Poets and politicians, divas and dictators, they’ve all been drawn to captivating Lake Garda (Lago di Garda).
In fact, 7% of all tourists to Italy head for the lake’s shores, taking to its wind-ruffled waters in the north and village- and vineyard-hopping in the south.
Surrounded by three distinct regions – Lombardy, Trentino Alto-Adige and the Veneto – the lake’s cultural diversity attracts a cosmopolitan crowd.
The northern resorts such as Riva del Garda and Torbole, where restaurants serve air-dried ham and Austrian-style carne salada (salted beef), while in the south, French and Italian families bed down in Valtenesi farmhouses and family-friendly spa towns such as Sirmione and Bardolino.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy (52km long by 17km wide). It’s so big that it alters the local climate, which is milder and sunnier than might be expected.
It’s also the most popular of the lakes and acts as a bridge between the Alps and the rest of the country.
The narrow north of the lake is tightly enclosed by mountains that drop sheer into the water with villages wedged into gaps in the cliffs. Further south, the lake spreads out comfortably, flanked by gentle hills and lined by placid holiday resorts.
In the south, Desenzano is a cheery spot with the advantage of good transport links, plus proximity to the very popular and scenically impressive Sirmione. On the western shore are the old Venetian town of Salò and Gargnano, the lake’s best destination, a small village that remains largely unspoilt. The mountainous scenery is spectacular on the approach to the genteel resort of Riva del Garda at the head of the lake. It’s a handsome town with a long history and is a focal point for sports and water activities.
Overlooked by the ridges of Monte Baldo, which tops 2100m, the main resorts of Lake Garda’s eastern shore struggle to match the charm of the villages opposite.
Aim for Torbole if you’re an outdoors enthusiast. To the south, the very popular resort of Malcesine has direct access up to Monte Baldo, as does Brenzone, comprising a string of attractive little harbours and a good base for walks and mountain-bike rides into Monte Baldo behind.