“The great fact in life, the always possible escape from dullness, was the lake. The sun rose out of it, the day began there; it was like an open door that nobody could shut…You had only to look at the lake, and you knew you would soon be free.”
– Willa Cather
No George Clooney Sightings Here, But Lake Garda is a Celebrity All by Herself!
The largest of Italy’s lakes, Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) sits elegantly in the northeastern corner of Italy. Overlapping Lombardy, Trentino-Alto Adige and the Veneto, Garda lies barely above sea level (65m). Considering she was carved from a glacier at the end of the Ice Age, she is quite magnificent! 34 miles long and ranging from 2 to 11 miles in width, Garda is 143 square miles of pristine natural beauty.
Nature has provided a natural fortress with the Gruppo del Baldo mountains on the north. Accessible and connected only by water or via narrow interconnecting roads, picturesque villages are sprinkled along her 90 mile circumference (over 28 of which are free beaches). Lago di Garda is an extremely popular vacation destination and a haven for water sport enthusiasts.
Limone sul Garda – “Magic Lemons” and the “Longevity Protein”
Limone sul Garda, located on the northwest shore, is not only stunning but an excellent base for our explorations. With only 1,000 inhabitants, Limone has a fascinating history of how lemons came to this remote and unlikely village and how it became famous for its lemon orchards.
By the way, it is often mistakenly thought that Limone sul Garda derived its name from limone (lemon), but in fact it is quite different. Want the real scoop? There’s a link at the end of this page which gives the history of Limone’s namesake.
Furthermore, a 20th century medical discovery brought attention to Limone when it was discovered that the residents carry a unique protein, referred to as the “longevity protein”.
(See the recommended links at the end of this page for more information on Limone’s fascinating history and the longevity protein.)
It’s virtually impossible to go anywhere without wanting to pause and appreciate still another spectacular view! From every balcony and lakeside café, riding the ferry or funovia, while strolling or resting on conveniently located benches along the lovely lakeside pedestrian pathways; they all invite you to pause, linger, savor, enjoy…
Take time to walk and explore. Stop now and then for an espresso or gelato. Be prepared for cobblestones and some steep walkways (slippery when wet!), but also be prepared for a abundant selection of tempting cafes and shops. Naturally, the “lemon” theme dominates. Anything that could possibly be made from lemons (and a few things you would’ve never guessed) are available.
Don’t forget to try the limoncino, a local specialty. You can only call it limoncello in Amalfi, but it’s still delicious chilled after a fabulous meal. Or try the popular “dessert” drink called scroppino which combines lemon gelato, Prosecco and vodka. The perfect way to top off a perfect meal, wouldn’t you agree?
Malcesine & Riva del Garda – The Scalagieri Were Here, (Too)!
So let’s get to the ferry and enjoy a day on the lake! Today, we stay in the narrow north and our first stop is the medieval village of Malcesine, a short jaunt across the lake. Approaching from the water, we know we are close when Castello Scaligero comes into view. With only a few hours so we decide to go directly to the funovia which will take us to Montebaldo, 6,000 feet above the lake. On the ascent and descent the revolving gondola offers a spectacular 360 degree view. Wow! Gorgeous!
As the castle and village turn into miniatures, we get a panoramic and breathtaking view of Garda in all her splendor. Back in town, we have time to meander through her medieval streets, enjoy the local shops and, of course, sample a gelato before boarding for our next stop!
Back on the ferry our destination is Riva del Garda, located at the northern tip of the lake. We are quickly greeted by another medieval Scalagieri castle. Once a fortress and symbol of power, today it enjoys the peaceful and panoramic view of the lake. For those who don’t wish to partake in the water sports or go swimming, lovely pedestrian promenades and thoroughfares in the heart of the village as well along the lake offer a relaxing way to enjoy Riva del Garda.
There is a definite Austrian influence and we’re reminded that this whole area, being in such close proximity, is very popular with German and Austrian tourists and you will find that many of the locals all around Garda are fluent in German.
After sampling local gelato (after all , it is a duty to try it everywhere!) and a fabulous caffe we return to Limone to dine. Enjoying delicious local fare, we are satiated and content…and fueled for another day on the lake…
Riva del Garda…
Sirmione – “A Finger of Land”
A relaxing 2-hour trip by hydrofoil (ferry is about 4 hours), Sirmione is located on the southernmost end of the lake. (Technically it is in Lombardy but I have included it here as well.) The view from the water is by far the best way to explore any lake and Lake Garda is no exception. Unrushed, a leisurely ride offers idyllic scenery and glimpses of private gardens and villas nestled along the slopes.
As we approach our destination, we can’t miss the famous and imposing Rocca Scaligiera (yes, the same family!). We look forward to exploring this famous castle, but first we head to the Old Town to appease our appetites. Appealing shops are tempting, but first things first. After enjoying a fabulous lunch at one of the many excellent dining choices, we set off to explore the famous Grotto. ( Of course, who can resist another gelato to enjoy en route?)
The footpath to the famous Grotte di Catullo, the Grotto of Catullus, (whose statue greeted us as we disembarked, but more about him later in the Fun Footnote!), leads you outside the main town. Maria Callas’ former villa as well as other estates and lovely olive tree groves line the path. The Grotto entrance gives no indication of its size and grandeur! We quickly realize we didn’t allow enough time to see it all so do allow a few hours to explore.
From the 1st century B.C. Grotte di Catullo was an opulent complex of villas, baths and shops…a Roman spa/resort built near the famous thermal springs on the outskirts of Sirmione. It seems that the wealthy have always enjoyed a luxurious spa getaway and the Romans were no different. There is a small admission (worth it!) and a museum. Measuring 167 x 105 meters, this is imposing site is humongus!Wandering among the ruins, one can’t help but wonder and imagine what it must have been like all those centuries ago. The Romans surely knew how to live and enjoy life! And even today Sirmione is famous for its hot springs.
A tram (again, worth it) will drop you back in town in time to shop a bit more, and explore Rocca Scaligiera before catching the hydrofoil back. The powerful Scaligiera family from Verona built Rocca Scaligiera in the 13th century. (You may have noticed their family crest with the iconic step ladder, scala in Italian, everywhere in this region.). Strategically and ingeniously designed, not only did the fortress provide a well-fortified drawbridge and safe harbor for locals, but it trapped invaders attacking from the water.
Before heading back, we enjoy the panoramic views from the towers where knights once kept vigil and only a swan swims contentedly below…
More about the history of Limone sul Garda:
Limone sul Garda: A History: http://www.comboni.org.uk/limone.html***
More about the “longevity protein” of Limone sul Garda:
Commune di Limone sul Garda: http://www.visitlimonesulgarda.com/index.asp?menu=13.58
Gauis Valerius Catullus – A few words about the namesake of the Grotto. Gaius Valerius Catullus was a poet who lived in the 1st century B.C. Born to a wealthy and prominent family from Verona, he spent much of his youth in Rome, but also enjoyed visiting the family villa in Sirmione, His love poems were, and still are, considered outrageous, even bawdy and erotic. He was appreciated by other poets and influenced the likes of Ovid, Horace, and Virgil. To this day his writings are still studied and quoted.
More about Catullus and his poetry: Wikipedia, Catullus: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Catullus
There’s so much to see and enjoy in and around Lake Garda. This is only an overview based on my own experiences…I encourage you to do additional research and reading… For TipZ on planning your trip:
The Savvy Traveler
My FavoriteZ – GuideZ, MapZ, DvdZ – ALL Available HERE
(Lake Garda is a popular tourist destination and you will also find excellent maps and guides when you get there.)
Just click on the “stamp” or comment below.
Have you visited Lake Garda? What did you enjoy? What would you suggest? Please share your insights and experiences!