LIMONE SUL GARDA, Italy (Reuters) - The breathtaking beauty and sheer size of Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy, makes it a popular holiday destination for Italians and foreigners alike.
Picturesque towns line the lake’s shores, making a tour of the entire 145-km (90-mile) shoreline a delight. But Limone sul Garda, on the narrower, more mountainous stretch of the lake to the north, is one of the most captivating.
“Limone” means “lemon” in Italian and the town was known for growing lemons and other citrus fruits. But the name is actually a coincidence as the town itself is much older than the lemon groves and the name could come from the Latin word for boundary.
Among the most striking features of Limone are the pillars and walls marking its shoreline that remain from gardens where lemons were grown. They were described by renowned German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe in the 18th century, bringing the town to the attention of an international literary audience.
Limone has another claim to fame. In the late 1970s, a former inhabitant was found to have a protein in his blood that removes fats from arteries and takes them to the liver where they are eliminated, thus warding off cardiovascular diseases.
After testing the inhabitants of Limone, it was discovered that all carriers of the gene were descended from one married couple in Limone in the 17th century. The gene is still being passed on, with more young carriers identified in Limone, and work to produce a drug based on the gene continues.
The typical Limone diet is rich in local fish, olive oil and citrus fruits and the climate is moderate, so it is not surprising that a high percentage of Limone’s residents are over 80 years old.
Limone was a small and isolated village only accessible by boat or mountain path until the 1930s, with people making a living from olive groves, citrus fruit and fishing.
Isolation ended, however, when the so-called Gardesana road was dug out of the mountainside, connecting Limone with neighboring towns and opening it up to tourism.
The road has become famous in its own right. The car chase that opened the 2008 James Bond movie “Quantum of Solace” was filmed on an arched stretch to Limone from the nearby town of Riva. Parts of the racy Aston Martin car used in the film are on display at the La Paz bar in Riva.
Limone’s first lemon groves date back centuries and much effort was put into building structures that worked rather like greenhouses to protect the trees from winter temperatures.
In fact, Limone was the northernmost location in the world where citrus fruit was grown commercially, and it was exported to Germany, Austria, Poland, Hungary, other parts of northern Europe and Russia.
Competition from the south reduced demand for Limone’s lemons and by the 1900s production started to die off. Vestiges of the industry remain all over Limone, however, from the lemon grove pillars to the lemon emblem on buildings and streets.
Despite the beauty and elegance of the town, Lake Garda’s immense, shimmering blue is captivating. Often dotting the lake are the bright sails of boats, windsurfers and kite surfers.
Lake Garda attracts many sailors and surfers since when the wind picks it up it is usually regular and strong. Swimming is highly recommended on a hot day in the refreshing water.
For those who prefer to be on dry land, many hotels and restaurants are built on the edge of the lake, offering spectacular views, and there are public beaches.
An “aperitivo” of Aperol Spritz (Aperol, Prosecco and sparkling water) or a “Hugo” (elderflower syrup, Prosecco, fresh mint and sparkling water) would be the ideal accompaniment to watching the sailboats pass by.
Editing by Michael Roddy and Mark Heinrich