Lake Garda Overview

Lake Garda Overview

 

 Lake Garda: Italy’s Shimmering Jewel

Lake Garda has been charming visitors with its natural beauty for centuries. Notable aristocrats, artists and writers — including Goethe, Kafka, D.H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound — have praised its beauty and allure, and travellers continue to be drawn to the lake’s romantic mix of dazzling waters, mighty mountains, gentle plains and medieval towns. It’s the perfect setting for holidaymakers hoping to indulge in la dolce vita.

Lake Garda history
Evidence suggests that the Lake Garda area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, but the first people to have a significant impact on the land were the Romans. To this day, their presence is still visible in the crumbling ruins sprinkled around the landscape. The most famous of the Roman remnants is the extensive villa ruins in Sirmione, which are believed to date from the first century B.C.

Of course a region this beautiful and this strategic wasn’t without its admirers and the Romans had to fight to keep a hold of it. The most significant of these attacks came from the Germanic Alemanni tribes in the third century A.D., who were defeated by the Romans in a particularly violent clash on the banks of Lake Garda.

When the Roman Empire fell, Lake Garda came under control of a series of rulers: first, the Lombards, followed by the Carolingians, the Magyars, the Saxons, the Spanish and then the Austrians. In the 19th century, while under Austrian rule, Lake Garda became the setting for another bloody, brutal and hugely pivotal conflict that would forever change the face of Italy. Known as the Battle of Solferino, this battle saw Napoleon III joined forces with Vittorio Emanuele II (king of the Piedmont-Sardinia), defeating the Austrians and uniting all of Italy into one kingdom, the predecessor to the modern-day Italian nation.

South Lake Garda
At the southern end of the lake, the landscape is typically Mediterranean with vast swathes of vineyards and olive groves, as is the climate, which is generally calm and warm. On the southeast lake’s edge, you’ll find the popular resort towns of Garda and Bardolino, located just three kilometres apart and separated by a lakeshore path.

Garda, like many of the lake’s towns, is medieval and pedestrianised, and its wide tree-lined promenade is filled with lively bars, colourful ice cream parlours and restaurants. Next to the town is the La Rocca cliff, which you can trek up to admire sweeping views over the sun-drenched lake below.

Neighbouring Bardolino is another popular destination for incoming visitors. This former fishing village is now rather chic and sophisticated, yet it retains its distinctive Italian character. It’s home to some historical churches — the Romanesque San Severo and 9th-century San Zeno — but it’s known mostly for its eponymous wine, a light red for which grapes are grown in the surrounding vineyards. Also linked by lakeside path to Bardolino is Saló, another town whose chief attraction is its leafy promenade, the longest on Lake Garda.

Sirmione, a pedestrianised town famous for its medieval good looks, is located on the southern shore. It sits on a peninsula jutting out into the pristine lake. It often gets busy,
but for good reason. It’s home to the lake’s best-known historical attractions including a ruined Roman villa and a turreted medieval castle named Rocca Scaligera, which guards the entrance to the town. Sirmione has been a spa town since Roman times and many visitors come to soak away their stresses in its thermal baths and wellness centres.

Other popular resorts on the lake include the well-connected Desenzano on the southwest, and the sleepy Gardone Riviera on the western shore, known for its quiet beaches.

North Lake Garda
At the northern end of the lake, the landscape becomes more dramatic. Gentle hills give way to Alpine surroundings. Craggy mountains tower above the lake’s edge and breezy winds provide a perfect environment for windsurfing and paragliding.

The main resorts at the north end of the lake include the pretty town Riva del Garda, the lake’s second largest settlement. Riva del Garda is a dynamic and buzzy place, with numerous bustling gelaterias, cafes and restaurants. Among its historic highlights is its moated castle, known as Rocco, which is home to an interesting town museum.

Also on the north eastern shore is Malcesine, an enchanting, laid-back settlement with an enviable lakefront location. It’s fronted by a huge castle and backed by steep mountains — in between it’s a cramped labyrinth of atmospheric narrow alleys, winding lanes and cobbled tracks. From Malcesine, you can take a cable car up to the summit of Monte Baldo, which offers truly breathtaking panoramic views of the lake and is the starting point for several hiking trails.

These are by no means the only towns on the lake though. At various points around its perimeter, there are other picturesque and peaceful harbour villages so pretty they look like they’ve been lifted from a postcard.

Getting there and getting around
Lake Garda is served by several major airports, making it extremely easy to access.

Verona Valerio Catullo (Verona Villafranca)
Verona’s Valerio Catullo airport (also known as Verona Villafranca) is located just 15 kilometres away from Peschiera del Garda on the southern end. It is extremely convenient for the east side of the lake, which can be reached by car in around half an hour. To get to Lake Garda by train, use public transport to get to Porta Nuova train station in Verona and catch a train from there.

Verona Brescia
Verona’s Brescia airport is located around a 30- to 45-minute drive from Lake Garda’s southern shores. Transfers to the north end of the lake can take up to two hours. If you don’t have a car, take a shuttle bus into Brescia town, where you can hop on a train to the lake.

Milan Bergamo
Milan’s Bergamo airport is particularly convenient for the western resorts. For public transport for Bergamo, take a shuttle bus into the city, where you can hop on to trains for various Lake Garda destinations. Transfers from Bergamo airport will take between one and two hours.

Milan Malpensa and Linate
Milan’s Malpensa airport and Linate airports act as gateways to the lake, although they are further away that Verona’s airports. Transfers from both airports will take around two hours. To travel by train from Linate or Malpensa, take public transport into Milan Central Station and the train there to Desenzano.

Train stations and ferries
There are railway stations in Desenzano and Peschiera del Garda, both on the southern shore of the lake. The Bolzano-Verona train line stops at Rovereto, about a 30-minute drive form the lake’s northern shore.

The lake itself is served by a fleet of ferries that offer a comprehensive service around the various towns and villages.

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