On the island on foot, shoal tourism

23 February 2023


Everyone lined up to reach the small island of San Biagio (also known as Isola dei Conigli) in Manerba del Garda, across the isthmus that connects it to the mainland resurfaced due to low Garda levels. A peculiar phenomenon in summer and exceptional in winter, a consequence of prolonged drought. So much so that it has also become a trending topic on social media, where photos and comments on the subject are flowing in, fueling the unusual pilgrimage even more. There are Gardesans from nearby localities and numerous visitors who reach it from other parts of northern Italy precisely because of the media appeal also fueled in recent days by news reports in the news and newspapers.
Photos and videos circulating on social media bring the mind back to the thousands of visitors who in the summer of 2016 reached various locations around Lake Iseo walking on the floating piers designed by artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude. But while "The Floating Piers" was an installation created precisely to draw large crowds, what is driving the current popularity of the island of San Biagio is a phenomenon that is neither studied nor intended, although it also translates into benefits for accommodation and commercial activities. However, the overcrowding has also had downsides including abandoned garbage, so much so that it has prompted the City of Manerba to close the access roads to the beach from which the strip of land that connects to the island starts and to think about further measures for the coming weekend.
For months people have been talking about the water crisis that is affecting lakes and rivers especially in northern Italy. But in recent days the topic has become even hotter as spring approaches, preluding the great thirst the countryside will have. Drought and TV. Media attention experienced at the forefront by Filippo Gavazzoni, vice president of the Garda Community, Peschiera councillor and lake connoisseur, who in the last week has been interviewed by several RAI programs on the island of San Biagio, has witnessed the recording of TV reports by other broadcasters and today will accompany the crew of a German TV program to the lake. "I bring the data trying to avoid triggering drought psychosis, because as worrisome as they are there are still glimmers of improvement," Gavazzoni explained. The current condition "has already been experienced and overcome at other times," he recalls referring in particular to the beginning of 2002, when the Garda level fluctuated between 30 centimeters above the hydrometric zero in Peschiera recorded in January and 44-45 in mid-February, in line with current levels, which then rose above 100 in late May of that year. A trend that can hopefully be matched, although the starting conditions are different with the legacy of a rainfall deficit. "Undoubtedly, even then, the footbridge connecting to the island emerged, just as happened several times in the summer," notes Gavazzoni, who in interviews insists on another point: "At the tourism level, nothing is at risk: the message that the lake is dry should not be passed on, because with 346 meters of maximum depth and 136 of average depth, 60-70 centimeters less than the optimal condition does not make a difference to the balance of the lake, which also varied greatly in the past."
Towing effect in addition to the media hype, also favoring the large influx of people is the good weather the mild climate of these days, which on the weekends of Valentine's Day and Carnival brought many visitors (including some Germans) even to other Garda countries. A towing effect of the Rabbit Island bringing a nice off-season tour to the caligera shore as well. For Federalberghi Garda Veneto president Ivan De Beni, however, these are mostly day visitors or owners of second homes. "Ninety-five percent of the hotels are closed," he explains, "but those open have definitely enjoyed the last few bridges: the people are there and it helps that we are easily accessible from Germany." In Lazise, the facilities open can be counted on the fingers of one hand: "There are a lot of proximity visitors or people arriving in campers or to stay in their own apartments," confirms Virginia Torre, president of the Lazise Hoteliers' Association, "reservations are coming in, even the one departing should confirm a positive season."(Taken from the newspaper l'Arena of 3/23/23)