Lake Garda or Benaco is the largest Italian lake, with an area of about 370 km² (third in depth after Como and Maggiore). Hinge between three regions, Lombardy (province of Brescia), Veneto (province of Verona), Trentino-Alto Adige (province of Trento), it is located in parallel with the Adige, from which it is divided by the massif of Mount Baldo. In the north, it is narrow in funnel, while in the south it widens, surrounded by morainic hills that make the landscape gentler. The lake is an important tourist destination and is visited every year by millions of people.
In the lake there are five islands, all rather small in size. The largest is the island of Garda, on which in 1220 St. Francis of Assisi founded a monastery, suppressed in the eighteenth century, and on which today a nineteenth-century palace in Venetian neogothic style stands. A short distance away, there is the second largest island, the island of San Biagio, also called “dei Conigli” because in the 16th century there were numerous hares and rabbits that offered abundant hunts. The island, located at the south-eastern end of the Gulf of Manerba del Garda, is a short distance from the coast and is reachable on foot in dry periods.
Along the eastern shore there are three other islands, all of modest dimensions, located around Malcesine: the northernmost is the island of Olives, therefore there is the island of the Dream, also in dry periods reachable on foot from the coast, and finally the southernmost, the island of Trimelone (or Tremellone)
Answering the question “what to see on Lake Garda” is very difficult since we are talking about a very large territory, 165 km of coastline with over 30 countries that rise on its shores.
The waters of the lake touch numerous municipalities in the province of Brescia (Sirmione, Desenzano del Garda, Lonato del Garda, Padenghe sul Garda, Moniga del Garda, Manerba del Garda, San Felice del Benaco, Salò, Gardone Riviera, Toscolano Maderno, Gargnano, Tignale, Tremosine sul Garda, Limone sul Garda), Verona (Peschiera del Garda, Castelnuovo del Garda, Lazise, Bardolino, Garda, Torri del Benaco, Brenzone, Malcesine) and Trento (Riva del Garda, Nago-Torbole, Arco).
Sirmione is one of the most famous and renowned towns of Lake Garda. The peninsula of Sirmione is known by all lovers of the Lake and is a must-see for those coming for the first time to visit it. What to see: the Scaliger Castle, which represents a rare case of fortification destined for port use and the Roman villa “Terme di Catullo“, which belonged to the poet Catullus from which they take their name.
After Sirmione, a walk through the streets of Desenzano is a must, together with a visit to the Castle of Desenzano and then you can go to the hinterland of Montichiari. It is a town about 10 km from Desenzano, where you can visit the Cathedral of Montichiari dedicated to S. Maria Assunta and the Castello Bonoris which protects the town and its inhabitants since 1107.
Manerba del Garda
The Rocca di Manerba is a promontory overlooking Lake Garda and is one of the most beautiful viewpoints of the whole Lake. On the Rocca there is the Park, where you will find a museum that intends to enhance the archaeological realities and the landscape and naturalistic aspects. of the territory of Manerba.
Also recommended is a visit to the inhabited Bronze Age pile-dwelling that is part of the UNESCO world heritage.
From Manerba, you can continue west on Gardesana Occidentale towards Gardone Riviera to visit the Vittoriale degli Italiani and Giardini Heller. On the Vittoriale degli Italiani there is little to say except that it is the monumental citadel built in Gardone Riviera by the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio together with the architect Giancarlo Maroni.
A “sample of regions of the world”, so Andrè Heller defines his Garden. Over the years, helped by a climate called “fortune air”, Heller has managed to transform it into a paradisiacal garden where plants from all over the world are hosted. This is a place that really deserves to be seen!
Riva del Garda
Riva del Garda is an Italian town of 17 407 inhabitants of the autonomous province of Trento, fifth by population after Trento, Rovereto, Pergine Valsugana and Arco. It is the second largest municipality among those that overlook Lake Garda, after Desenzano del Garda. It is part of the Alto Garda and Ledro Community.
If you are in Riva del Garda on a day when it is raining or if you are interested in nature and culture, absolutely don’t miss MAG – Alto Garda Museum, located in Riva del Garda in an ancient medieval castle, locally known as “Rocca”.
The museum is certainly one of the best things to see in Riva del Garda with children: it is divided into sections dedicated to archaeology, paintings and life around the lake in the past, and there are whole sections dedicated to the little ones that offer many practical exhibitions.
Another reason to visit this museum is to climb the Mastio, the highest tower which offers a splendid view of the lake.
A quick and not to be missed trip from Riva del Garda is to the Varone Waterfall, located in a cave carved out of the same waterfall in about 20,000 years. There are two observation points – one at the base, where you can see the flow of the waterfall, and one upstream, from which you can feel the full force of the water between one spray and the other.
Don’t forget to bring a k-way, you’ll come out of the cave carved out of the waterfall almost completely wet!
There is also a small botanical garden at the entrance and information panels that explain this strange geological phenomenon. The waterfall is only 3 km from Riva del Garda – and from there you can also visit Canale di Tenno, a magical medieval village where time seems to have stopped.
Malcesine sul Garda
Malcesine is located on the east shore of Lake Garda and is the northernmost municipality in the Verona-Lake Garda area, about 54 km from the city of Verona and, along with Riva del Garda and Limone sul Garda, is one of the Pearls of the Lake Garda.
The village, built around the Scaligeri Castle and the Palazzo dei Capitani, home to the town library, is located at the foot of Monte Baldo. The historic center has a special charm, with the small port, the small squares, the typical restaurants and cafes and the historic parish church of Santo Stefano and Benigno e Caro.
Malcesine is one of the most elegant and well-equipped holiday resorts on Lake Garda: numerous hotels, apartments, bed and breakfasts and campsites offer visitors stays for all tastes.
The country offers a wide range of sporting activities, for example sailing, windsurfing, water skiing, paragliding, tennis, mini golf and mountain biking. One of the most famous sailing clubs is based in Malcesine: The Fraglia della Vela, with the performance of its best athletes, aims to conquer not only Europe, but the world.
A cable car leads from Malcesine to Monte Baldo (1760 m), which thanks to the countless species of plants it houses, is called the Botanical Garden of Europe.
In winter it is a popular ski area, with 11 km of slopes of varying degrees of difficulty. In summer it turns into an ideal starting point for paragliding above Malcesine on Lake Garda. Mountain bikers prefer the dirt trails for downhill.
The weekly market takes place every Saturday. The painter Gustav Klimt was one of the most famous guests of Malcesine.
In the summer of 1913, he painted two of his most famous landscapes, inspired by Malcesine and Cassone.
Peschiera del Garda
Peschiera del Garda is one of the most original towns on Lake Garda, it is completely surrounded by canals and overlooks the lake at the point where the waters of the Garda come out of the emissary Mincio.
At the end of the 7th century AD, with the dominion of the Lombards, Peschiera became not only an important strategic-commercial center but also a very important administrative center. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it was governed 1378 by the Viscontis, the Gonzagas and then by the Sforza for Venice, the Serenissima.
From the early sixteenth century Venice was occupied by the French and the Austrians and it is like fortress that Peschiera del Garda joins with Verona, Mantua and Legnago at the Quadrilateral, the defensive system organized by the Austrians.
Thanks to the beauties of the lake it overlooks and the surrounding area and the most famous amusement parks in Italy, including Gardaland, the village attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over Italy and beyond.
The Fortress of Peschiera del Garda, or Rocca, is a small jewel of architecture, enclosed in an imposing sixteenth-century pentagonal wall, with beautiful bastions and imposing gateways.
All around the river Mincio, emissary of the Garda, whose natural path has been modified by the construction of the fortification, with the definition of three branches of exit from the lake that meet then south of the inhabited center. One of the most suggestive areas of the town is the pedestrian bridge, which crosses the outer canal of the fortress. The Porta Brescia, a western entrance to the ancient fortress, is also very interesting.
Just above Porta Brescia, an ancient walkway joins the Tognon and Feltrin ramparts: don’t miss it, because walking along it will allow you to admire from above the whole fortress, discovering glimpses that otherwise you would not be able to appreciate. Once inside the Rocca, keeping to the left along the walls, you will reach the Bastione Tognon and Piazza Betteloni, right on the marina from which boats leave for trips on the lake and to reach the other villages.
Continuing north you reach the Bastion Querini. Here in the open space beyond the canal is the old Palazzina di Comando della Piazzaforte, or Presidio, more commonly known as the Palazzina Storica. It is here that, after the defeat of Caporetto, the glorious resistance on the Piave river was organized. Inside the hall where, on November 8th 1917, King Vittorio Emanuele III and the allies gathered for the historic Peschiera Convention, has remained intact since then. The neoclassical building, which also houses the Military Museum, is surrounded by the beautiful Catullo Park.
Just outside the Porta Verona is the Bastione San Marco and, right in front of it, you can’t miss a visit to the Artillery Barracks, open to the public after a meticulous restoration. The great arsenal, built between 1854 and 1857 by Radetzky in the stronghold of Peschiera., Is home to the Historical Archive and the Civic Library, with spaces for consultation and reading, and also hosts theatrical and musical performances and spaces for exhibitions, reviews and exhibitions
Continuing the walk to the south of Peschiera del Garda, to return to Porta Brescia, you reach the vast Piazza Ferdinando di Savoia, better known as Piazza d’Armi, near the Cantarane Bastion. Overlooking the square, the long building of the military prison and the parish church of San Martino, right near where the remains of the Roman settlement were found, probably built towards the end of the first century BC.
Arriving in Piazza D’Armi, it is certainly worth lingering for a relaxing walk on the sixteenth-century Ponte dei Voltoni, with beautiful terracotta arches, overlooking the Canale di Mezzo, where the fishermen’s boats of Peschiera del Garda stand. From the bridge, you can also admire the islet, with its luxuriant vegetation, beyond which the waters of the lake pour into the river. No less pleasant is also the walk outside the city walls, from where you can admire the suggestive play of water, lights and colors that surrounds the city, between the banks of the river and the ramparts.
After the walking tour of the historic center, always within the perimeter of the ancient fortress, from Piazza Betteloni, boats leave for trips on Lake Garda.