An eight-room B&B can sound unassuming, but, perched in the tranquil olive groves above Lake Garda, boutique hotel Prati Palai has a mission to house bons vivants in understated farmhouse chic. Decked out with vast white beds, polished wooden floorboards and Pantone-hued tubs, this pared-down retreat opens to the glorious Veneto countryside.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of prosecco on arrival and free bike hire once during the stay
10.30am. Check-in, 4pm to 7.30pm, but flexible, subject to availability.
Double rooms from £215.66 (€240), including tax at 10 per cent. Please note the hotel charges an additional local city tax of €1.00 per person per night on check-out.
Rates include Continental breakfast of fresh bread and pastries as well as cold cuts, cheeses and boiled eggs.
This upcycled bolthole hasn’t forgotten its working-farm roots: in the library, a trough’s been converted into a bookshelf, and much of the kitchen produce is still grown on site.
2 November.to 1 April.
At the hotel
45 acres of grounds, lounge, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: TV, DVD player on request, Ortigia toiletries.
Our favourite rooms
All the suites have postcard-perfect views of the lake. Split-level Junior Suite 6 has a pentagonal shower and, upstairs in the living room, a roll-top bath in striking turquoise blue. Suite 9’s circular window looks out onto the picturesque headland of Punta San Vigilio. With warm wood floors, plump antique armchairs and timber beams painted in pastel hues, rooms here exude contemporary farmhouse.
An inviting shade of sparkling cerulean, the small, unheated pool is in a peaceful spot among the estate’s olive trees. Lounge in the shade or the sun: either way, you’ll be treated to sweeping lake views.
Bring a pair of sturdy walking boots: hiking trails snake through the estate, leading to delightful picnic spots.
Set just off a winding country lane, Prati Palai is a 20-minute walk uphill from the centre of Bardolino on the shore of Lake Garda.
A 30-minute drive away, Verona is the nearest airport, with good links to Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. Budget flights land at Bergamo’s Il Caravaggio airport, an hour’s drive away.
Trenitalia trains from Milan, Venice and Bologna arrive at Verona Porta Nuova station, a 30-minute drive from the hotel.
Lake Garda’s pretty, mediaeval villages and bucolic hillsides are best explored with a hire car. From Bardolino, take Via San Colombano and look for Strada Palai on the right; the hotel is a short drive up a twisting path and has free parking.
Worth getting out of bed for
This lush, hushed corner of Veneto makes an idyllic setting for a laid-back escape. At the height of summer, Prati Palai offers welcome respite from the tourist throngs at the lake: set up base by the pool with a glass of something chilled and a good pile of books, or take a gentle stroll around the olive groves. In fine weather, ask staff for a picnic basket and go for a leisurely paddle in the cobalt waters of the lake. Nautica Guini(+39 346 2886677) rents small motorboats by the hour. In season (September–January), owner Domenico can arrange hunting trips to an estate an hour’s drive away, near Verona. You’ll need a license to bag the local pheasants, partridges and hares. Stop by Guerrieri Rizzardi for a taste of the local wines; this family operation also produces oak-aged grappa, artisanal olive oil and citrus liqueur. Elegant Mantua’s mediaeval lakes and riverside Borghetto sul Mincio make for pleasant daytrips. The more intrepid may prefer tackling the waters head on with a spot of windsurfing, water-skiing and canoeing on Lake Garda.
Cloaked in floaty, ethereal white drapes, Ristorante Al Beati(+39 045 725 5780) started life as an olive-oil mill. Surrounded by olive groves, its lake-view terrace is impossibly romantic. The menu of Italian classics enriched with truffles, lobster and well-aged cheeses isn’t to be sneered at, either. If you’re visiting the western shore of the lake, stop by Smith favourite Villa Arcadio(+39 036 42 281) in the hills overlooking Salo, to sample fresh pike from the lake, handmade gnocchi or creamy gelato. Overlooking Lazise’s harbour, Oreste (+39 045 758 0019; closed on Wednesdays) dishes up the catch of the day in a lofty, brick-walled dining room. Its creative take on traditional northern Italian fare is deservedly popular, so it’s best to book ahead.
Garda’s Taitu Piano Bar (+39 045 725 5134) is as raucous as the nightlife gets on these placid shores. Sing and dance with the locals until the small hours of the morning.
‘Where the bloody hell are you taking me?’ cried Mrs Smith, and for a moment I wasn’t quite sure myself. The previous night, Lake Garda had been hit by a Biblical downpour; the dusty road out of the village of Bardolino to boutique hotel Prati Palai on the lake’s eastern shore had turned into a higgledy-piggledy dribble of ruts and contours.
It had been a good idea at the time: a last-minute babymoon to celebrate becoming surprise parents. ‘Where else has better ingredients for uninterrupted romance than Verona?’ I asked, pretending there was at least another option. Handsome landscapes and country air soothing the mind and body, as well as delicious pizzas and pastas, mountainous boards of antipasti and triple-scoops of gelato. It was clever of me to work in the idea of carb-loading. More wine for me, I thought. But jiggling Mrs Smith and junior up a deceptively steep winding road, even in a classic Fiat 500, wasn’t her idea of a relaxing trip.
So how to go about convincing her it could be? At the first sight of the butter cream farmstead she started to soften, especially since we’d timed our arrival with the emergence of the sun. The eight-room building sat on a sloping meadow populated by stocky bales of straw, oak trees shedding acorns and tufts of fluffy cypress trees poking up like ginormous cotton buds. I walked around, slightly sun-dazed and barefoot, letting the gravel pebbles soothe my toes. She was struck by the smell of freshly-cut grass; I spied a fridge full of wine.
The manor house turned out to be the ultimate farmyard reverie. Bound by fig trees and rosemary, it was tangled amidst fuchsia bougainvillea and ripening vines, with bushy olive, orange, and lime trees in the gardens. Inside, the architecture was a testament to this history of living off the land. The communal dining area was rustic and airy, Old MacDonald-style, split down the middle by a gigantic, saddlebag-brown table. On it sat welcoming bowls of almost monstrously plump apples and the window ledges were crowded with dried-out pumpkins; above, a creaky, 16-point star hung from the rafters.
Where the cows were once milked in a 15th-century parlour had become an adjoining library and raised lounge, furnished with sofas and a small silver trolley topped with glasses and a help-yourself decanter of deep-purple plum wine. Propped on a table next to that was a simple menu proposing sandwiches and plates of shaved affettati misti (Parma ham, salami, mortadella and pecorino). But I was more inclined to take a bellini made with lemon and peach to the hammock by the poolside. The place was designed for lazy days and little else. How the property’s long history of workers could ever get any work done was beyond me. Even fop-haired owner Domenico Ferrari Barettoni still insists on making homegrown olive oils and honey from the hives.
The ground-floor junior suite was cosy with the right amount of farmhouse frippery and shuttered windows that filtered sunlight across the beds each morning. But what we really loved most wasn’t found in the room. Neither was it in the invigorating country atmosphere, or the two-inch-thick veal cutlets we devoured at dinner on the Bardolino quayside on our first night (washed down, in my case, with a bottle of Chianti); it was born from the things that had always been there: the wobbly reflections on the lake; the smear of blue mountains at dusk; the free-flowing good times.
If we returned we’d probably opt for a first- or second-floor suite on the western side above the driveway, where the sun lingers for just a few precious moments longer, before dropping into Lake Garda like a coin in a slot. This time, under a bank of stars, we dozed with little to disturb us other than the church bells from Chiesa di San Severo pealing softly in the distance and the low hum of cicadas. Both were a welcome blessing; it was the only thing to help conceal Mrs Smith’s first-trimester snoring.
The essence of a break like this meets many people’s idea of Italian romance; it was impossible for Mrs Smith and the bump not to be won over. Lost in the citrus trees, their branches a spectrum of orange, lime and yellow, we sat by the poolside on our final afternoon, dining on juicy tomatoes and goodies bought from a morning’s stroll around the tight-knit streets of Bardolino. We tore into the meal, scrunching up rolls of salami with kitchen bread, the juice running down our fingers to our elbows. It seemed like a perfect moment in time, but as she eyed my drained wine glass, Mrs Smith’s mind was on something else. ‘We’ll be back next year if they let us,’ she said, adamantly. ‘But this time with baby in tow. And I’m going to get very, very drunk.’