After meandering around town for a while longer, we decided to return to our conveniently-located apartment for a quick bit of lunch: two very delicious but very cheap pizzas from the restaurant below our apartment. It's very nice to have a little haven that is smack in the middle of the sightseeing! It is a simple matter to duck in for a quick bite or nap, and then you are right back in the thick of things as soon as you step outside.
View from across the water
After our lunch, we again headed out for another walk-around, this time seaching for a gelato stand to complete our meal. A bit of postcard-buying, a bit of window-shopping, and we were ready for something other than walking around the city. I noticed an attractive-looking grotto/cascade postcard in one of the shops, and something faintly told me that this was a local site, and might be worth visiting. We again returned to the apartment to do a quick internet search, and sure enough, this was a spot not more than five kilometres away. A perfect activity to add to our leisurely day.
We dug the car out from the parking garage and drove the short distance out of Riva to the wooded, steeply sloping hillside where the Cascata Varone is located. The Cascata is a privately-managed attraction that has been around for well over one hundred years, and so there is an entrance fee (it was reasonably cheap - 5 Euros per person, I believe). Being as it was a rainy and gray day (and not a weekend day), the parking lot was not very full and there were not many people.
Entrance, Cascata Varone.
The Cascata Varone is a very high waterfall that has carved itself into a very narrow cave-like gorge. Several constructed walkways and paths have been built to allow easy visitor access to the interior of this gorge: the 'inferior' grotto path provides access to the very bottom of the waterfall, and the 'superior' grotto path leads up in switchbacks to a short cave dug into the rock that leads to a point midway up the waterfall.
We first visited the lower grotto on a well-constructed winding path that curved with the gorge, with the rushing water of the small creek below the waterfall running beside you. This path gets you all the way in, right to the back of the gorge, where the bottom of the waterfall is located. Dark gray limestone with a covering of lush green moss curve in around and above you, creating a corkscrew-like effect. The gray, moist day (and the continuous recent rains) made for a very lush-looking, damp environment. And lots of water flow, too. There was fine mist everywhere from the extra vigorous flow.
Retracing our steps back outside, we took a wide, well-set sidewalk that climbs to the upper lookout. The sidewalk leads upwards in many switchbacks through an extensive and carefully cultivated garden containing all sorts of plants from all over the world, all meticulously labelled.
The path ends with a large tunnel cut through the bedrock, which leads to a concrete and metal bridge that spans the gorge. You can't really see the top or the bottom of the gorge from here - it's all just a furious rush of water and mist, all lit up by strategically-placed floodlights. It was fairly hard to take a meaningful picture from here, but I'm fairly sure this was not the norm and was due to very high water levels.
Path to the upper viewpoint
Tunnel to upper viewpoint
Upper viewpoint, Cascata Varone
It hadn't taken us very long to tour the waterfall, and we still had some time left during the afternoon. We could see the ruined castle of Arco not far to the north of where we were, so we decided to make the short drive over there and check it out.
Arco is a historic medieval city just a few kilometres north of Riva del Garda. It has many interesting artistic and cultural attractions (first and foremost of which is the old castle), but has in recent years also become a focal point for outdoor sports such as climbing and mountain biking.
We parked our car in one of Arco's public parking lots (which, it turns out, are free on Sunday), and wandered through the ancient town center in search of the way up to the castle. It wasn't long before we spotted the small signs that pointed towards the 'castello', and we started following them.
The ruins of Arco's castle are built high on an impressive sloping tower of rock, sheer on the east, north, and west sides. The south side slopes steeply down to the town, and this was the way that we climbed up. Our route led through steeply sloping streets below the castle, then emerged onto a sloping parkland of olive trees. A very well-kept path switchbacked up this steeply-angled forest to an entrance station just below the ruins. There was a fee to enter the castle grounds, but again the fee was quite low (can't remember exactly, but something tells me it was two euro per person).
The castle dates back to the 10th century, and over the last few hundred years has suffered a fair bit of decline. There isn't much left of the original complex, but what there is is still worth seeing. Several major towers remain, as well as a preserved room containing thirteenth-century frescoes (which they don't want you to take pictures of, which I can't for the life of me figure out why). Much of the castle's impressiveness lies not in the ruins themselves, but in the fantastic position it occupies at the top of this tower of limestone. There are fantastic views up and down the Sarca valley.
After finishing with the castle, we walked back down to Arco, then drove back to Riva. We had managed to fill our gray and damp day with many interesting activities, and now it was time for a delicious meal and a good night's sleep. Pu had also returned from his adventure: he had indeed rented a bike, and had proceeded (on the advice of the person at the rental location) to do a fairly difficult ride up into the nearby mountains.