Travel

Road trip from Verona through Northern Italy’s

The Italian and numerous have taught us that nowhere beats Italy for striking drives. Yes, the local standard of driving can sometimes be erratic, but there’s an undeniable romance to the Ferraris, Porches, and even the little Fiats zipping back and forth along a zig zag of mountain roads, their flashes of red or silver set against a jaw dropping backdrop.

With a week at my disposal and no desire to travel long haul, I flew from Gatwick to Verona and picked up a rental car. It wasn’t the soft top, sporty number I might have dreamed of, as my co-driver tends towards pragmatism and apparently high performance cars rarely have large boots. It was at the ready, and I’d lined up seven days of vineyards and cellar tours, churches and castles, and a stay in the Italian lakes.

Valpolicella

The region of Valpolicella begins just a half hour from Verona’s airport, which made it the obvious first stop.

Everyone knows that drinking and driving don’t mix, so the best option is to stay on a vineyard and abandon your car for a while. Agri tourism is growing in Valpolicella as the makers have to diversify, and you can eat, drink, and stay on a number of idyllic farms.

La Fonte Degli Dei is just outside Negrar, which has one of the highest concentrations of vineyards and cellars in the region. You turn off the main road onto a track which winds its way between the vines and then slowly climbs the hillside to a position with commanding views. A single stone archway stands apart from the house and draws the eye from miles around.

This large farmhouse is Cristina’s home. In recent years, she and her husband have begun to welcome guests who want to enjoy the peace of the countryside. You can walk or mountain bike right from the door, and the various vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see.

One afternoon I walked a little further and chanced upon the gardens at Villa Rizzardi. Laid out by designer Luigi Trezza in the 18th century, you can follow the garden trail between the various follies to the stone and box hedge amphitheatre, then stop for a glass of wine in the converted farm building which doubles as a bar and shop.

From Valpolicella to Lake Garda

The second stage of the road trip was across the mountains from Valpolicella to Lake Garda. As the crow flies, it hardly seems any distance at all, but the mountains are a formidable natural barrier and it is impossible to drive straight across them. Instead, the roads zig and zag their way up to the most accessible passes, then descend in a similarly convoluted fashion. Abandoned forts, plenty of medieval churches, and even an occasional waterfall dot the landscape, so every new twist and turn brings with it intriguing views.

A ring of attractive towns and villages, some larger than others, surrounds Lake Garda. Malcesine, on the eastern shore, is one of the more easily accessible destinations from Valpolicella, and it is just the right size to entertain you for a couple of days.