ITALY’S IDYLLIC LAKE GARDA

 

The moat and drawbridge of the medieval fortress guards the entrance into Sirmione. Photo, Alamy

There aren’t many places in Europe more beautiful than Italy’s Lago di Garda.  Its stunning scenery is due to the extensive backdrop of the Dolomite mountains to the north, together with all the picturesque towns and medieval villages dotted along its shore, it’s the perfect region to spend some time.  It has long been a favourite destination of ours, and we tend to gravitate to the beautiful town of Sirmione on the southern shore, which is a great base to explore a number of the other gorgeous small towns via the lake ferries.

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THE BEAUTIFUL RENAISSANCE CITY OF FERRARA

Castello Estense is in the centre of Ferrara. Photo, Alamy

The north of Italy has an abundance of riches for the visitor, and it’s almost impossible to make a list of top favourites.  There’s the sublime beauty of the various lakes, the glories of Venice, and numerous small Renaissance cities to choose from.  We’ve spent many wonderful trips exploring these Renaissance gems over decades, and they all have their own unique character and attractions.  Recently, we re-visited the beautiful city of Ferrara, a little over 110 kms south of Venice.  We hadn’t been there for years, and thought another visit was well overdue.

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VENICE DURING THE BIENNALE

Venice is always magical whether it’s a Biennale year or not.

We revisited Venice a few weeks ago for the first time since COVID shut down the world for travellers.  Venice has been one of our top favourite cities for many decades, and this was to be our 4th Biennale, so we were interested to see what changes had occurred to La Serenissima since our last visit.  Would it still be magical, or a crowded nightmare now that the world has re-opened for travel?  We were keen to find out.

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THE MAGNIFICENT BIBLIOTHÈQUE NATIONALE DE FRANCE HAS FINALLY RE-OPENED

The spectacular Reading Room, with its Byzantine-inspired multi-domed ceiling.

We had been walking past this enormous complex for years speculating about when it might re-open, wondering if we’d ever get to visit it one day.  Imagine our surprise and delight when we saw the enormous posters announcing its re-opening in the metro stations on our first day back in Paris!  It was still closed on our earlier visit in April, with no hint as to when it would re-open.  This is arguably the most important, and certainly largest, of the numerous new projects in the city that have been completed since COVID hit.  No longer dark and rather gloomy, the newly renovated library buildings are a triumph of light and welcoming spaces.  There’s such a wealth of wonderful new sights to discover in Paris, and the historic Bibliothèque Nationale de France is surely the jewel in the crown!

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THE MYSTERIOUS KNIGHTS TEMPLARS AND THE ORIGINS OF THE MARAIS DISTRICT –

A depiction by Hoffbauer of the Enclos du Temple in 15450. Photo, Alamy

This district of Paris is one of the most historic and fascinating in the city.  Nowadays, it’s known for hip boutiques, quirky art galleries, great cafes, restaurants and fresh food, a couple of delightful squares, and some of the best museums in the city.  Although its origins were far from auspicious, it’s a place we always head to for all these attractions and much more.  It’s an enticing melange of ancient and traditional plus contemporary and slightly quirky, making it one of the most interesting areas in Paris.

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