with Desperate Characters by Paula Fox
It might not be the tourist-centre of Italy, but Montichiari – only a twenty minute drive from the south-east side of Lake Garda, and forty minutes from Verona – does hold a few unique delights. One of these is Castello Bonoris, one of the most confusing, un-historic yet historical castles I have yet to visit.
Named after it’s creator, Count Bonoris, it began construction in the late 19th century on top of original medieval, military fortress ruins. Bonoris, having recently established his status as a Count, was…well, let’s just say a romantic. He dreamed of a traditional, medieval mansion that suited a man of his position as it would have suited the aristocracy of the past. In 1894, he attended an exposition of medieval and modern art in Turin, where they had built an entire “fake” castle called Valentino (based on the real and still existing Fénis Castle in Valle d’Aosta) to host the event. Bonoris took his inspiration from this replica, so much so that if you look at pictures of Valentino’s central entrance hall and compare them to Bonoris’ creation, they are almost identical.
Although at first glance Bonoris seems successful in his recreation of the medieval, he had his limits: he wouldn’t, for example, go without the recent modern comforts of running water and heating. Unwilling to spoil the appearance, however, he became creative in his attempts to hide these facilities. The sink of a bedroom, for instance, was hidden in the wall to be pulled out only by those who knew it was there.
Overall, this is not your typical Italian castle: it is not at all what it seems to be, and has small tricks hidden throughout. Yet, like a normal historical castle, it also holds some incredible artwork, in both its architecture and frescoes.
Unfortunately, entry to the castle is only allowed with a guided tour ie. No reading in the lumpy beds. Luckily…
When to bring your book:
To enter the castle grounds you must take the short, relatively steep path (leading of Montichiari’s city centre) up to San Pancrazio hill. The castle appears on your left, but there is also a large, open park area overlooking the city’s historical centre, with a small path that passes several shaded seating areas on its circular tour of the grounds.
In the few times I’ve been here I have rarely been disturbed. Being little-known by tourists, most visitors are local citizens taking an afternoon stroll, and there are never many. My personal preference is a seat in the centre of the gardens which looks on to the castle drawbridge, so I can absorb the historical (even if technically fake historical) atmosphere and disappear into another world, into Bonoris’ dream of Lords and Ladies.
The only problem with this reading spot is its availability: it is open only on weekends, along with the castle. The full timetable can be found here, along with other information related to Montichiari’s attractions: http://www.montichiarimusei.it/pieghevole_musei_eng.pdf
Other than reading?
I highly recommend taking a tour of the castle to fully appreciate it’s intriguing history and the odd persona of Count Bonoris himself. Tickets are only 6 euros, and tours are held every 45 minutes, from 10-1pm, then 2.30-6pm on Saturdays, and 3-7pm on Sundays. Of course, not being a touristic city, they will generally have only a few tours in English depending on the number of English-speaking visitors and the availability of English-speaking staff, but they will always try and accommodate you.
In summer, the grounds can also host small events for the public, such as archery contests or historical re-enactments.