The largest and most popular of the Italian lakes, Lake Garda’s resorts sit in two distinctive landscapes, with the flat rolling hills of the south growing into towering dramatic mountains in the north.
Lake Garda’s steeped in history with grand castles, 13th century churches and cities such as Venice and Verona on its doorstep. Its resorts sit proudly on the shore, their narrow cobbled streets leading to bustling harbours, sun-soaked promenades and lively piazzas lined with restaurants and cafés for a refreshing spritz or ice cream.
Fancy a dip? There are plenty of spots to paddle in the edge of the lake or jump from a jetty in the fresh, clear waters. And if that’s not enough, the summer is busy with firework displays, food and wine festivals and weekly outdoor concerts. So how do you choose between the north or south of the lake?
Best known for its small towns clinging to the rock face below rugged peaks, the narrower north has views across the lake and towards the foothills of the Dolomites. No more so than in Limone, where you can smell fragrant lemons and discover the ancient citrus groves. Opposite, Malcesine’s castle stands prominently above the town – in its shadow, wander down the winding cobblestoned walkways to the harbour.
Best thing to do: Board a ferry for a relaxing way to see the local area. You’ll be able to hop off and explore a nearby town or village and enjoy the views along the way.
Best place to eat: Grab a refreshing ice cream from Cristallo’s in Riva’s town square, then admire the bell tower in the centre or watch the windsurfers out on the water.
Best views: For great views to the north and south of the lake, take the cable car from Malcesine to the top of Monte Baldo. You can either go for a gentle stroll, a hike or grab a refreshing drink from the café and simply take in your surroundings.
Heading south, the lake opens up into wide bays and warmer waters, surrounded by a much flatter landscape. Known for its Mediterranean feel, the climate’s ideal for vineyards and olive groves – take a wander through the Bardolino countryside and stop at a local cantina.
Furthest south, the Sirmione peninsula is famous for the natural thermal springs. Cross the bridge and walk through the medieval walls into alleys of boutiques and ice cream parlours. Neighbouring Desenzano is bursting with restaurants and pavement cafés, and like many of the resorts, it gets lively after dark.
Best thing to do: Spend a day at Gardaland theme park. With over 30 thrilling rides, it’s a great option for a fun-filled family day out.
Best place to eat: For a special meal in an extra special setting, you can’t get better than La Boheme on the edge of Lazise. Sit under the stars or a vine-covered pergola at a table beside the outdoor pool and enjoy an exquisite meal. Succulent grilled steaks and pasta dishes with fresh lake fish are favourites here.
Best views: From the tip of the Sirmione peninsula, look around to Desenzano on one side and Bardolino and Garda on the other. On a clear day, look up to the north of the lake to catch a glimpse of the towering Monte Baldo.