“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” This popular quote by Robert Frost has inspired many to go off the beaten path and see what treasures they may find. As studying abroad becomes increasingly popular with university students, I find it imperative to maintain the original purpose behind the experience. Stepping into a foreign world and engaging with its culture was out of my comfort zone, but that was part of its appeal. While abroad, I met with people who had very different reasons for being there, but I knew I needed to adhere closely to my own. I went on weekend excursions that were led solely by intuition and sometimes a desire to get lost. One of these wanderings led a friend and me to Lake Garda, the largest lake in Italy. While most of my friends headed to the Amalfi Coast with a tour group, we hiked north to the lake region of the country, letting the curved cobblestones guide us.
The extent of our preparation was minimal. We purchased train tickets the week before and booked an Airbnb in Verona, a city close to the lake and where the train tickets were the least expensive. Verona was a good beginning, but it was also surrounded by distinct small towns that would have made for worthwhile stopping points. We meandered the streets, snapping shots of the colorful faces of restaurants lining the way. After checking into our room, we headed straight to a tourist help booth for a guidebook on the various trails available. The little town of Bardolino was recommended to us and was connected to Garda by a walking trail. We chose a path and ate lunch, then attempted to find the trailhead. Signs leading to it appeared after we passed multiple streets and crossed over a highway. The top of the hill was blanketed in stark white and rich violet wildflowers, and it was then I knew the hike was going to be like walking through a painting.
We continued as blue signs kept us on track at every junction. The scenery morphed from the stucco roofs of Bardolino to rolling hills interrupted by steep dark blue mountains.
After reaching what looked like a small vineyard, we wondered if we were still on the right path. The trail led us right to the edge of the vines and we stopped to take pictures and admire the bright green leaves that contrasted with the clear blue sky. In that moment, it seemed like we were the only ones who knew this secluded vineyard existed. We saw a small shop in the distance that seemed to rest on the same property. When we approached it, we saw it sold the vineyard’s wines and had a small family of a grandmother, father, and son. We stepped closer and realized it had already closed for the day, but the owners ushered us inside. It was a testament to the personality of Italy: warm, welcoming, and fragrant with the scent of fresh fruit. We thanked them for assuring us we were on the correct path and then weaved our way through the gorgeous landscape.
The next landmark we encountered were rows and rows of dark green cypress trees leading up to a hermitage. Though there were no monks outside, we were able to stop in at their gift shop and buy some dark chocolate and handmade olive oil sops as tokens of the trail. The chocolate never had a chance to melt as we snacked on it as we continued.
When we finally reached the top of the trail we saw not only the rich blue lake water that expanded off into the horizon as if part of the sea, but also the tiny Garda houses and shops that lined the coast. A woman wearing a veil and carrying a cross with a man’s face taped to it laughed as she brushed past us and we later discovered she was a bride at her bachelorette party. She and her friends were kind though they barely spoke any English, and we alternated taking each other’s pictures before walking down to the base of the lake.
We reached the bottom of the trail just in time to grab drinks from a local store and sit at the water bank as the sun gradually crept below the horizon. The crystal clear water refreshed our tired feet and the breeze off the surface made for the perfect temperature. It started pouring as soon as we hopped on the bus back to Verona, and we finished our trip running through the slippery, pink marble streets back to our room, feeling light with the joy of the day. This trip was one of the most memorable experiences I had abroad, and it would have been impossible if we had not deviated from the rest of the group’s selected tour. The best experiences you will have abroad will be the unplanned adventures where you feel lost but completely at home all at once in this foreign environment. So be fearless in that small Italian town you choose to venture into and prepare for the treasures the road less traveled has in store just for you.
University of Mississippi
I studied abroad this past summer in Florence for the Summer II session at Florence University of the Arts. This program opened my mind to everything this world has to offer, and my experience was one that I will never forget. I extended my trip to travel around Europe, and I made many new connections and life-long friends and travel buddies. This program taught me more than I would have thought both in and out of the classroom. From learning how to live like a local, order in Italian at the café down the street, or just traveling on my own to new and exciting cities, SAI has encouraged me to step outside of my comfort zone and I have found it very rewarding.