Lake Levico is a very special rural location with natural ecosystem and spectacular views, a real Alpine retreat
Lake Garda and Como are well known bustling tourist destinations but for tranquillity and rural charm, head instead to tiny Lake Levico.
Formed in the shape of a petite Norwegian fjord, this idyllic mountain tarn nestles next to its big brother, Lake Caldonazzo, in the densely-forested Trentino-Alto region of northern Italy.
The shuttered ski-chalet style farm houses clustered on Lake Levico’s grassy slopes are decorated with window boxes full of tumbling scarlet geraniums. Peaceful and unspoilt, it’s hard to imagine this idyll as a war zone but the territory was in Austria-Hungary before WW1 and the Valsugana valley (www.visitvalsugana.it) is peppered with the dips of shell holes and former trenches.
Now all is calm and an 1860 aqueduct still channels water from the region’s thermal springs to lakeside spa town Levico Terme, site of the majestic Grand Hotel Imperial.
A sojourn to enjoy the health benefits of the local iron-rich waters became very fashionable in the 19th century and titled families from all over Europe – including the Russian Romanovs – stayed at this serene spot. With its entrance colonnades and extensive park location, the Grand certainly looks like a palace and the Austrian Royal Family made it their summer residence.
I stay on the top floor in a snug attic hideaway with slanted roof and a metal key with chunky keyring to open the door. (No plastic card with digital code at this traditional establishment!)
After my flight to Verona and minibus transfer, dinner at the hotel is excellent and the lightly spiced fish soup perfectly seasoned. Next day my companions hire e-bikes to work up a sweat on a few nature trails but I decide on a leisurely walk around the lake.
Lake Levico has Blue Flag accredited crystal-clear water which is teeming with bass, pike, chub and trout. The shaded ‘strada dei pescatori’ (fishermen’s path) leads you around the reed-lined bank where bird watchers will discover strutting grebes and coots.
I’m tempted to take a dip as there’s a lido and beach where families are picnicking and paddling out in canoes. But later, as the sun sets across the water, a short speedboat trip with an Aperol Spritz apertivo in hand is the perfect evening treat.
The Trentino Guest Card is included in my trip and gives me free public transport in the province of Trento and admission to multiple museums, castles and other attractions. It’s a long, steep climb up a zig-zag path to the 1883 Forte Colle delle Benne, but this restored squat military base has a fantastic view.
A must-see is Arte Sella, an outdoor sculpture gallery with creations made from natural materials that are designed to return to the environment. Artists from all over the world have been invited to stay at the site and construct a unique and ephemeral work of art. It’s a rather spiritual place and there’s something wonderful about a tree cathedral and spacious twig cocoon with room to meditate inside.
Head into the higher altitude areas for more delights. An excusion to Malga Fratte is a gastronomic treat. Situated on the lofty Vezzena plateau, this family farm has been making unpasteurised cheese for generations. Sample the ricotta – fresh or smoked over juniper – in the sunshine with a glass of chilled milk.
The farmer has to keep a close eye on the cows, donkeys and goats that graze on the rich pastures because wolves and bears prowl the isolated highlands. For the local frogs, the biggest danger is the wheel of a car but now mini amphibian subways let them hop under the tarmac of the area’s zig-zag roads.
For a sociable evening to round off your holiday, the mountain lodge Refuge Crucolo is a welcoming tavern alive with music and laughter. Join local diners on the trestle tables and have a lively conversation about Brexit or join in with the karaoke.
Once the refuge of wood cutters and cow herders, the Purin family have been the hosts since 1782 and offer a range of specialities, including polenta, stewed rabbit and porcini mushroom soup, as well as their own flaming liqueur – Parampamoli. This mix of coffee, grappa, wine and caramelised sugar is served with a flourish in tiny ceramic floral cups. Salute!
Inghams has a seven night holiday on a half board basis at the four-star Grand Hotel Imperial in Lake Levico, Italy, from £799 per person, based on two sharing in May 2018. Price includes return flights to Verona airport, transfers and Trentino Guest Card. To book, visit Inghams Lakes & Mountains Holidays; or call 01483 791 116.
Great for spirited adventurers
Cyclists adore Levico’s mountain bike trails and for the truly hardy there’s the 80km Valsugana cycle path which stretches along the railway line towards Bassano del Grappa.
Great for independent explorers
It’s under three hours to Venice by train so you can tailor your own day trip. Take in the Doge’s Palace, Rialto Bridge and Piazza San Marco in a very special excursion.
Great for food lovers
Try the beetroot dumplings, braised meat with blueberries and panna cotta at the Hotel Ariston. Frutti di bosco (berries) are used in many local dishes and Speck is the region’s much-loved prosciutto.