Holidays on Lake Garda
Lake Garda – or in Italian Lago di Garda – is my second home, thanks to my Italian mother. My early childhood consisted of long balmy summers by the water. Later there were siestas among the olive trees, Italian boyfriends, surfing lessons on the lake and outings to the local disco. In winter – Christmas, Carnival, sometimes even Easter – we went skiing on Monte Baldo.
As an adult, my holiday experience on Lake Garda has matured. Nonetheless, I occasionally bring out my inner child by visiting Gardaland, a.k.a.the best theme park in the North of Italy. Other days I let my childhood memories relive with a refreshing dip in the lake.
Another quality that has been untouched by the years is my taste for local cuisine. Mornings start with a cappuccino, later I have a gelato, followed by a lunch with spaghetti alle vongole (cockles). Finally, I will dine with salmon trout from the lake on the barbecue and a chilled glass of white wine. Tiramisu for dessert, obviously.
Our holiday at the lake is alternated with the occasional city trip to Verona, Padua or Venice, all driving distance away. Other days when the great outdoors beckons, we will go for a multi-day trek in the mountains, hiking from one mountain hut to another.
Anyway, that is my take on the lake.
The sun, water and gorgeous surroundings are enough to relax for many visitors. However, others prefer to be active.
Things to do around Lake Garda
The beauty of Lake Garda is that it offers something for everyone. Sunbathing, the great outdoors, water sports, enchanting villages and good food. No need to make a choice, you can have it all in one holiday.
Below I have listed some of what I think the highlights are.
Water sports on Lake Garda Lake
Garda is the ideal environment for water sports. The lake has an area of 368 km² (!) and is relatively quiet. Always keep an eye out for the ferries, who stop for no one. Most fishing boats set out at night. For the rest, there are few motorized vehicles on the water.
Surfing and sailing
The north side of the lake, especially Torbole, is a surfing and sailing paradise with reliable, strong winds. Mornings the Pelèr wind blows here. In the afternoon, the Ora attracts windsurfers and sailors from all over the world.
Kayaking and SUPping
In other places where the water is a bit calmer, there is stand-up paddle, kayaking and the possibility to dive up to 50 meters.
Diving in Lake Garda mainly takes place on the north side of the lake. It’s not for me. Too cold! I am more into warm water diving with lots of visibility and colourful fish, like at Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
If you consider diving a sport, go in the spring or fall. The temperatures are then reasonable, and visibility is good. In summer, the water is warmer, but visibility is less due to algae blooms and the sediment from the Sarca River. In winter, it is at its best. However, when water temperatures are around 4∘ C, it is too cold to dive with a wetsuit.
Underwater attractions include:
- the coves of Tempesta (3 km southeast of Torbole),
- the cliffs of Calcarolle and
- Porto San Nicolò (near Riva), where the Silent Christ statue stands at s depth of 15 m.
There are also opportunities to go canyoning, using abseils (rappels) and ropes in the mountains around the lake.
But don’t let these water activities stop you from a bit of sightseeing, as the lake is surrounded by quaint villages.
Discover picturesque villages on Lake Garda
The southern peninsula of Sirmione was built around the 15th-century castle (Castello) Rocca Scaligera. Other sights are the sulphur springs and the Grotte di Catullo, a Roman villa.
In the summer, it can be pretty busy here. Admire the peninsula from the lake.
Torri del Benaco
Torri del Benaco is one of the most enchanting places on the lake. The 14th century Castello Scaligero dominates the harbour. The centre is car-free. Piazza Calderini is the place for an al fresco dinner with a view of the lake, the castle and the port.
Campo is a ghost village in the mountains at 200 meters in Brenzone Sul Garda’s municipality.
The town can only be reached on foot via a cart track that connects Castelletto and Prada’s villages. In the centre, you will see the remains of a castle covered with vegetation. The village church with well-preserved frescoes dates back to the 13th and 14th centuries. Many of these houses have (partially) collapsed over the years. However, some places have recently been restored and are now used as holiday homes.
Villa Torre is located in Brenzone Sul Garda on the lake. It has free private parking, a shared lounge and a garden.
Hotel Maximilian is located right on the lakeshore in Val di Sogno, in the municipality of Malcesine. It is one of the most alluring and peaceful parts of the lake. The hotel is surrounded by gardens and has a beautiful view of the lake.
Wander through the colourful streets of Malcesine, eat ice cream in the harbour and admire the castle, Castello Scaligero. Like the Sirmione Castle on the south side of the lake, it is named after the Veronese Della Scala family who ruled the region in the 13th and 14th centuries.
Val di Sogno
From Malcesine, walk two kilometres south to the picturesque Val di Sogno, the dream valley, for the ultimate sundowner.
Skiing on Monte Baldo
In Malcesine is the cable car to the top (2218 meters) of Monte Baldo. The ski area is small. It has two blue runs, one red and one black. Nice for a weekend. There is a restaurant on the top.
Walking on Monte Baldo
From the top of Monte Baldo start several hiking routes. It is also possible to walk up from the lake. Depending on the starting point and your fitness level, it takes about six hours from the valley. Then either walk back or return by cable car.
Riva del Garda
You have sweeping views over Lake Garda and Riva from the surrounding mountains. For those who don’t fancy a steep half-hour climb to the top, a brand new panoramic lift has just opened. The all-glass elevator connects Riva del Garda’s historical centre in two minutes with the Venetian Bastion at the top, where there is also a bar-restaurant.
Panoramic lift details Lake Garda
The departure station is in an underground building in Riva del Garda. The arrival station is on the restaurant’s ground floor. The renovated tower built by the Venetian Republic in the year 1508 is on the top.
The price is €3 for a single ticket (it’s a nice walk down) and €5 for a return. With the Garda Guest Card, you get 1 free one-way ticket.
Limone is one of the few tourist towns on the west side of the lake. Indeed, lemons – limone in Italian – are grown in this atmospheric town. Take the ferry to reach the other side.
Cycling around Lake Garda
There is one road around the lake where almost all traffic passes over. The only alternative is some mountain roads.
Unfortunately, there are only a couple of cycle paths. There is one in the municipality of Brenzone, and part of Limone has one. For the rest, cyclists share the road with motorized traffic, with a steep mountain on one side and the lake on the other. There are quite a few long and dark tunnels.
Of course, you can also cycle in the mountains. But phew. The paths and roads in the mountains are often steep, with hairpin bends and Italian motorists drive the Italian way (say no more).
To summarize I believe it is too dangerous to cycle there. Yet many people do it anyway.
Experience Lake Garda with children
Picnicking by Lake Tenno
To escape the summer madness of the lake, drive to Lake Tenno. The turquoise colour of the lake seems to come straight from a painter’s palette. Meadows and forests surround the scenic lake. The ideal surroundings for a picnic and a hike with your kids.
Near the lake is the medieval village of Canale di Tenno, a pretty town.
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