Tucked away amongst the Italian Alps in Northern Italy is one of the true hidden treasures of Italy: Lake Garda. The largest lake in the country, this body of water represents a way of life for many of the communities that dot its shoreline. With its varied landscape and collection of lakeside towns, the culture of Lake Garda continues to flourish with every day that passes.
Castles and churches are lessons in exquisite architecture, paintings and homemade designs are lessons in ingenuity and art, the peaceful atmosphere is a lesson in the ponderings of the soul through writing, and the films of Lake Garda are a lesson in capturing the local beauty to share with the rest of the world. No matter where your travels take you on your Italian vacation, be sure to make Lake Garda one of your destinations.
ARCHITECTURE IN LAKE GARDA
Lake Garda is home to a number of castles that evoke a fairy-tale quality in both young and old visitors. On the northern part of the lake is the Scaligero Castle in Malcesine, and on the southern part of the lake are Padenghe Castle and Scaligero Castle in Sirmione. Each of these castles is a historic fortress in good condition that offers phenomenal views of the lake and Italian Alps from its towers. Some castles are open to the public for exploration and even climbing the towers.
Other interesting castles include the Arco Castle on the plain of the Sarca River, the sixteenth century Manerba Castle (of which only a few fragments remain), the Polpenazze Castle that was reconstructed during the fifteenth century, the thirteenth century Pozzolengo Castle (that was renovated during the sixteenth century), and the eleventh century Desenzano Castle.
Churches are part of the historical fabric of Italy and their architecture is typically part of a grander story. Some of the more famous religious landmarks to see during your visit should include the seventeenth century Collegiate Church of Santa Maria Assunta in Arco, the fifteenth century Church of Santa Maria Maggiore near Sirmione, and the Church of Santa Maria Inviolata in Riva del Garda. While churches may vary in presentation from town to town, they seem to emit enhanced feelings of peace amidst their gorgeous surroundings and are typically home to unique artistic masterpieces such as frescoes, paintings, and statues.
In Lake Garda, the palaces and villas can be almost as impressive as the historic churches. Villa Bettoni is one of the villas located on the shore of the Lake Garda town of Gargnano. This large eighteenth century structure is quite grand with the structure of an Italian palace. Not to be missed on a visit to Villa Bettoni are the surrounding gardens laden with flowers and lemon trees. Some villas and garden areas may be privately owned and therefore require a guide to tour. Be sure to make these reservations well in advance of your visit.
Another point of interest is Callas Palace in Sirmione, which was once owned by revered opera soprano Maria Callas. Positioned in Sirmione’s historic city center, the palace dates back to the eighteenth century. The vast rooms, including a meeting room that can host more than 100 people, are often the site of local events or exhibitions.
ART IN LAKE GARDA
With a stunning front row view of some of Mother Nature’s finest work, painters typically feel inspired and right at home when working in Lake Garda. At various points along the shoreline of the lake it is not unusual to see amateur and seasoned artists alike with easels and canvases. Painting has become such a favorite pastime of visitors and locals that the shops in Lake Garda may sell oil paints or water colors as a courtesy.
In many of the lakeside communities, local crafts are still part of the culture. Craft shops often feature copper, brass, or ceramic objects. These craft shops are a perfect place to find an authentic Italian piece of art to take back home with you as a souvenir of your time in Lake Garda.
To admire the work of a local artist up-close, visit Segantini Gallery in Arco. The museum is dedicated to Arco native Giovanni Segantini. The nineteenth century artist was revered for painting scenic Alpine landscapes and his work was popular throughout Europe.
In a place where natural beauty abounds the way it does in Lake Garda, it is no surprise that the lake has served as a place of solace for countless writers over the years. Here poets and authors have the space and unity with nature to slow down and contemplate life.
One of the first literary figures on record as having an affinity for Lake Garda was Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. This German poet traveled to Italy and was quite taken by the breathtaking scenery. He is said to have been quoted as enjoying the fruit in Lake Garda most of all during his trip to the country in the late eighteenth century. His travels inspired one of his works called Italian Journey.
Other literary giants who have valued this lovely and somewhat secluded area for vacations, inspiration, and more include Lord Byron, D.H. Lawrence, and Winston Churchill. As was Goethe, Lawrence was inexplicably drawn to the fruit, specifically the lemons, grown in the region.
The town of Salò is home to an expansive library. Founded by poet Filippo Meio Voltolina during the sixteenth century, the library is home to approximately 25,000 volumes. Among the works held here are medieval manuscripts, Renaissance documents, and more.
MUSIC OF LAKE GARDA
The town of Gardone Riviera hosts one of the lake’s best known annual music festivals, Festival del Vittoriale. This musical celebration features many genres including classical, opera, rock, jazz, and dance. Some musical presentations are even accompanied by ballet or open-air theater pieces.
Because of Lake Garda’s beautiful surroundings and peaceful atmosphere, the outdoors is commonly a location for musical celebrations. While many of these occur during the warmer summer months, music is celebrated throughout the year via concerts, dancing, and more. The early evening hours are best spent crowded around the white linen covered tables in local gathering places to enjoy good music and a glass of wine.
Lake Garda is home to an annual film festival that celebrates the cinematic industry. Movie offerings are typically well-rounded and fall into the international, domestic, old, new, long, and short categories. This cinematic festival is generally accompanied by music and various forms of entertainment. The festival is centered in Gardone Riviera and takes place over several months from late summer to late fall.
Lake Garda is home to a magnificent landscape with the Italian Alps and the blue waters of the lake, making it prime real estate for film directors. Over the years a number of Italian and American movies have been made here, at least in part. Twenty-first century movies filmed in Lake Garda include the Italian comedy Ti amo in tutte le lingue del mondo (2005), James Bond film Quantum of Solace (2008), American film Letters to Juliet (2010), Italian documentary Fango e Gloria (2014), the American short film Nightfire (2015), and Italian comedy Rosso Mille Miglia (2015), to name just a few.
One of the most important archeological sites near Lake Garda that traces the natural history of the area is called the Grotte di Catullo or the Grottoes of Catullus. The site is home to the ruins of an Ancient Roman villa that dates back to a period between the first century BC and the first century AD.
Discovered during the fifteenth century, the villa is one of the most important surviving Roman ruins in Northern Italy. It was once believed that the villa belonged to Roman poet Catullus, hence the name of the site, but there is no clear evidence that links Catullus to the dwelling. In addition to the ruins, the site also hosts approximately 1,500 centuries-old olive trees that are still used to produce extra virgin olive oil.
There are two dangers of Lake Garda: the danger of never coming to experience its beauty and the danger of not being able to leave because your soul has fallen in love. Take the risk and come see the magic of lovely Lake Garda for yourself.