But where is Desenzano del Garda?
When Zephyr Adventures announced that the Wine Media Conference 2022 would be hosted on the shores of Lake Garda, I was like - yes please! After 2 years of no travel, all I could think about was four glorious weeks in Europe with three of them dedicated to Northern Italy - a place I had never visited. Desenzano del Garda here I come! But where is Desenzano del Garda?
Maps don't do it justice. It's quaint old town is like so many other small towns in Italy - ancient, plundered by the romans and making the best of it's history and terrific location. Desenzano del Garda is a popular summer destination that sits on the southwest shore of Lago di Garda, in the province of Brescia and region of Lombardy. It borders Castiglione della Stiviere and Sirmione and easy to reach by train - a legitimate stop on the rail line between Turin to Venice. While my purpose was to attend the conference and travel, the discovery of this beachside resort surprised me. It has beauty, history and wine all at once. Here colorful sunrises and sunsets dazzle, manicured walks and visit historic castles delight and natural springs and health spas flourish and good wine is all around.
From Fast Trains to Spa Hotels
The Trentitalia fast train from Turin drops you at Desenzano del Garda “stazione ferroviaria”. It is a taxi-less place. We are 30 minutes on foot from the Acquaviva Spa Hotel. Luckily, a new friend also attending the conference, shares her ride with us and the problem is solved.
The spa hotel from the roadway is understated. This hotel is not brand new nor the fanciest in the area. It is however, welcoming. Checking in is easy and friendly. We delight in the elevator (most of our accommodation previous and subsequent to this stay had none) that takes us to our 3rd floor spacious twin room. The guest room has a partial garden and partial lake view with a party-size balcony great for pre-dinner sipping. The large sliding glass doors allow the lake breezes to flow through (I sleep with the window open). The room amenities included bathrobes, slippers, soft fluffy towels, trial size skin care and wellness products from the spa. Three meals a day are served in the restaurant, lounge and pool area, attended by youthful and friendly, multilingual staff. And, the lake - well it's right across the street. Oh yes! So lovely.
Lago di Garda
Lago di Garda is one of the largest lakes in Italy. It was formed by receding glaciers more than 10,000 years ago that left behind hills of morainic soils rich in limestone and mineral salts - perfect for growing Turbiana, a sommelier’s secret weapon and also an indigenous variety here. The lake breezes help to moderate temperate and reduce disease pressure in vineyards. The north wind (Peter) and south wine (Ora) provide the rhythm that keeps crops healthy and vines pest free. The weather is warm and tropical at the end of September here in Northern Italy. The view of hills and mountainous terrain remind me of home. Small waves smack the rocky shoreline as white swans float along and ducks waddle by. There is an overwhelming sense of peace, and restorative energy at the water's edge. The sky turns light blue with pink popcorn clouds growing brighter as the sun sets. It’s unexpectedly stunning. A little slice of heaven for a weary traveler. Please pass the wine!
While I’m not a total history buff, I do love a good deep dive into local stories. Here in Desenzano are a couple of stories - one from the Rambotti Archaeological Museum and the other from the Desenzano Castle.
The museum showcases a village from the Paleolithic to the Bronze age that provides a glimpse into the inconvenient standards of living in 4000 BCE. It is also home to what is considered the first record of a plow, dating back to 1100 AD that was uncovered in the area and on display as an homage to the agrarian lifestyle, a foundation of this region.
The Desenzano Castle was built of stone on the hilltop of the town built more than 1000 years ago to provide refuge to villagers from the invading Hungarian tribes. While it has served many purposes since then including barracks during the war that housed Austrian troops, today the castle is used for events, concerts and festivals. It's has a fantastic vibe at night both inside and out.
Wines of Garda & Lugana
Vineyards surround the lake and are prolific. While at the conference, we tasted close to 100 styles of wine. The white and sparkling wines from Lugana DOC and Garda DOC stood out the most for me. Both versatile and vibrant, these wines showcase terroir: ancient soils; cool Mediterranean climate with lake influence that moderates temperatures; and steady breezes that keep vineyards free from mildew and disease. Winemaking methodology plays an important role as the majority of wines are made in stainless steel tanks. The more complex styles may spend time in neutral or lightly toasted oak barrels. Lugana and Garda wines are best consumed in one to three years of the vintage date. If the label states Riserva, then a longer bottle age will bring more complexity. As for tasting notes, Lugana whites offer freshness with delicate aromas and flavours of citrus, floral, saline and mineral notes - perfect with local seafood, stews and pasta dishes and of course, hard cheeses like Grana Padano and Piave.
Zenato wines have been a staple in the Vancouver market, more famous perhaps for Amarone della Valpolicella, Ripassa(™) and Valpolicella Classico that for the white or sparkling wines. Wine professionals however, love to pour Zenato’s Lugana San Benedetto DOC and Lugana Riserva DOC. This style gets a nod from retailer buyers and sommeliers alike at a price that makes it a value proposition especially when sharing the page with White Burgundy or Rhone Valley.
After all that wine tasting fun, here are some of the my favorite wines from my time in Desenzano del Garda while attending the conference. None of these are available yet in our market except Zenato.
On our last night in Desenzano del Garda, we celebrated in the castle with our new wine friends. We sipped and grazed on local wines and local dishes, hanging with celebrity winemakers, feeling like a member of this good wine gaggle. Wines were plenty from sparkling to rose, white and red, now with some familiarity as we had tasted most during the conference. We noshed on more cheese, charcuterie, ragu of mushrooms and even escargot stew on polenta. What a feast!
Desenzano del Garda is a hidden treasure. Whether you are a first time traveler or you carry an Italian passport, you must visit Desenzano del Garda. It's the perfect getaway for relaxation and well-being Italian style. It captures the natural beauty, deep history and fantastic Lugana and Garda wines. Now you know the secret so I recommend you book soon, as Desenzano del Garda is not going to remain hidden for long.