On Lake Garda in Italy there are about 500 hotels called Garda Hotel. We found this out 8 years ago when we came for our anniversary. We were very lost, without a proper map or GPS; we stopped in every village and attempted to check in to every Garda Hotel. On the third try, we met someone who explained that the little town our Hotel Garda was in was 30 kilometers up the road. We managed to check in right before they closed the reception at eleven pm. This time we avoided the unnecessary confusion of anything called Garda and booked the Hotel Palme.
Since we were coming in the evening and leaving for Florence in the morning, we just needed a clean bed to sleep in; a three star should be good enough for our purposes. However, I vaguely remembered that there is something fishy about the star system in Italy, which I will delve into more deeply in a coming post.
The city of Garda is on the southeasterly side of Lake Garda. I remembered from our last trip that the southern tip was sleazy with dodgy campsites, stripper clubs, and casinos. So we intentionally tried to find a place a good distance from there. The west side was also very nice but since we were coming down from the Brenner Pass, Garda was closest to the highway.
I was reasonably optimistic since the parking lot was packed and from where we parked, we could see the outdoor restaurant was filling up. The large lobby was post-glamorous with marble flooring, a rosewood paneled ceiling and walls with enormous Murano glass chandeliers. This place was fancy circa 1950. It was not hard picturing Dean Martin swinging around the lobby with an epaulette wearing porter rolling his trolley of trunks to the reception desk but it was not 1950 anymore. A grumpy German woman checked us in. Internet password? They have no internet and looking around I think we were the only people missing it. Elevator – not one of those either but a grand curved marble staircase that had been closed in for financial reasons.
The trip to our room made me ever so hesitant. Had we not pre-paid this room on hotelsforyou.com I would have turned heel and taken a chance that we slept in the car. The hallway was filled with empty beer bottles and glasses, it looked like housekeeping was on vacation but room service was still working. When we turned the skeleton key to our room – no seriously – not card key – not a normal key but an original skeleton key, I was expecting the worst.
The walls in the room were dirty beige. The low bed had a faded floral bedspread matching the curtains. There was, for no reason I could understand, an extra bed made up in our room so we half expected someone to show up later and claim their right to snooze. With all the lights on, we still struggled to read the booking information. Could this place really cost 106 euro per night?
French doors opened unto a shared balcony, our neighbor, a heavy smoker, added her own perfume to the already jasmine laden air. Two plastic garden chairs, a beautiful iron table with a marble top and an enormous ashtray decorated the balcony that looked over the garden replete with Ping-Pong tables, Bocce, and lawn darts. This was not just a hotel it was almost a resort. We half expected the lobby to have a poster about an evening dance like Baby and her family went to in Dirty Dancing. Alas, it is not 1950 anymore and no one here had dressed for dinner.
The room although ripe for renovation was spotless, not a hair to be seen, so we resigned ourselves to a lesson learned and headed down to reception for recommendations for dinner. The German was having none of it, we could eat in the hotel’s restaurant otherwise she knew of no other restaurants in the area and they call this the hospitality industry, I thought.
No sour grapes because Germans are Germans: they are not to be liked, they are to be obeyed. So being the anarchists we are, we headed out and had a wonderful evening at Trattoria al Graspo, which almost made up for our shabby hotel. We rolled into bed with just enough wine not to notice the springs poking into our back, but not enough to ignore the brouhaha at sunrise with the thousands of birds singing full voice.
So earlier risers we became and I hopped in the sparkling clean shower for the only cold shower I have ever taken in my life. Even on camping tours, you can always get lukewarm water out of the pipes. This was the coldest water I have ever felt on my skin. I think if it came from a Norwegian glacier, it would have been warmer than this. So shampoo already in my hair, I suffered through the most painfully chilly shower of my life. I even pulled the emergency cord several times to see if someone would come and save me, to no avail. Hubby and I had never been so wide-awake at 8 am, which is a good thing because check out in this place was 10 am. Are there no standards for check out times either? Check in at 4 pm – check out at 12 pm – isn’t that in the Traveler’s Bill of Rights?
In any case, we were up and ready for breakfast. I was curious what they would be serving at the Hotel California… which was exactly the song running through my head. The breakfast room is down the stairs in a dark and slightly dank room under the reception. The breakfast room was huge; the maître d’ escorted us past scores of tables set with place cards. The long-term guests, an unusual combination of Germans, stuffing their pockets with fresh rolls and Englishmen quietly criticizing everything around them, had assigned seating like on a cruise ship.
The breakfast offered the typical Italian sweet cakes; an entire table full of croissants, lemon cakes, and pastries. There was bacon, tomato beans, dry toast and scrambled eggs for the English and fresh rolls and ham for the Germans. There was even a nice young man who would cook eggs to order, if you knew how to order in Italian. I gave up trying to explain hard-cooked and accepted his offering of over-easy. There was no sign of an espresso machine and no cappuccino either – black coffee or tea was on offer, along with some watered down orange and apple juice.
My dream for this place is that some groovy Italian hipster couple buy it and leave the cool stuff as is – like the art glass in the bar / ice cream parlor , leave the antiques in place and bring in a jazz quartet. Bring back dancing in the lobby and spiff up the rooms because I would definitely like to drink cocktails with umbrellas on the lawn while pitching darts and fox-trotting in heels and pearls on those danceable marble floors. Please let me know when my wish comes true!
Until then this place is only appropriate if you like to travel alongside people on cheap charter vacations and get the same crappy service and accommodations they do. If you would rather travel with a charter, you can stay here with Neckermann Reisen for less than what we paid with but much more than it is worth.