Lake Garda, vacation on the largest lake in Italy
A tour to discover the most atmospheric places that should not be missing in your itinerary on Lake Garda.
Rich in a thousand years of history that began in the distant Middle Paleolithic and cradle of ancient peoples such as the Romans and Lombards, Lake Garda, with its picturesque villages, beautiful villas and enchanting castles, is the perfect destination for those seeking a vacation among fairytale villages, small streets and unforgettable views.
Lake Garda (Italian: Lago di Garda), also called Benaco, is the largest lake in Italy with an area of 370 square kilometers. Due to its enormous size, it is divided between the Province of Trento in Trentino-Alto Adige, the Province of Brescia in Lombardy and the Province of Verona in Veneto.
It is visited by millions of tourists every year and is considered one of the most beautiful lakes in Italy. Exceptional is the variety of landscapes that make this lake the perfect destination both in summer and winter with its high snow-capped mountains, rolling hills, small islands and clear beaches that offer a different but always impressive sight throughout the year.
Panoramic view of the beautiful Lake Garda in autumn. Riva del Garda, Lake Garda, Trentino South Tyrol, Italy. (photo © Shutterstock.com)
Hundreds of villages are able to make your stay on the lake unique and in the first place, on the Lombard shore, we find Sirmione, considered one of the jewels of Lake Garda. With its magical atmosphere, which in history has attracted writers and poets such as Catullus and Joyce, Sirmione is one of the most exciting destinations to be found on Lake Garda.
This small village owes its uniqueness mainly to the famous Scaliger Castle, located on the outskirts of the town, which can be reached only through the drawbridge of this impressive fortress founded on the water.
The castle of Sirmione, built around 1250 A.D. by Mastino I Della Scala, is one of the best preserved castles in Italy and can be visited today in its entirety.
Inside you can visit many rooms, see the two crenellated towers overlooking Lake Garda and climb the 146 steps that lead to the footbridges from which you can admire the surrounding landscape.
Like all medieval castles, the castle of Sirmione is surrounded by macabre legends that tell of ancient murders and restless spirits that roam its corridors on stormy nights.
Another famous attraction in Sirmione that will delight all lovers of history are the Caves of Catullus. Surrounded by olive trees and nestled in a wild nature near the lake, the “Grotte di Catullo” are the remains of an ancient Roman villa from the first century AD, which according to tradition was owned by the family of the famous Veronese poet Catullus.
The villa, which covers more than two hectares and was once built on three floors, is now open to the public. Inside you can visit the ancient ruins, a vast olive grove with more than 1,500 olive trees and a museum that collects archaeological findings from the areas of the lake from prehistoric to Roman times.
World famous for its wonderful thermal waters are also the Terme di Sirmione, whose discovery by Procopio dates back to 1889. Characterized by mineral water that is considered bacteriologically pure, these spas are the perfect destination for those seeking relaxation and wellness.
Rocca Scaligera Castle in Sirmione, Lake Garda, Italy. (photo © Shutterstock.com)
Also in Lombardy is Limone sul Garda, a small town known for its citrus groves on panoramic terraces that surround the entire town.
The most famous is the Limonaia Castel, where lemons, grapefruits, tangerines and citrons grow abundantly thanks to the microclimate of the lake.
Sports enthusiasts in Limone sul Garda should not miss the panoramic bike path, a route built high above the lake that will captivate you with its breathtaking views.
Near Limone sul Garda lies Tremosine, a group of small hamlets built on a plateau and known for their picturesque streets and spectacular terraces, such as the Strada della Forra, which was carved into the rock of the mountain, and the Terrazza del Brividowhich overlooks the lake.
Going up the eastern shore of the lake, you come to Salò, known for its historical importance during the events of World War II. A must-see is the Salò Cathedral, built in 1453 in late Gothic style and rich in priceless works of art by Paolo Veneziano and Moretto. The lake promenade, the longest on Lake Garda, also offers a postcard-perfect backdrop.
Just a few kilometers from Salò is Gardone Riviera with the Vittoriale degli Italiani. The burial place of Gabriele D’Annunzio, this huge villa was commissioned by the poet to the architect Giancarlo Maroni, who worked on the construction for almost 15 years and completed the work in 1938.
This “little citadel” houses the Prioria, a house-museum with richly decorated rooms and dozens of extravagant objects, a large park with fountains, statues and ponds, various museums, an amphitheater and an auditorium that can hold more than 200 people. Among the most evocative places to visit in the Vittoriale are the Nave Puglia, the mausoleum where the remains of the poet are kept, and the Museo D’Annunzio Segreto, where all the memorabilia of the Vate’s life are collected.
Isola del Garda Borghese, Lake Garda, Italy. (photo © Shutterstock.com)
On the shore of Trentino, in a fjord surrounded by the Alps, Riva del Garda is the most picturesque and much visited town. The historic center is a must-see, climbing up the hill in narrow, characteristic streets that lead to Piazza 3 Novembre, the heart of the city. Within this square overlooking the lake is the Apponale Tower, which dates back to 1220 A.D. and can be entered with a ticket that allows you to climb the many steps to the top, from where you can admire the whole city from above.
Another destination near Riva del Garda is the medieval town of Arco, with its castle perched on the rock, considered one of the most beautiful in the Alps, and its botanical garden, commissioned by Archduke Albert of Habsburg and rich in rare plants.
Still in Trentino, between Lake Garda and Lake Tenno, lies Canale di Tenno, one of the oldest and best preserved medieval villages in Italy, with its unmissable views and steep streets full of history and traditions.
On the Venetian shore lies Malcesine, the pearl of Lake Garda. This small village with its colorful houses and medieval castle is the starting point of the cable car that takes you to Monte Baldo, the highest peak of Lake Garda, which offers the best view of the entire lake and from which many trails lead for hiking enthusiasts.
Still in the Veneto region, not far from Malcesine, is Cassone with the Aril River, which at 175 meters is the shortest river in the world.
To be visited at sunset and considered the most romantic place on the lake, Punta San Virgilio was the heart place of writers like Goethe and never ceases to amaze with its delicate landscape of cypresses and old lemon houses.
It also houses one of the oldest inns in Italy, which has hosted countless illustrious personalities over the centuries, and has one of the most famous beaches on the lake: the Baia delle Sirene.
If you are passionate about viticulture, Lazise and Bardolino are the perfect destinations for you. Villages famous for the production of fine wines such as Bardolino and Chiaretto, here you can visit vineyards, wine cellars and participate in various tastings.
The town is also home to the Wine Museum, which tells the story of wine production with ancient and modern exhibits and comprehensive explanatory panels. Lazise is also very popular with young and old because of its numerous amusement parks which are located in the surroundings of this beautiful Lake Garda resort.
Limone sul Garda, Lake Garda, Lombardy, Italy. (photo © Shutterstock.com)
Malcesine, Lake Garda, Veneto, Italy. (photo © xbrchx / Shutterstock.com)
Part of the immense landscape of Lake Garda is also the Isola del Garda, the largest of the five islands of the lake. 200 meters from the coast and accessible only by boat, on this island you can visit Villa Ferrari, the hermitage of St. Francis of Assisi and dozens of Roman remains such as tombstones and temple ruins scattered throughout the area.
If you are near Torbole, you can’t miss a visit to the Marmitte dei Giganti: huge holes dug in the mountain by the melting of the glaciers more than 130,000 years ago, more than 5 meters wide and about 12 meters deep. Visiting this place really means witnessing the wonderful feats of nature.
Other very worth seeing places on Lake Garda are San Felice del Benaco on the western shore of Lake Garda, Peschiera del Garda on the southern shore of Lake Garda and also Desenzano sul Garda, as well as Torri del Benaco, Gargnano, Brenzone, Manerba del Garda, Moniga del Garda, Tignale and the town of Garda which gave its name to Lago di Garda.
Not only villages and castles, but also the traditional cuisine of Lake Garda is full of delicious dishes to try. Typical are, of course, the dishes based on fish from the lake, such as bigoli con le sarde, a typical dish of fresh egg pasta, sisàm, a sweet and sour mixture of dried buttonholes and white onions, and risotto with tench fried and beaten in butter.
The menu also includes meat dishes such as lesso con pearà (boiled meat with pearà), prepared with beef and pork and served with a breadcrumb sauce, polenta and mortadèla and canederli in meat broth, bread balls filled with eggs and meat.
Lake Garda, thanks to the varied nature of its territory, is also the perfect destination for all sports enthusiasts. From sailing to windsurfing, from climbing to trekking, from cycling to paragliding a round of golf on one of the numerous, beautiful Golf courses on Lake Garda – the Benaco is considered the Mecca of outdoor sports and here there are a thousand ways to go, walls to climb and waves to plow through.
Many and many more are the surprises that this wonderful land has to offer its visitors and if you are looking for a place for your next vacation, do not hesitate to discover Lake Garda, which I am sure will remain forever in your heart.