Not even Goethe did fail to go to the Lake Garda on his Grand Tour, the journey he made through Italy at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Enchanted, he wrote in his travel diary from Torbole in September 1787:
«How I wish my friends could be by my side for just a moment and could enjoy the view before me! Tonight I could have reached Verona but I would have missed a marvel of nature, an enchanting spectacle, Lake Garda: I did not want to lose it, and I was magnificently rewarded for this diversion».
Before Goethe, Montaigne had also been there in 1580, but he was not particularly struck by the beauty of the place. Similarly, the astronomer Lalande had noted its characteristics without expressing much excitement.
The lake was not a well-known destination, perhaps due to the little travelled road. One had to deviate from the “Via Germanica”, also known in the Middle Ages as “the merchants’ road”, used by all foreign tourists, which through the Brenner led to Trento, Verona, Bologna and finally to Rome. However, even those who strayed off the beaten path evidently did not speak very highly of what they saw, or at least not enough to make other travellers change their itineraries and venture off onto an unknown road.
Only Goethe, a few centuries later, had transformed this stretch of water among “the Alpine peaks” into a corner of paradise, describing it with a poetic image. Goethe, in fact, found the true Italian atmosphere right here – all of those elements which were, for him, fundamental in defining Italy’s characteristics. From landscape and echoes of ancient history, to its literary and artistic past, to the joys of its mild climate, the colours and the fruit “which ripens in the sun”. The German poet composed verses inspired by these places. He was the first to associate elements of classicism to this area, ones that had made Italy famous all over the world, the same shared by Rome, Naples and Sicily. His travel diary, in the pages dedicated to Garda, led generations of visitors to this corner of nature at the foot of the Alps.
In 1786 Goethe stopped in Torbole and Malcesine. The tourist vocation of Torbole has its roots already in the 15th century, when it became a destination for travelers passing along the Atesina road, between Germany and Italy. The poet, at the age of 37, arrived there from Rovereto in the afternoon of September 12, 1786 and was thoroughly delighted. Torbole, located near the mouth of the River Sarca, is known for its luxuriant flora and the houses laid out like an amphitheater along the gulf.
Ten years later, Lake Garda became one of the scenarios of the Napoleonic wars: by the end of May the French had reached its shores, defeating the Austrians at Borghetto sul Mincio and conquering Peschiera. Even later, a number of clashes took place on battlefields near the lake.