte-Tempesta, a path running 200m above the lake.