Lago di Garda: A secret holiday paradise

Lake Garda Lake Garda Photo by Vito Arcomano ©ENIT

Il Lago di Garda è il più grande d’Italia e uno dei più belli. Ancora relativamente sconosciuto a molti turisti, merita davvero una visita. Dotato d’importanza sia strategica che commerciale, nel corso della storia è stato una preda ambita. Situato nel nord d’Italia, è a metà strada tra Milano e Venezia; misura quasi 52 chilometri di lunghezza e 17 chilometri di larghezza.

If you’re planning a trip to Italy this summer be sure to include Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, in your itinerary. While most travelers easily recognize and are familiar with Lake Como, which has received a lot of attention and made famous thanks to George Clooney who owns a luxurious lake side villa here, Lake Garda is Italy’s biggest lake and considered to be one of the most beautiful. It remains unknown to many tourists who visit Italy. It is, however, worthy of a visit and offers something for everyone.

Located in the north of Italy, halfway between Milan and Venice, Lake Garda measures almost 52 kilometers in length and 17 kilometers across. Extending between the provinces of Verona, Brescia and Trento, the lake is easily accessible from the north via the Brenner Pass and from the south via the A4 autostrade. Its many assets include low-lying banks, steep slopes on the west bank, and the mountain chain of Monte Baldo to the east. The Dolomites to the north shelter the lake from the colds north winds, creating a very mild climate.

Lake Garda had both strategic and commercial importance and throughout history has been coveted by neighboring powers.

Situated at the northern tip of Lake Garda, Riva del Garda is one of the most popular holiday resorts. It was once a trading center between Verona and the Aloday. This pretty little town boasts a lovely harbor and pedestrian old town with a maze of shopping streets dominated by the thirteenth-century clock tower, Torre Apponale. A moated castle that was built originally to protect the town from pirates now houses a museum while cruise boats and brightly colored fishing boats ply the busy harbor. Pretty towns and villages are dotted all along the shoreline but the lake’s southern shores are where it is most populated. This is also the widest part of the lake, and a haven for water sports enthusiasts.

The all-important town of Sirmione is the jewel at the southern end of the lake. Situated on a four-kilometer long promontory stretching out to the lake, Sirmione is dominated by the thirteenth-century Scaligeri Castle, which was built to protect the villagers from invaders. The town is filled with pretty painted houses and shops, endless restaurants, cafes and shops, and is the ideal spot to enjoy an alfresco pizza at a nice table overlooking the lake.

Desenzano is the most important town at Lake Garda’s southern end. Located on the Milan to Venice rail line, many of the region’s most popular destinations are easily accessible from Desenzano. The best places for a lovely walk here is at the old port, the Piazza Malvesi and the neighboring old quarter. The sixteenth-century parish church, Parrocchiale Santa Maria Maddalena, has a very beautiful Last Supper by Tiepolo. To the north of the town in Via Scavi Romani, the Villa Romana boasts remarkable multicolored mosaics dating from the Roman period. From here by train you can easily reach Venice in two hours or Milan and Brescia in just one hour.

Gargnanoa, a charming resort, is surrounded by great expanses of glasshouses filled with lemon and citron trees. The church of San Francesco has fifteenth-century cloisters with curious Moorish-style galleries featuring capitals carved with oranges and lemons, recalling the fact that it was probable the Franciscan monks who introduced citrus fruits to the area. The lakeside promenade leads to the Villa Feltrinelli that served as Mussolini’s headquarters during the Fascist Republic.

On the western side of the lake are the delightful little medieval towns of Toscolano, Salo, Malcesine and Limone. It is easy to while away the hours wandering the cobblestoned streets and sipping cappuccino in an outdoor café.

It does not get any better when it comes to people watching along the gentle waters of Lake Garda. Shopping and fashions are high priorities and you will have no shortage of choices here. From the high-end fashionable shops to outdoor markets, all are in abundance at any of the quaint villages and larger towns along the lake.

If you want a change of scenery head into the hills to visit Tignale, a gorgeous little village situated high above the lake with spectacular views. Not only will you get a bird’s eye view of Lake Garda but also of the towering Monte Baldo, which dominates the eastern shores. Tignale, or another mountain village, Tremosine, make a great escape from the lakeside crowds, and are ideal walking destinations. Lake Garda is a secret waiting to be discovered. You will find it all here: ambience, excellent access to some of Italy’s most popular destinations, beautiful scenery, history and great restaurants. It’s the perfect holiday for your next vacation to bella Italia!

Peter D'Attoma is the president of DaVinci Custom Travel & Tours. He has over 25 years of planning and designing independent, custom and escorted tours of Italy for individuals, groups and incentives. For more information call 330-633-2292 or visit

Photo: Lake Garda, Rocca Scaligera | Photo by Vito Arcomano, ©Fototeca ENIT