In the Northern part of Italy tucked away into the Italian Alps, is a phenomenon of natural beauty called Lake Garda that is unlike anywhere else in the country. Situated halfway between the large cities of Milan and Venice, this enchanting town is a welcome respite for both mind and soul. Lake Garda is considered to be the country’s largest lake and stretches more than ten miles wide and thirty miles long.
Lake Garda has been a premier destination for years for those dreaming of an Italian getaway to paradise. While any time you can spend here is better than no time at all, plan to spend at least several days at this peaceful escape. It might be best to make Lake Garda the very last stop on your Italian vacation itinerary because once you have experienced the magical beauty of this area, you likely will not want to leave.
FESTIVALS & EVENTS
In mid to late summer, Lake Garda is home to the Festival del Garda. This musical celebration permeates the summer air with a lovely celebratory feeling that is only enhanced by the beauty of the lake and surrounding mountains. Celebrations for this festival take place throughout the region.
Also typically during the summer months is the Chiaretto wine festival, which celebrates Bardolino Chiaretto DOC wine. This red wine is made locally and is enjoyed across the Lake Garda area. This event usually includes music, wine tastings, and sampling of local cuisine. After summer concludes, the town of Bardolino usually hosts the Festa dell’Uva e del Vino. This fall celebration of wine is quite a bit larger and usually attracts thousands of visitors with wine, cuisine, and fireworks.
When touring the northern shores of Lake Garda, Riva del Garda is a must see. This quaint and colorful little town sits just at the base of the mountains and on the shore of the lake itself. A boat ride to the town offers some of the most picturesque sights in the area. In Riva del Garda, travelers can enjoy wandering the promenades on the shore and the medieval streets further inland. While in Riva del Garda, be sure to add the Rocchetta watch tower, the Rocca fortress, and water sports such as windsurfing to your itinerary.
One of the most popular places in Lake Garda that is located on the western side of the lake is Gardone Riviera. This enchanting town is nestled snugly between the shore and the Italian Alps. When visiting Gardone Riviera, plan to spend the majority of your time outdoors taking in the gorgeous gardens, such as the Hruska Botanic Garden or the gardens on the grounds of the Vittoriale degli Italiani, which is the former estate of writer Gabriele D’Annunzio.
If visiting the lakeside town of Sirmione, do not leave without visiting the impressive Castello Scaligeri. This twelfth century defensive structure looks every bit the part of a castle found in a child’s storybook. To add to the castle’s seemingly magical qualities, it is surrounded by water and visitors can enter by bridge. Touring the castle’s interior and climbing one of the towers makes for a fantastic adventure that offers breathtaking panoramic views of the lake. With the bridge entry, several towers, and a medieval atmosphere, the Castello Scaligeri is a must see for children and adults alike.
One of the most beautiful areas of Lake Garda to visit is the southeastern shore. This area comes alive with a quintessential Italian vibe featuring cafés lining the streets, pristine white boats dotting the water, land rich in olive groves, and vineyards residing a bit inland from the shore. Some of the most visited spots in this part of the lake are usually Lazise, Garda, and Monte Baldo.
The lake town of Malcesine is a favorite among travelers. This town’s natural beauty is simply picture perfect. On a sunny day, the blue sky reflects on the water for an even deeper aqua hue which contrasts with and greatly complements the vibrant green trees, plants, and flowers that border the lakeside walkways. The best ways to enjoy this town are by taking the cable car up to Monte Baldo for amazing views, wandering the narrow streets to take in the local culture, and visiting the town’s Castello Scaligero for a medieval adventure.
Another place to visit is the Archeological Museum in Sirmione. Inside, visitors can admire artifacts from the nearby Grottoes of Catullus plus numerous other objects from the Roman period and the Middle Ages. The items on display were found in Sirmione or in other parts of the Lake Garda area.
Museo dell’Olio is an olive oil museum in Bardolino. With the abundance of olive groves in Lake Garda, it is only fitting to have a museum to educate visitors about this local time-honored tradition of making some of Italy’s finest olive oil. During a trip to the museum, visitors will learn the history of olive oil in the area and how it is produced following traditional methods. Guests can also expect to sample a little olive oil and perhaps purchase some as well.
Also not to be missed is the Natural History Museum in Malcesine. This museum, like many in Italy, is located in a castle, the Castle of Malcesine. Guests at the museum are treated to displays of local plant life that is native to Lake Garda and Mount Baldo.
While there are a number of interesting museums that span everything from archaeology to natural history, indoor activities such as museums tend to be reserved for rainy days or for those with a particular interest in the topic, only because the refreshing outdoor atmosphere of Lake Garda can be so compelling.
Still, a few other museums worth visiting include the Museum Rambotti in Desenzano (which contains exhibits focusing on prehistoric cultures of the Lake Garda area), the Historical Museum in Salò (which houses Ancient Roman artifacts), and the Limonaia del Castel in Limone sul Garda (an eighteenth-century citrus garden that is characteristic of the Lake Garda area).
There are few, if any, other places in Italy with the natural beauty of majestic mountains and gorgeous waters found in the Lake Garda area. With so much of Mother Nature’s splendor within reach, some of the best outdoor activities are those that require visitors to be on the move. Whether it is a day spent frolicking on the shore, kayaking, paragliding, windsurfing, horseback riding, mountain biking, or hiking, relish this once in a lifetime opportunity to get some exercise that offers some of the most unique views in the area.
Near the southeastern part of Lake Garda is one of the most kid-oriented attractions in Italy. The Gardaland complex features Italy’s premier amusement park in addition to hotels and an aquarium. Kids of all ages will enjoy everything from the gentle rides to the thrilling, faster-paced rides. Young kids familiar with popular TV character Peppa Pig will be amazed by Gardaland’s Peppa Pig Land. Gardaland Sea Life is an aquarium type area that boasts more than a dozen different themes amongst an estimated forty tanks. Here kids of all ages will delight in discovering more than five thousand examples of approximately one hundred different species. Educational and hands-on activities abound to help visitors become immersed in this enormous marine exhibit.
UNIQUE EXPERIENCES IN LAKE GARDA
Lake Garda, in addition to being the largest lake in Italy, is unique for the islands to which it is home to. These islands include Isola del Garda, Isola San Biagio (sometimes called Isola dei Conigli), Isola dell’Olivo, Isola di Sogno, and Isola di Trimelone.
During your Italian vacation to Lake Garda, make a point to visit the largest of the islands, Isola del Garda, not far from the town of Salò. Because Isola del Garda is a private island, a visit here is typically only allowed under the supervision of a guide who can provide a personal tour. With fabulous botanical gardens and a magnificent villa, this enchanting island could take a couple of hours to soak in. Do not miss this unique experience and make your tour reservation for Isola del Garda well in advance.
If it is not already there, Lake Garda is more than worthy of a spot on your bucket list. Set your sights on this enchanting area and start dreaming of this magical Italian paradise that may possibly become your favorite vacation destination.