Garda is the biggest in Italy, a lake that seems a sea for its mild and temperate climate which has favoured the harmonious growth of Mediterranean vegetation. Olive groves, citrus groves, oleanders, agaves and broom all colour its shores. Towards the plain, gentle hills covered in vineyards producing top-quality wines. Transparent waters fill fishermen’s nets and the tables of famous restaurants.
A land of contrasts, from the coast so much loved by tourists to the more rural and intimate hinterland, Lake Garda offers numerous occasions for fascinating discoveries in a spectacular light. Nature, art, history and relaxation are the characteristics of all the localities on Brescian shores. Important events mark the passage of the seasons: music, sports and gastronomy, culture and folklore are at the centre of shows and festivals attracting visitors. Spas, sailing clubs and golf courses add value to the tourist business.
Pearl of the lake is Sirmione, an enchanting place at the tip of a narrow peninsula, already admired by the Romans for its splendid position. Catullo made it his home and sang its beauties. The Scaligera castle rises from the waters in a series of towers and courtyards. In the midst of the olive groves on the steep slopes facing the lake, one of the most interesting archaeological areas in Italy shows the fascinating ruins of a huge Roman villa famed with the name of “Grotte di Catullo”. Its spa waters, known from ancient times, have favoured the growth of excellent structures.
Among the most important centres we find Desenzano and its characteristic old harbour, the remains of a Roman villa with prestigious mosaics and a sailing club famous throughout the world. The castle dominates the scene from the top part of the town. The Duomo conserves a “Last Supper” painted by Tiepolo.
Wonderful excursions can be made to San Martino and Solferino, famous for the battles fought on their hills. South of the lake we find the Lonato fortress housing the Casa-museo del Podestà. Scattered among vineyards with singular castles dating back to the 10th century are the ancient Valtenesi boroughs of: Padenghe, Moniga, Manerba, San Felice, Puegnago, Polpenazze and Soiano which also conserve wonderful Romanic parish churches and ancient sanctuaries.
Not to be missed, at Manerba, the splendid panoramic walk up to the Rocca and, in the vicinity of Puegnago, a visit to the lakes of Sovenigo which, during the summer, take on an exotic hue with the flowering of the water lilies and lotus flowers. Salò and Gardone compete in their fascinating elegance and famous history.
Gardone became the hermitage of poet Gabriele d’Annunzio who spent his last years in the extraordinary art déco surroundings of the Vittoriale, now open to the public. The town can boast some truly romantic villas and gardens. The superb botanical gardens of the Heller Foundation contain trees from all over the world, enhanced by sculptures and works of modern art.
Salò shows off its palaces that testify the era in which it was the capital of the “magnifica patria”. Its Duomo is a veritable art gallery and the historical centre is also a lively occasion for shopping. Toscolano and Maderno lie on the biggest Garda lido and are dedicated to lovers of sports and relax. The central square of Maderno is enhanced by the church of St. Andrew, a splendid example of Romanic architecture. A very pleasant walk leads to Valle delle Cartiere, through the greenery along a torrent which, in the past, fed the local paper mills.
Gargnano, with its picturesque villages of Villa and Bogliaco, hosts the Centomiglia – the most important sailing regatta on the inland waters of Europe. The borough maintains its almost protective atmosphere with alleys, high walls and flowering caper plants. Along the road it is impossible not to note the scenographical background of the 18th-century garden of Villa Bettoni which, in spring and autumn becomes “Il giardino di Delizie” the flourishing stage for exhibitions of plants and flowers.
Sailing and windsurf enthusiasts meet at Campione del Garda.
Trekking and mountain biking through breath-taking scenery, rafting and horse-riding are the proposals offered in Parco dell’Alto Garda Bresciano with its mountain villages of Tignale and Tremosine that conserve architecture and rural traditions together with Nature and magnificent panoramic views embracing the whole lake. To enjoy this spectacular nature, a visit must be paid to the Montecastello Sanctuary. Tignale hosts a museum dedicated to Park visitors.
A spectacular panoramic road leads along the Brasa torrent to Tremosine – above Limone, a tourist centre specially loved by German visitors. The audacious architecture of its lemon groves characterises the landscape. The borough with its stone alleys and ancient flower-laden walls running from the historical centre to the harbour is the bulwark of Garda on the Brescian side, and the most northern part of the world where citrus fruits can be grown. Regular boat services connect local lake towns for a pleasant tour of the lake.
In summertime, it is possible to reach and visit Isola del Garda, a rocky outcrop with an interesting history and hosting an elegant palace in Neogothic-Venetian style with Italian gardens and flourishing greenery.
Traditional cuisine on the lake shores is light and tasty with whitefish in the forefront. It becomes more substantial in the hinterland with fresh and cured meats, game and mushrooms and, in the Alto Garda Park, mountain cheeses that reign supreme. The “Formagella” coming from Tremosine and Tombea is the most well-known. One gastronomic curiosity is sisam – a sauce based on dried whitebait, onions, wine and natural aromas to be enjoyed on a bed of polenta. Thanks to the lake’s mild climate, olive trees have thrived since antiquity and considered precious for the curative properties attributed to the oil. Even nowadays, olives are gathered by hand in November and December and sent immediately to the oil press. This DOP extra-virgin olive oil is of exceptional quality, exalting the aroma and fl avour of both fish and meat dishes. Such great attention to local traditions and culture has given new impulse to the care of the olive groves, and the beautiful silver leaves of these plants continue to decorate the hill terraces and lake shores.
Lemons and citrons have been cultivated since ancient times around Lake Garda and are acknowledged as typical produce of the districts of Gardone Riviera, Toscolano Maderno, Tignale, Gargnano and Limone. Only a few lemon groves have survived thanks to enthusiasts, but the recent rediscovery of ancient fl avours and crafts, added to which the desire to conserve and valorise the area’s architectural and cultural heritage, has led to a recovery of these beautiful cultivations.
The Prà dela fam lemon grove can be visited at the port of Tignale along SS 45 bis, and also the one named Castel in the historical centre of Limone. Not to be overlooked is the famous “cedrata” made famous by Italian singer Mina, and citron chocolates for those with a sweet tooth.
The Valtenesi hills give us fine wines such as their Valtenesi DOC and the others historical denominations, still present in the area such as the Garda Classic, Garda Bresciano and San Martino della Battaglia and the IGT Benaco Bresciano. The original Valtenesi Chiaretto, with its delicate pink colour is also known as “wine of one night”. A native strain produces the noble Groppello with its characteristic ruby red hues and velvety taste.
Honey, truffles and distilled spirits enrich the proposals offered by Lake Garda cuisine.