NOTHING quite prepared me for the sheer beauty of one of the prized jewels in Italy’s crown; Lake Garda.

The vast expanse of water, ten miles wide and more than 30 miles long, is one of Italy’s top tourist destinations, and rightly so. The views, weather, food, sights, sounds, smells and the way of life were all picture postcard perfect.

We landed at Verona Airport, and the hotel transfer was quick and comfortable, taking just 30 minutes in rush hour.

We checked in at Corte Valier, a four star slice of heaven on the south-eastern banks of the famous lake, just outside Lazise, an ancient walled village. As I entered my room I was met by a sight of pure luxury, with all the comforts even the most-seasoned of travellers can’t help but get excited about.

A sleek, modern hotel, highlights of the room included a waterfall shower, huge bed, French windows onto a balcony walking straight out to the swimming pool, and, for tech geeks, a TV with on demand music and backlighting.

The hotel spa has a spacious heated indoor pool and a choice of Turkish bath, a Mediterranean sauna (40 degrees) or Finnish sauna (90 degrees), and also a Finnish ice bath to cool off in. Various treatments are available for an additional cost.

The food served up at Corte Valier was sublime, accompanied by locally produced wine. The starter buffet had a wide selection to choose from, followed by a local speciality; risotto made with red wine, which tasted fantastic. This was succeeded by a beef dish which raised the culinary bar even further, followed by the dessert buffet with a wide choice.

The staff, attentive without being overbearing, explained the origins of the food and wine.

Our first day exploring Garda began with a boat trip. It didn’t venture onto the lake itself, which was a disappointment as I imagine a trip out to the middle of the ‘mini-ocean’ would provide some jaw-dropping sights.

Following that was a trip to see the famous tortellini pasta being made in a small kitchen containing eight elderly women who, the owner told us, can make up to 1,000 pieces of pasta every hour. Then came a “here’s some we made earlier” in the adjoining restaurant, where we enjoyed freshly made meat dishes, pumpkin, and fish tortellini, all divine.

That afternoon gave us the opportunity to enjoy the hotel facilities and explore the area. A path outside the hotel was the perfect place to walk off lunch while taking in the autumn sun and breathtaking scenery.

For dinner that evening, we visited the luxurious Enjoy Garda hotel, where the food was perfection. A trio of seafood dishes open the meal, followed by scampi spaghetti. The culinary highlight of the trip was the sea bass which followed, which was without doubt the best fish dish I have ever eaten. The owner was quick to showcase his hotel and the area’s strong association with cycling. With stunning mountains, winding coast roads and amazing surroundings, the roads of Garda appear to be a biker’s paradise.

Our final day began with a trip to the Olive Oil Museum for a quirky insight into the history of the oil production. The guides were knowledgeable and the tour not too long, and the shop sold endless varieties of oil at reasonable prices.

Lunch was at the mountain-top Bellavista Hotel, where we were treated to a feast of chestnuts. The ingredient, very popular in the region, featured in every course. The caramelised nuts were wonderful with a glass of prosecco, and the meal was fantastic, a highlight being homemade minestrone soup served inside a breadcake. Afterwards we enjoyed a coffee on the terrace, with stunning views of the lake below.

The final trip was to the Zeni wine museum (pictured). Five generations of the Zeni family have been making wine in Garda since 1853, and the museum tour took us from their early beginnings to the present day, from seeing pressing machines operated by hand, to the high-tech modern technology churning out gallons of wine every day. We had a wine tasting session in the grand wine cellar, and were treated to the best the vineyard has to offer.

Our last supper was a “Feast from the Lake” at La Cantinetta restaurant in Bardolino. The fish was top quality, a great end to a great trip in a great place.

The Lake Garda scenery is out of this world, the weather glorious, the people friendly and the food sublime. For anyone looking for a getaway to a stunning location, look no further than Lake Garda.

* * Monarch, the scheduled leisure airline, operates flights to Verona from Manchester airport with fares, including taxes, starting from £64 one way (£122 return).

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