I'm sure most people will have heard of Lake Garda, even if they haven't been there themselves. Lake Garda is the largest, and arguably the best known, of the Italian Lakes. It lies in northern Italy, spanning the regions of Trentino, Lombardy and Veneto. These regions are similar to British counties, but each has a very distinct and separate identity, with individual cultural, political and gastronomic characteristics, and for some residents a strong sense of regional pride and identity.
I have previously visited many parts of Italy, but Lake Garda had never really appealed to me in the past. I had preconceptions of it being overrun with coach trips and tours full of elderly people (not a problem in itself, but I doubted I would have many common interests), and very touristy (something that I usually try to avoid). I finally visited Lake Garda with my Mother and Grandfather. My grandfather had his 80th birthday, and my mother and I, wanting to get something special to mark the occasion, pooled our funds to take him on holiday as a birthday gift. I volunteered to research a suitable location, and make the arrangements. After many weeks of researching various destinations, and before my laptop exploded through overuse, we finally settled on Lake Garda as a destination that appeared to have something to offer to three generations.
Although all three of us live in the West of the UK (West Midlands and Wales), we chose to fly from Gatwick, because the times of the British Airways flights from there suited us better than flights from local airports. The two Italian airports primarily used to access Lake Garda are Verona Catullo, to the south east of the lake, and Brescia, to the south west of the lake. Although we were staying in the town of Salo on the western shore of Lake Garda, we flew into Verona because we had planned to spend the last day of our holiday in Verona before returning home. From Verona Catullo airport it was about an hour by car to the town of Salo.
Salo is one of the larger towns on Lake Garda, and sits within its' own bay on the western shore of the lake. It is a very affluent town, and although it appears to have fewer tourists than some of the lakeside towns and villages it is very popular with the yacht set. Possibly partly due to the main boatyard being owned and run by Alberto Arcangeli, son of Giuliano Arcangeli, who designed and built the famous, and now rare, Arcangelis. But also certainly due to the great boating facilities in the marina and the natural calm harbour offered by the bay of Salo, as the main body of the lake can get choppy in rough weather. Salo doesn't have the major tourist attractions that many of the other towns have like castles, cable cars or ancient ruins, but we found it to be the perfect base from which to visit other towns during our holiday. One of the most compelling things Salo does have to offer the visitor is the longest promenade on Lake Garda. We found it a very enjoyable experience to stroll along the promenade with an ice cream after our evening meal, or to sit at one of the many lakefront bars/cafes and sip an after dinner drink whilst watching the visitors and locals stroll past in their best attire. It is a fantastic place for people-watching, and everyone really does make an effort to dress up for their evening promenade.
There are some really good restaurants in Salo , and also some pretty poor ones! We found the worst to be found in the main tourist area (no surprise there!), and the best were Papillon Pizerria, at the north end of the promenade which has tables outside on the edge of the lake and was frequented by locals as well as visitors, Lungolago Pizerria, again at the north end of the promenade, near the Duomo (Cathedral), which offered fantastic organic pizzas, and Osteria Di Mezzo, a small and very atmospheric restaurant in a tiny back lane in the middle of Salo, offering a limited by very good quality menu including lake fish and local desserts. The best Gelateria in Lake Garda (in my opinion) can be found in Salo, in the Piazza Duomo, where you can choose from a fabulous range of flavours of ice creams and sorbets, costing 1 Euro per scoop, a great way to indulge in Italian cuisine whilst keeping costs down.
Salo has a pebble beach at the south end of the promenade, with a row of Cypress trees behind, where you can hire chairs or loungers, or have a drink at the small beach bar. From this beach you have a great view of Salo, looking across the bay to the Duomo, and watching the ferries and yachts go by. It is very tempting to go for a dip in the lake on a hot day, but from experience I can warn you that no matter how hot the day, the lake is always freezing - be prepared!
Salo has a good range of shops and boutiques selling clothing, shoes, homewares, books, perfumes jewellery and lifestyle stores, some designer and all upmarket, you won't find any tourist shops with gaudy plastic mementos here! Most of the shops are along one road which runs parallel to the lake front promenade. The more basic everyday retail necessities, like supermarkets, are located away from the lake front area in the suburbs. There is a market which travels around the towns of Lake Garda, and is in Salo every Saturday morning; it is large with a variety of stalls selling everything from food to clothing. We found a super cheese stall, where the owner encouraged us to sample lots of the cheeses, many of which were locally produced and unfamiliar to us.
Salo has a small tourist train (Il Trenino), which only runs on Saturdays, and for 2 Euros will take passengers around the roads and lanes of Salo. Although this wouldn't normally appeal to me, on this occasion it was very useful as my grandfather had found the pace of the holiday to be quite demanding, and he welcomed the opportunity to see the sights whilst sitting in comfort for an hour. The train runs around the whole of the old town of Salo, taking in both town gates, much of the lakefront promenade, the Duomo, the marina and the main Piazzas. It was nice, on a hot day, to feel the warm breeze blowing through the open carriage as we saw the sights. There is no commentary or guide, so to get the most out of the Trenino ride you do need to have an idea of what you are seeing, or a good guide book on your lap!
The Piazza del Vittoria is the square where the lake ferries stop at Salo, and the town hall encompasses one side of the square, offering a public access Internet terminal 24 hours per day. In the evenings there is often entertainment in this square, during our 10 day stay there were events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings. Once a food fair, with locally specialities of food and drink available to sample and buy, on another night a dance show, with a local dance school producing a show of ballet and modern dance, another night was family entertainment with a magician and a comedian, another night had a couple of bands playing. This is not the place to go if you are looking for bouncing nightlife, there are two discobars the outlying areas of Salo, although I can't comment on these because I didn't go, but evening entertainment in the town focuses largely on the lakefront bars and organised entertainment in the Piazzas.
I thoroughly enjoyed staying in Salo, and although it was great to see other towns and villages around the lake I was always glad that we had chosen Salo as our base. It is less lively than many of the other lake towns, and is more expensive than most, but it was very clean, with friendly and welcoming residents (I guess they don't suffer from tourist-fatigue to the same degree as residents of towns and villages more dependent on tourism) a lovely promenade, regular connections to all other destinations on the lake by the lake ferries, and a comfortable, relaxed feel. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for somewhere chilled out to stay; it is probably more suitable for families and older couples or groups than for young people looking for lively nightlife. We rented an apartment with a fantastic lake view, overlooking the promenade, which was perfect for us, but self-catering accommodation is hard to come by in Salo. There are several large 4 and 5 star hotels, and a few smaller hotels in the town, as well as a couple of Agriturismo (farms offering B&B) in the mountains surrounding the town.
From the ferry stop at the Piazza del Vittoria in Salo we were able to catch the lake ferries to visit other towns and villages around the lake. These ferries are all run by one company and details of the timetables and fares can be found on their website www.navigazionelaghi.it There are two options for ferry travel, either rapid or standard ferries. We found that although the rapid ferries were a little more expensive, they worked out better for us most of the time, allowing us to spend more time at our destination. The slow ferries include a paddle steamer, we travelled on this once, and it has wonderful fittings and furnishings inside, a fleet of slow boats which offer cafeteria/bar services and often accept bikes, and a car ferry which runs across the width of the lake. The fast ferries include catamarans and hydrofoils. Dogs are allowed on all ferries except hydrofoils, for an additional charge of 1 Euro 50 Cents, and there are generous reductions on ferry ticket prices for passengers over the age of 65, this delighted my grandfather who loves a bargain even if he's not paying! There is also the option to purchase an open ticket for unlimited travel around either the south or north parts of the lake for a day. Tickets for the ferries are bought from the small ticket offices (usually wooden boxes in most towns) by the ferry dock, they can also be purchased aboard the ferry, but this incurs an additional charge.
I would recommend anyone visiting Lake Garda tries to see as many of the towns and villages around the lake as they can. It is so easy to do using the ferries and in my experience they are all very different, and most have something unique to offer. During our recent holiday we were able to visit:
Gardone Riviera - a small town on the western shore, just above Salo. The village is separated into two parts, the lower town by the lake, with beautiful flowers and rows of bitter orange trees on the lakefront, and plenty of cafes and bars with lake views on the short promenade. The upper town has several places of interest worth visiting, including Vittoriale degli Italiani, an interesting house and gardens built by an eccentric poet, it houses half a ship in the gardens as well as an open air amphitheatre which has a great view over the lake and has concerts throughout the summer. The Hruska botanical gardens; which has an array of unusual sculptures, as well as plants. The upper town is a very steep walk uphill from the lake, however, Gardone also has a small tourist train, which leaves from the ferry dock, and takes passengers to the main places of interest in the upper town. The train does a round trip, so you can spend as long as you like, and catch the next train back to the lakefront, never more than a 20 minute wait.
Limone - again on the western shore, above Gardone Riviera. Limone is impressively built on a small area of land by the lake and is surrounded on the other three sides by imposing mountains. Because of its' dramatic location, space is pretty limited in Limone, and the streets are all narrow and steep with real character, I found it very pleasant to wander around the town looking at the buildings, and when we visited in June, like Gardone, it was full of flowers. I was surprised to learn that the town is named not from the lemons that are grown here on steep terraces up the mountainsides, but from the days of ancient Rome, when it was considered a frontier town (Limen is Latin for frontier). In spite of this the town of Limone is now synonymous with lemons, and when we went we visited The Lemon House; a museum of citrus fruit production in the area throughout the ages, and a set of terraced citrus groves to explore. I found it impossible to leave without buying a couple of bottles of Limoncello, a powerful locally produced lemon liqueur, as gifts.
Riva - located at the far north west of the lake, Riva is the watersports capital of Lake Garda. There are many sailing and windsurfing schools here, and throughout the day the lake around Riva is dotted with colourful sails. Riva has a distinctly Alpine feel, and was once part of Austria. We found the town to be over-run with tourists, mainly German and British, and there are several lidos and shingle beaches as you walk east along the lake front, towards the village of Torbole, all very busy when we visited. A couple of kms north of Riva is an impressive waterfall, Cascata Varone, we visited this by catching a bus for just a couple of Euros, from the Cascata Varone there is a breathtaking view down to Riva and the lake. In Riva itself there is a large pedestrian Piazza by the ferry dock, lined with cafes and bars, which also has a clock tower you can climb for 1 Euro, to give a good view over the town and lake, the stairs are very steep, and tall people need to mind their heads as they near the top!
Malcesine - This town is on the north east shore of the lake, and its' backdrop is the highest mountain in Lake Garda, Monte Baldo. Although it is possible to walk up Monte Baldo, and there are well-marked trails, we took the more leisurely option of using the cable car (Funivia) which has cars leaving every 30 minutes, and costs 18 Euros per person for a return ticket. Dogs are also allowed in the cable car, for an extra charge, as well as mountain bikes, at certain times of the day. The view from the top of Monte Baldo is breathtaking, and certainly worth the trip. We were fortunate to have a clear day, and we were able to make the most of it by having a picnic lunch on the grassy slopes. We visited an Alpine Chalet-style cafe near the cable car station for a cafe latte macchiato before catching the cable car back down to Malcesine. The cable car station has very clean, spacious toilet facilities, and a cafe inside the station, but although it has large windows looking back down the cableway to the town, it appeared to be more of a cafeteria-style place, without much character. Malcesine also has a 13th Century castle on the lakefront, Castello Scaligera, which houses the Museum of the Lake. We visited this museum and found its interactive exhibits to be very interesting; it's a great place to visit on a rainy day.
Bardolino - continuing south on the east coast is Bardolino, a town famous for producing Bardolino wine. The land around Bardolino is much flatter than further north, and there are many vineyards and wineries in the surrounding area. We visited Zeni vineyard, a 20-30 minute walk out of Bardolino, where they have a small museum, wine tasting, and a shop. The museum and wine tasting were free; obviously their hope is that visitors will make purchases in the shop before leaving. From Zeni vineyard we continued walking, to walk off the wine we had tasted!, to the suburb of Cisano, to visit the Olive Oil museum, again there was a small museum with free entry, and a shop, selling not just olive oil but also food and cosmetics based on olives. We walked back from Cisano to Bardolino along the lakefront path, and although there were some lovely spots along the way, and plenty of benches to take a breather, we found this town less appealing than many others around the lake. We passed several caravan/camping sites along the lake shore which were scruffier than I expected, and the area appeared generally less well cared for than some other towns, it was busy with tourists and seemed to be a very busy, bustling town.
Sirmione - a small village, at the centre of the southern shore of the lake, located on a narrow promontory extending into the lake, often called 'the crocodile'. Sirmione has a very impressive 13th century castle, the Rocca Scaligera, which costs 4 Euros to visit, although my grandfather got free entry (the generous man on the gate said he had already paid enough in his life!). We were able to climb to the top of the tower, giving a magnificent view up the lake, and enabling us to look down on the enclosed castle harbour. The old town of Sirmione is pedestrianised, although just outside the castle walls we found the Tourist Information office and a large coach park. Returning back to the old town, we took a short walk to catch another of the little tourist trains, which cost 1 Euro and took us to the end of the promontory where the Grotte di Catullo is located. These are the ruins of a large first century Roman villa, fascinating and well preserved, in a super location, there is also a small museum displaying some artefacts. It was easy for us to spend half a day wandering the ruins, taking a break in the shade of an olive tree every now and then, and soaking up the beautiful views up the lake. It is worth noting that we found it hot it June, and frequently needed to seek shade, so I imagine for anyone visiting in August it would feel very exposed with the hot sun beating down. There are toilets at the entrance to the Grotte di Catullo, and a cafe just outside, where the tourist train stops. Sirmione has a nice lido and small pebble beaches on the east of the promontory, between the village and the Grotte. It is famous for its thermal spas, although we didn't visit these, there are day tickets available. My overwhelming impression of Sirmione was of a small village totally overwhelmed by the mass of tourists descending on it. The streets were crammed, and apart from those working in the shops and cafes it was a challenge to pick an Italian voice out of the hubbub, as we visited in June, I dread to think what it would be like at the peak of the holiday season. There were a plethora of tourist shops selling gaudy plastic snow globes, key rings and postcards, which looked incongruous in the beautiful medieval walled town. I left on the ferry feeling a little guilty for being a part of the tourist trade that I feel has imposed a scar on what was clearly once a lovely little village.
I feel I owe Lake Garda an apology for my preconceived ideas. I thoroughly enjoyed my holiday here, and I think Lake Garda has something to offer most people, from the more sedate, relaxed holiday we experienced, focusing mainly on sightseeing and regular cafe stops, to the more lively family-oriented theme parks and water parks available in the south, to the more sporty activities on offer in the north. The lake area offers a fabulous Mediterranean climate, breathtaking panoramic views, and ever changing scenery, from the flatter, softer, rolling countryside of the south, to the more Alpine, rugged and mountainous north. Most importantly, my grandfather hasn't stopped talking about his wonderful holiday to anyone who will listen, since we got home!
I would recommend Lake Garda to most people, with the possible exception of young groups looking for a variety of options for lively nightlife. Although the old walled medieval towns around the lake are mostly lovely, I would also recommend taking time to explore outside these areas, in order to get a feel for the 'real' area. I had considered renting a car, but now I'm glad I didn't, the ferries are the ideal way to get around the lake and we enjoyed the experience of using public transport and walking to explore further afield.
I apologise for the length of this review, if you managed to get this far I am very grateful to you, and I hope you have found it to be of some use.
Lake Garda is the largest Italian lake and it is in Northern Italy. It is between the regions of Lombardy, the Veneto and Trentino Alto-Adige or about half way between Venice and Milan. The lake is long and slim, the southern part of the lake is quite built-up and has rolling hills where as the northern part of the lake is surrounded by mountains.
The scenery at Lake Garda is quite simply, stunning. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever visited in my life so far. It really is breathtaking. The clear blue lake and the towering magnificent mountains surrounding it make it feel so untouched and sheltered.
The lake is a huge tourist destination and there are some magnificent hotels surrounding it, some of which are very expensive. However you don't have to spend a huge amount on a fancy hotel to get the feel of what Lake Garda is about and to enjoy it.
There are many towns around the lake which are all beautiful and definitely worth a visit. The best known of these are Garda, Riva del Garda, Malcesine, Limone and Sirmione. Each town has its own perspective and view of the lake and each has its own character. There are many different things to visit in each town so it is worth visiting as many as you can. Limone and Sirmione are more historic and have some beautiful architecture. The other towns are a little more modern with newer buildings and sights, for example; the cable car in Malcesine which takes you up the mountain side to give a stunning view of the whole lake.
The obvious way of getting to Lake Garda is by air and there are plenty of airports near to it. Depending on the type of holiday you go on, be it package or not, you may have to find your own transfers. The nearest large international airport is at Verona, about a 40 minute drive away. Alternatively there is a train which runs from Verona airport to Lake Garda.
Ryanair fly to Brescia airport which is a little closer as it is only just under a 20 minute train journey away however they only fly from London-Stansted.
There is also a smaller airport in the countryside called the Gabriele D'Annunzio Airport however flights to it are very limited and very expensive.
The train and bus system in Italy is very reliable and a lot cheaper than it is in the UK so definitely take advantage of it and don't forget to stamp your ticket before you get on the train or when you get on the bus!
The hotel or travel agent however can give full information about transfers and getting to the destination, watch out for taxi's though..they are very expensive!
My first impression of Lake Garda was just Wow! It was so beautiful and it really was stunning. We had a package holiday deal so transfers were included in the price. We arrived at Verona airport and First Choice took us by coach to the lake.
The First Choice representative was brilliant as she gave us a guided tour of what we were seeing as we travelled. Once we started to get closer to the lake the scenery improved rapidly and it wasn't long (about 40 minutes) before we got a first glance of the lake. It was about midday and the sun was shining brightly and the glisten off it hit the lake and it struck me as it looked amazing. The lake looked enormous and you could see from the road the bustles of tourist parks and in fact tourists heading towards the lake.
The weather was incredible, it was very hot however it wasn't a sticky hot and when we stepped off the bus we found there to be a gentle, cool breeze which was much appreciated.
Of the many beautiful towns around Lake Garda, we decided to stay in Garda. Garda is central to getting around the lake and there is a lot to do at night as well as during the day.
First Choice dropped us off directly outside the hotel and that is where we got picked up at the end of our stay also. The staff were very friendly and tried their best to speak English and be accommodating. The hotel was only a 2* however it was ideal. The rooms were spacious and had everything you would need and above all they were spotlessly clean; as was the rest of the hotel.
The hotel had its own pool outside with a lot of sun beds which meant that there was always one spare. There was also a bar at the side of the pool. The pool was ideal as it was very hot during the time we were there so it was lovely to be able to go for a swim after a hot day. There was also a shop in the foyer selling bit of food etc. which was handy.
The rooms were cleaned/fresh towels put out daily. Each room had a balcony with furniture on and there was a TV in each room as well as a well sized en-suite. There were however no English speaking TV channels but this wasn't a problem as we didn't want to waste any time watching the TV.
We went on a half-board basis which meant we ate breakfast and dinner at the hotel; therefore finding our own arrangements for lunch. The food was absolutely delicious. The breakfasts were incredible; quite a feast in fact. There was such a selection of food from fresh fruit, pastries, cereal and much much more all in a all-you-can-eat buffet.
The dinners were also of a high standard. There was a huge salad and bread selection for starter and then the waiters would bring around another 2 courses (one pasta, one meat) before a huge dessert selection was put on offer. The food was off such a high standard also which made it definitely worth the money. We had our own table in the dining room for our stay and the staff were very friendly.
There is nothing more enjoyable than wandering around beautiful streets, looking in quaint shops on a warm Mediterranean evening, before settling on the lake side at a cafe for a glass of wine whilst musicians play away typically Italian music. This really does sound too idyllic to be true, but that is honestly how it is.
There is a very tourist atmosphere, the most tourists being either French, English, German or Italian. It is a very classy area and it is kept very clean which makes being there even more enjoyable.
On a night time in Garda, people walk down to the lake side and sit and have a drink and the shops stay open until late so you can look around them. The hotel which we stayed in was only a few minutes walk from the lake side which was really convenient.
What to do?
As we went on a package holiday, First Choice put on a lot of optional trips/excursions that we could go on however if there isn't the option of somebody putting the trips on for you then it is not difficult to get around on your own.
There are boat trips around the lake which take you on a tour of a lake and some which will drop you off at various towns and then pick you up again so you can see a different part of the lake. The boat tour which we went on was actually a full day and it took us to every town around the lake, it was brilliant as it gave us the chance to explore and see all the fantastic places. We had about an hour to have a quick look around each town which really gave us the flavour for what each was about.
In Garda itself, there are a few pebbly beaches which are great when the weather is good. There are also lots of walks to do, up into the mountains and across the lake promenade. Just a few short miles away from Garda there is a little town called
Bordolino where there is a weekly market selling all different types of things. We walked from Garda to Bordolino every other day as it is a wonderful walk, it is one straight path along the lake side and it is flat and the view is incredible. At Bordolino there are some lovely cafes and streets to explore.
We also went on a day trip to Venice which was organized by First Choice. We got to Venice by coach and it took about 90 minutes. We then had to get on a boat to get into the city and we had all day to look around. There are a lot of agencies that do the day trips and also Venice by Night trips so they are easy to come across and book.
Venice was very busy and you really do have to see it to believe it as it is fascinating. It is just incredible and it is like stepping into a doll-house like city with canals as roads, it is mind blowing. The shops were incredible; window shopping there was great with all the great designer names. The place in itself is brilliant but do be aware of how busy it gets, especially in summer, it is also very very hot and the gondola rides are really expensive so shop around to see if you can get one included in the tour or before you go.
'Gardaland' is Italy's largest theme park and it is situated just outside of Garda on the Lake. It has a lot of rides and is a lot of fun for all ages, the entrance fee is also reasonable and there are buses directly to it!
Before visiting Lake Garda I had no real interest in Italy or lakes or anything Mediterranean, however that was soon to change after I had visited this beautiful place. Of all the places that I have been in the world Lake Garda is definitely one of the most memorable and beautiful. The climate, the atmosphere, the food, the Italian lifestyle; it all magically works to make a wonderful and relaxing holiday.
Going on holiday to Lake Garda and experiencing the lifestyle and its beauty even convinced me to go on and study GCSE Italian at college. I then carried this on to University and I recently just returned from living in Milan for 6 months where I studied at a University.
I will definitely continue to re-visit Lake Garda and hopefully travel around the lake. The hotels are quite expensive and the food however there are some really good deals out there it is just finding them! There are some really nice camp sites around the park also which I may well visit!
I would definitely recommend Lake Garda as a brilliant holiday destination for all ages and for families, friends, couples..there is something for everyone!
Thank you for reading.
Review also on Ciao under luceey.
Lake Garda - the Italians call it Lago di Garda - is one of the most magical places on earth. Surrounded by mountains it seems to take on their colour and the water always reminds me of mercury.
The whole area, although now dedicated to tourism, still has an ancient feel to it. We visited Malcesine for a wedding in the beautiful castle there and we fell in love with the place. The weather in this part of Italy is not that reliable - it is near the Alps so, although you will get very warm sunny days, you will not find Meditteranean temperatures here. It has its fair share of rain too but this only serves to keep the scenery lush; the pointed Poplar trees that grow in abundance here are beautiful and very distinctive. You can see them anywhere you look and are as much a part of Lake Garda as the lake itself.
The tiny cobbled streets lead you down to the water's edge and you can sit for hours just taking in the stunning view. The water ripples gently and the mercurial quality is quite mesmerising. Besides the usual shops selling trinkets and other typical holiday 'must haves' you will find street artists painting tiny little miniatures of the landscapes. I bought a beautiful one which cost very little - around £15. I also bought a couple of calendars which carry exquisite photos of the Lake and the surrounding Alps.
We stayed in a hotel which was run by a German family; most of the guests were German, too, and you can see why they return time and time again.
We spent very little time in the hotel although it was very well run, because we wanted to see as much of the area as possible. The castle at Malcesine is fantastic; the wedding we attended was held inside and was conducted by the local Mayor in Italian and translated for us by the happy couple's wedding planner. It is a fabulous place in which to get married because the planners take care of every detail and ensure that the occasion runs smoothly.
After the ceremony, the wedding party left the castle and, stopping for delicious icecream on the way, we all walked through the village of Malcesine to great cheers from the locals and tourists and, once we reached the lake, we were clapped on to a waiting boat which took us around the lake for an hour or so. What had been a beautifully sunny day as we left the castle turned into a terrific storm with lashing rain, thunder and lightening but, with the happy atmosphere on board, encouraged by the celebratory glasses of champagne, we didn't seem to notice.
At the end of the journey, we all gathered in a lovely lakeside restaurant and enjoyed the most fantastic seven-course wedding banquet which lasted for hours and hours, but there was no impatient hurrying by the impeccably-mannered waiters, so we could just enjoy the meal. A long but enjoyable walk back to the hotel along the lake finished off a perfect day.
I would recommend a visit to Lake Garda for many reasons; for a wedding, a holiday or simply a retreat for rest and relaxation. Lake Garda is good for the soul.
I've long harboured a desire to visit Italy, and my dream finally came true this summer when we (my husband, 14 year old son and I) decided to spend our summer holiday in Limone on Lake Garda.
Lake Garda, Italy's largest lake, is in northern Italy, not far from the city of Verona. It is divided between three Italian regions - Lombardy, Trentino and the Veneto. Due to its stunning natural beauty and warm climate, the area is a major tourist destination, with many towns and villages scattered around its shore.
Limone, or Limone sul Garda, situated on Lake Garda's north-western shore, is centred around a village of narrow, winding streets, alleys and traditional stonewalled cottages. Although the name "Limone" is often presumed to be taken from the lemon groves which surround it, apparently the name is in fact derived from an old Italian word for "border". Nevertheless, the area has more or less adopted the lemon as its motif. The village is set in a secluded cove amidst olive and lemon groves, with spectacular views of the lake and its stunning mountainous backdrop. The centre and lakefront are popular with tourists (the majority of whom seem to be German or Austrian) who enjoy strolling among the shops, cafes and bars or relaxing on the beach.
Upon disembarking from the plane at Verona Airport at about 10 a.m. local time, we were immediately struck by the warm Meditteranean climate - a bit of a contrast to the rainy Glasgow we had left two hours earlier! The drive to Limone, passing through Torbole and Riva, was a very pleasant one and the first glimpse of beautiful Lake Garda was unforgettable. The road, which runs around most of the lake, passes through a number of tunnels built into the side of the mountain.
We stayed in the four-star Hotel Ilma, a family-run hotel situated a short distance (about 5 minutes walk) from the lake. We were impressed with the hotel - our triple room with balcony and side lake view was clean and well furnished, and (importantly) air-conditioned. The hotel had a large outdoor swimming pool, as well as a smaller indoor pool and fitness room, and an attractive terrace bar with a beautiful lake view. The latter was especially popular during the evenings. The outdoor pool also benefited from a grill-bar which was open during the day, where drinks, ice-creams and snacks could be purchased.
Our holiday was on a half-board basis, with a buffet breakfast and evening meal provided. The food was generally good, although I did think it could have benefited from a bit more variety at times. The hotel was certainly family-friendly, with a number of children of various ages among the guests.
Hot, and got hotter, although made bearable by a pleasant breeze. High-factor sun lotion essential for pale northern European skins, unless you want severe sunburn on the first day! It did rain, but happily only during the night! Our second night was marked by a truly spectacular thunderstorm which went on for hours.
Italian, obviously, although both German and English are widely spoken. My hesitant Italian was amusedly tolerated, although many people did that annoying thing of then replying in English (or German!). Although my Italian is sketchy, I found my knowledge of French often helped me to get the gist of things. I did widen my vocabulary, though - even if it was mainly in relation to various foodstuffs and alcohol
~Things to Do~
Just strolling around the narrow, winding lanes and drinking in the atmosphere is pleasurable in itself. There are many interesting sights to see including local churches and a delightful local cemetery. (That may sound strange to some, but what can I say - I like that kind of thing!) One word of warning, though - the Italians take their religion very seriously (as evidenced by the many religious artefacts/artworks and pictures of the Pope - the old one! - which can be seen around the place) and when visiting churches, it is strongly preferred that you keep your knees and shoulders covered.
There are a range of shops, where you can buy a wide variety of olive oils etc, some attractive pottery (mainly featuring lemons or olives), an endless supply of leather handbags and shoes, and the usual tourist paraphernalia. There are also a few designer shops, into which we did not venture. One local shop had British newspapers, but we gave these a wide berth on the whole aside from an occasional and instantly-regretted glance at the headlines. There is a local post office, bank, etc.
If you get tired of relaxing by the pool/on the beach, browsing around the shops, etc, there are plenty of alternatives. It's definitely worth taking a trip by ferry across the lake to Malcesine, a twenty-minute ride which costs E7.50 per person. Malcesine, a slightly bigger resort, boasts an interesting castle, and you can also take a trip by cable-car to the top of Monte Baldo. We enjoyed both of these, although the latter is rather expensive (nearly 40 Euros for the three of us, as far as I can recall) and unfortunately our view from the summit was obscured by mist on the day we went.
Lake Garda is a popular centre for watersports and there are plenty of opportunities for sailing, windsurfing etc. Mountain bikes are also available for hire. There are local tennis courts where racquets (rather ancient ones, in our case) are available to hire.
There are some pleasant walks among the steep, verdant terraces of the surrounding area, although it's a bit too hot for too much exertion. A shortish climb from our hotel took us up to the casa natale (birthplace) of local missionary and saint Daniele Comboni, where there is also an interesting museum dedicated to him and his work. There's also a small natural history museum there, with some amazing specimens. It's possible to climb further up into the hills, although due to the combined factors of (a) the heat and (b) a grouchy walk-hating teenager, we didn't make it all that far. Maybe one day!
It is also possible to travel to other places around the lake by ferry, car ferry or (probably less enjoyably) by bus.
A wide range of organised excursions were also available through our holiday rep, and could be booked either pre-holiday or following arrival. (The two reps hosted a welcome meeting in a local hotel on the morning after our arrival, at which we were given various information and the opportunity to book trips.) We opted to go on two of these - to Venice, which was wonderful (though did involve a lot of travelling time - three hours plus in each direction - but I've never been to Venice before and it seemed far too good an opportunity to pass up) and to the town of Mantova, a fascinating historical and cultural area which houses a wide range of artworks and architectural treasures. (Mantova was an Etruscan village in the 6th century BC and the name Mantova/Mantua apparently derives from Mantus, an Etruscan god of Hades.)
Other possible trips included Verona (including Verona Opera), Milan, Innsbruck, Florence and more. The trips were well organised and informative, allowing plenty of free time for exploring.
Limone attracted international attention in 1979 when the apolipoprotein A-1 MILANO was discovered. This protein is found in the blood of people born in Limone and apparently assists in the rapid removal of fat from the arteries and results in a lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. As a result of this protein, many local residents enjoy extreme longevity, with a significant number reaching the age of 100 plus. (Unfortunately, I suspect a 10 day stay might not be long enough to confer any significant benefits )
We booked through Thomson Lakes and Mountains and paid about £740 per person for 10 nights, including flights etc. We flew from Glasgow to Verona, the flight taking about 2 hours. Transfer time to Limone from Verona was also about 2 hours (Lake Garda isn't actually far from Verona at all, but as Limone is on the far side of the lake it takes longer). We had no problems with the booking and were satisfied with the service provided by Thomson. There were two holiday reps based in Limone, neither of whom we saw after the first morning, but then again we had no wish to do so - they were contactable by mobile and doubtless would have been available had we had any problems.
It's not the cheapest of holidays - in addition to the basic cost, we found a fair amount of spending money was needed. Limone has been criticised for being excessively touristy, but although there are certainly a lot of visitors there, I didn't find it unacceptably so. The beautiful scenery, sunny climate and wide range of activities make for a perfect holiday, in my view, and I would highly recommend it as a destination. Would I go back? - yes! Of course! In fact, by the end of the holiday we were hatching plans/fantasies for a house among the olive groves .. or at least, for another holiday at the earliest opportunity.
~~Previously published on Ciao~~
Lake Garda and Garda Town This is out first family trip to Italy and one I would recommend to you so please read on. Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy. It is about 31 miles long and up to 10 miles wide in places. Lake Garda has about 5 million visitors a year and it is easy to understand why. In my opinion Lake Garda is a beautiful place. It has fantastic scenery with high mountains to the north and beautiful cosmopolitan towns that lie on the shores of the lake. Lake Garda is certainly a place worth visiting if you like boats, and like exploring picturesque Italian villages as well as dining in good quality restaurants. All the towns around Lake Garda are connected by the lake water bus system. These run at regular intervals, especially during the summer, and are a cheap and easy way to explore the Lake. The road that runs down the eastern side of Lake Garda, known as the Gardesana Orientale, connects the towns of Riva, Malcesine, Torri del Benaco, Garda, Bardolino, Lazise and Sirmione. We stayed in Garda and visited the following towns. 1 Malcesine with its high Alpine backdrop is a former fishing village. Famous for the Scaligeri Castle, built in the 13th century, Malcesine has good restaurants and shopping as well as boat hire facilities. You can take a cable car from Malcesine up the 5,643 ft. Monte Baldo and the view from the top has amazing views of the surrounding area and Lake Garda. This is well worth a visit. 2 Bardolino lies at the centre of a wine region famed for its delicious reds and there are plenty of places to taste the wine for yourself at one of over 54 different vineyards in the region. The town of Bardolino itself has a lovely waterfront setting, interesting traffic free cobbled streets and a lively cosmopolitan atmosphere in the evenings. There are plenty of good quality restaurants and bars where you can sit and watch the world go by. 3 Sirmione lies at the
end of a 2.5 mile peninsula and is like something out of a fairytale. Sirmione is a busy little town in summer. It is probably the most popular of the Lake Garda towns as far as tourists are concerned and it is easy to understand why. If you visit lake Garda the town of Sirmione should certainly not be missed. The road up the western shore of Lake Garda has a total of 70 tunnels and it takes about an hour to drive the 44 miles to Riva. Our base was Garda town and I can write at a bit more on this town. Garda is an old town situated on the lake, it has a boat service and a bus service to most of the other towns and villiages on the lake.. The boat service is very reliable and mostly on time, the buses are always late (and I mean late -sometimes upto and hour. On the lake there are opportunities to swim, water-ski, para-sail (being toed behind an speed boat.) and there are lots of places to sunbathe. The town is very picturesque with plenty of opportunities for photographs. It has all the shops you will ever need with some designer ones thrown in. There are a vast number of restaurants which all sell pasta and ice-cream. A must in the middle of the morning or afternoon is an iced-coffee or an iced-chocolate or for the really adventurous a hugh ice-cream. All of these are as you would expect are very refreshing, and only a little more expensive than you would pay in the UK. There is a local bus provided free of charge which circulates around the town every half hour - just get on and off wherever you like NO COST. This is an excellent idea as some of the hotels and apartments are a good distance from the main town. We stayed in the Court Dell Rose Apartments (See other review about these apartments) approx 2KM from the main town and the bus was needed to get up and down as it was too warm to walk. The walk was enjoyable at night after a good feed. Close by - about 30 minutes on th
e bus was Gardaland which is Italys largest theme park. For 2 adults and 3 children it cost 108 euro which was good value. There is a free bus to Gardaland which leaves the bus stop in Garda at 8.30 SHARP (on of the few buses which does leave on time. Garda is a very enjoyable town for a holiday and as long as the children have a swimming pool they are happy. Day trip to Venice is a must. (check out my review) The boat service is expensive if you are in a group, as we were. A short trip to Sirmione (check out my review) for 5 was 80 euros, the trip was very enjoyable and the water was calm. The boats are a good size and there is no need to stand, toilet facilities clean. The bus is less expensive, but as mentioned earlier never on time. A trip to Malcesine, (check out my review) which is further from Garda than Sirmione was 20 euros return, the journey took you along the edge of the lake with outstanding wiews. There is a walk along the edge of the lake to Bardolino (check out my review) approx 45 minutes. We unfortunately went early in the morning and were returning about noon - too hot to walk. If you intend to do this walk leave it to later in the day when it is not as hot. The bus and boat also go to this town. All the best Mark. Hope you enjoyed this read.
We stayed in Bardolino in June this year for one week. It is the nearest town to Lake Garda, which is a beautiful 45 minute stroll along the lake shore, through pine forests. Bardolino is a beautiful place, and the scenery is breathtaking. We stayed in a small hotel called The Capri, which I found browsing on the net. It was a good hotel, very comfortable and reasonably priced. We had the superior room, which was huge and the air conditioning was fantastic and very much needed, as it was extremely hot and humid (the weather they normally have in August!) Bardolino boasts many shops, bars and eateries as well the the famous ice cream parlours. The prices vary considerably, as does the quality of your meal. We found that the smaller restaurants were much better than the larger, more commercial places that tend to be nearer the Lake. That said, we never had a bad meal the entire week! Wine lovers, must try the locally grown Bardolino wine. Wonderful! Particularly the classico superiore. If you love it, arrange to have it shipped over why you are there as it is almost impossible to obtain here. This was our first time to Lake Garda, and we tried to see as much as we could, so we visited several of the other resorts around the lake, by ferries, which run regularly and are reasonabley priced. Every resort seems to have something else to offer. They all vary, but are all wonderful, so pretty, and the lake istself viewed from any angle is magnificent. We have to say though, that the Italian people themselves did not seem over friendly, and of course, the whole place is geared for German tourists, but the advantages to this, is that there were no signs of a roast dinner, or kiss-me-quick hat anywhere! It has the most wonderful romantic feel to it. Definately for couples, no good for anyone wanting a nightclub and pulling holiday! Can't wait to go back, and to spend more time travelling around the lake. Certainly, one of the best pla
ces I have ever been to.
I went to Lake Garda last year, and spent a very busy 3 weeks staying at the southern end of the lake. I still feel that I haven't seen half of it, because it's so beautiful and encompasses so many different areas. The lake is long and thin, covering over 30 odd miles, so it is no surprise that the areas along the banks vary in their natural qualities, from the mountains in the north, allowing for winter sports, and fantastic views in the summer time, to the flatter, more lush plains in the south. I stayed near San Felice at the south-west of the lake, and found that this region is absolutely beautiful, with hilltops covered in cypress trees, and the lake is so blue and serene (apart from the odd hydrofoil and speed boat!). The main mode of transport around the lake is, sensibly, by water. You can either take a slow boat which can take several hours to reach your destination, or you can opt for spending a little more and getting a hydrofoil. It's scary, yes, but still taking an hour to cross the lake at it's widest point, a necessary evil. Day trips, allowing about half an hour to an hour in each town is a good affordable way of seeing the most of the lake. Having established an easy mode of transportation, looking at each individual town is amazing, they each have their own individual beauty. I know Salo fairly well now, with it's promenade and cafes along the bank of the lake, it's like a little Monaco. Desenzano is similar, with more of an emphasis on fishing. Riva in the north, in contrast is more cosmopolitan and feels a lot more sporty, due to the mountains offering more sporting options. I wouldn't recommend driving up there, as the roads are very narrow. I'm a bad passenger, and we have a big car, so maybe I'm over-reacting! I'd definitely be scared if we were towing the caravan or in a coach. ARGH. Actually, I don't feel that it's worth the stress to see
Riva. The south is just as beautiful. Sirmione smells, unfortunately, and is a huge tourist trap being so unique as a castle on a peninsula in the lake. It also smells, but that aside it's lovely and well worth a visit. Strangely enough, people don't rave on about Garda. After all, it's what the lake's named after, so that seems a bit strange. I didn't go there, and so, have no opinion, sorry! By personal favourite is Bardolino. It's beautiful, and rather posh. The layout is more open than Salo or Desenzano are, and there's a lovely promenade too. I'm hopeful that maybe I'll retire down there and open a pizza shop. I'd also recommend trying the local wine. Looking further afield, staying on the southern end of the lake is great for travelling across the northern end of Italy, with the A4 motorway close by, not to mention the train line between Milan and Venice. It's incredibly cheap (about 8 quid return to either of these), and easy to get tickets. I would, however, recommend paying a little bit more and go first class as this train line is very busy in peak season, and first class is really nice and still not too expensive (about half as much again on the normal cost). But who needs to travel far afield when there's so much to see and do around Lake Garda? I would warn you that it isn't cheap to stay in luxury accomodation in Lake Garda, and the area is very prosperous and growing in popularity by the minute. I feel that we visited just in time before the yuppies arrive with their Ferraris and the brits with their labradors and sun burn. Best to go before it all goes very pear shaped.
Ok, so Malcesine is the perfect spot for a relaxing holiday. You could laze around by the peaceful lakeside admiring the fantastic views. You could wander about the traffic free old town with it’s narrow pebble cobbled streets, or visit the impressive 14th Century Scagliari Castle. This has a brilliant museum in the grounds which gives extensive information about the chequered past of the Castle, as well as the geology, wildlife and vegetation of the region. The modern sculptures provide extra interest to the grounds, and from the top of the tower you can look down on the town and dream of turbulent times past. You could take the two-stage cable car up to 1800m and marvel at the view, OR you could get your walking boots on and do some serious hiking! The first step is to go to the tourist office and get a walking map. It’s not quite OS standard but clearly shows the various paths and is perfectly adequate in summer. In addition, the actual paths are indicated by flashes of paint and are hard, but not impossible, to lose. An important point to remember is that Malcesine is just 100m ASL and the Monte Baldo’s highest summit is 2218m – allow a good 8 hours for a full trip up and down at a steady to quick pace. To take full advantage of the mountain – use the cable car and get up early! If you arrive before 9am there is a negligible queue, by 10 am you’ll face an hour’s wait. Even from the top cable car station (1800m) the summit is a good 4-hour round trip and has some very tricky sections on it. If you get the cable car down – wait for the weather to turn cooler and whilst everyone else is queuing pop into the restaurant for some delicious goulash soup. By the time you’ve finished, and had another beer, the queue will have gone. If it hasn’t, the soup (and beer) will have more than restored your energy to be able to walk quickly down in a couple
of hours. A highly recommended walk is to take the cable up and then walk north and down to Rif. Estivo (restaurant here) and then up to Monte Altissimo di Nago. The peak here still has a huge network of WWI trenches. One glance at the fantastic 360’ panoramic view shows why it was an important strategic position. Don’t miss the entertaining and fun ‘fitness track’, near the St Michelle halfway cable car stop. It is a pleasant woodland walk livened up with fitness challenges every now and then, such as stretches, sit-ups and balance beams.
I would definitely recommend a holiday at any of the towns in the Lake Garda area. If you're looking for a quiet, romantic holiday, Malcesine is the place. (Pronounced Mall-chez-ney - if you want to avoid funny looks when you get to Italy!) It has more character than the busier Riva or Torbole, where the sportier windsurfers go. The narrow, cobbled streets in the old town are perfect for a leisurely amble, there's plenty of shade, and you can stroll along the shore, take a swim in the lake... There are Boats trips to all the other towns - Limone is easily reached, and another romantic spot. The Castello is well worth a look, with exhibitions, and excellent views of the lake. Also, make sure you make the trip up Monte Baldo (2218 m high), with views over the next valley, Val d'Adige. The cable car is in 2 stages, and you really need to get there before 10.00 am to avoid long queues. Recommended restaurant: La Gondolier.
Limone is a small town at the most narrow stretch of Lake Garda towards the north of the lake. One of the many reasons stated for the town's name is that it used to house many lemon groves, the walls of which still remain, providing an interesting spectacle as your boat draws near to the town. The town itself is quite compact, a collection of small jewellery and clothing boutiques nestled among the ice-cream parlours. I would reccommend Limone as the ideal town to stay at on the lake because i found the south of the lake very busy, and the two towns at the north are very much devoted to watersports. Limone has a regular ferry to all other towns on the lake which is extremely good value. Opposite Limone is Malcesine where you can explore the castle and go up the mountain in the cable car. The view from the top is breathtaking. Limone istelf is a great starting point if you want to go walking. However, you have got to be pretty damn fit as all the routes are extremely steep. It is worth giving it a try though because the higher up you get, the more stunning the view. I took one particular walk from Limone town centre up a marked walk and discovered a beautiful waterfall. The walks are all signposted but they are quite confusing and the timings are all obviusly based on experienced walkers. Most of the hotels in the town centre are very similar but if you want a bit of a change, why not try the Leonardo Da Vinci which is less than a mile from the town centre. It is extremely easy to walk to the town along the olive grove path but if your aren't feeling energetic, the hotel offers a bus service. The hotel is the largest in the town and is on several levels. They have 4 pools and an indoor sports area, they also have their own private stretch of beach. the food is fantastic, with options for anyone. Also, they offer free tea, coffee, soft drinks and wine throughout the day... bargain. I loved
my holiday in Limone and i just wish i could go back now.
Romantic, relaxing Riva-del-Garda can be found nestling at the northern tip of Lake Garda in Italy. It is a fairly small, quiet town, but has a good selection of restaurants to choose from for the day or evening. It is a very chic town with lots of narrow streets lined with a good array of shops, from the cheap and cheerful to the expensive leather goods. The people of Riva seem very laid back and enjoy spending their time on the pebbly beach or strolling along the walkway which runs from one end of town to the other, along the lake’s edge. The walkway runs through some very pretty spots, surrounded by flowers and with the lake passing through inlets under bridges at some points. There is an ‘activity area’ next to the lake where smaller children can play on swings, climbing frames and trampolines or older children/adults can play tennis, football etc, or just laze about at the café. Riva is a good base from which to explore the rest of Lake Garda. Getting about the lake is very easy, with boats leaving from all towns at regular intervals. You can visit Limone, Garda (the capital of the lake), Malcesine, all very pretty, unspoilt little towns. Although, no trip to Lake Garda is complete without visiting the southernmost town of Sirmione. This beautiful quaint town, surrounded by the ancient castle walls is a sight to behold. You should not miss it. You may even want to explore further afield, with Venice and Verona only an hour or two away. In all, if you are looking for a relaxing, peaceful holiday, then Riva-del-Garda is for you.
This lake is the largest of the Italian Lakes stretching about 30 miles from north to south. The northern end is narrow with steep sides while the southern end is much wider and open. Riva lies at the extreme north of the lake. It is a medium sized town and ideal as a base for exploring the area or as a resort. The old town lies right next to the lake and offers a very wide range of shops reataurants and bars. There is a marina and just outside the town a large beach. It is pebbly but the water in the lake is very clean and safe for swimming. Water sports are aavailable and a little further down the coast is Torbola which is a renowned water skiing centre. There are walking opportunities in the area too - a short one up to a Bastion overlooking the town and others further afield into the mountains.For trips further afield there arte commercial packages but the easiest way to see the lake is on the steamers that ply the lake. It takes just over two hours to reach the southern end of the lake but there are other towns and villages nearer to Riva. Finally there is a wide range of accomodation from 6 star to camping. Best time to go ? Probably late Spring or autumm - warm but not too hot and not so crowded as in high season. There is a risk of rain but this a mountainous area and to be expected - it doesnt usually last long.
Lake Garda (Italian Lago di Garda or Benaco) is the largest lake in Italy. It is located in Northern Italy, about half-way between Venice and Milan. It is in an alpine region and was formed by glaciers at the end of the last ice age. The lake and its shoreline are divided between the provinces of Verona (to the south-east), Brescia (south-west), and Trento (north). The lake is a major tourist destination, with a number of hotels and resorts along its shore.