Lake Garda is one of the most famous lakes in Northern Italy. First of all, this is because it is the largest lake in Italy (yes, even bigger than Lake Maggiore!) and it touches no fewer than 3 regions: Veneto, Lombardy and Trentino Alto Adige.
However, above all Lake Garda is famous for the beauty of its landscape. Its conformation is interesting to tourists because it is very varied. While the northern part is surrounded by mountains that descend steeply into the water, creating evocative scenes, the lake "opens up" in the southern part and becomes flatter. The coasts are lower and almost recall a marine atmosphere.
The best way to discover it in its entirety is to drive along the coast, on the road called "Gardesana". This is a state road carved into the rock, which is a joy to travel by car or motorcycle. Its tunnels that suddenly open up to offer views of the water are especially scenic. It is no coincidence that car commercials are often shot on this route!
Lake Garda is a paradise for sports enthusiasts, who can practice many activities here including water sports, land sports and even air sports!
The northern part of the lake is characterised by regular winds (early morning and early afternoon), crystal clear waters and a ban on motor boats. This is why the towns of Riva del Garda, Arco and Torbole have become landmarks for windsurfers from all over Europe over the years.
Similarly, heading south, you will find sailing schools and other water-related activities, such as the recently founded SUP.
Lake Garda is at the centre of numerous cycle paths that depart from here and lead to artistic cities and destinations throughout the region. From the south, for example, a convenient bike path connects Peschiera to Mantua. To the north, however, another track connects Garda with Val d’Adige and from there you can get to Trento and then to Bolzano by pedalling along the Adige River.
But if you don't want to cover all those miles on two wheels, don't get discouraged. There are shorter sections of cycle paths located in various areas of the lake, and you will often find places that rent pedal assist bikes.
Given the particular conformation of the area, and the Alps in particular, it was inevitable that climbing activities would develop here. As you drive along the lake, you made be struck by the impressive sight of climbers clinging onto the steep sides of the mountains with their bare hands!
If you look upwards while sunbathing on one of the lake's beaches or going for a swim, you may spot sporting daredevils coming down from Mount Altissimo by paragliding! From the town of Malcesine it is possible to climb up to 3000 metres with the panoramic cableway - which rotates on itself! - and jump with the paraglider from there. You will feel like you are landing in the water!
Many parts of Lake Garda are suitable for swimming. Obviously, it is best to look for beaches or at least access points to the water that have been designed for people, and to avoid swimming in unsafe ports or locations. Given the depth of the water, it is advisable to swim near the shore if you are not an expert swimmer! The beaches can be either sandy or with pebbles. In some cases, you will also find beaches equipped with umbrellas, sun beds and pedalos available to rent.
Whether you decide to go all over the lake or just a part of it, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to selecting which towns to visit.
Starting from the southern end, the beautiful Sirmione is certainly a destination that is worth a visit, even if only for a few hours, thanks to its rock on the water, thermal baths and the Grotto of Catullo.
Proceeding westwards, you will first come to Desenzano and then to Salò, pretty towns that are very popular with tourists. You can walk in the historical centres and admire churches, monuments and piazzas while breathing in the lively lake air.
For history buffs, Salò is famous for the republic of the same name founded by Mussolini at the end of the Second World War.
Heading north on the west coast, you will encounter a very unique attraction: the Vittoriale degli Italiani. Poet and soldier Gabriele D'Annunzio created this place to celebrate Italy and its war deeds. The poet's house, gardens and the whole complex are a completely unique place. To some people, they may seem bizarre, but they are visited by thousands of tourists every year. You will be amazed by the large number of objects, statues and works of art collected by D'Annunzio. There's even a naval ship in the park!
Continuing along the western shore of the lake, you will find picturesque villages such as Gargnano, Campione and Limone sul Garda (which takes its name from the many lemon groves found there). Follow your inspiration and stop wherever you like best.
The extreme tip of the lake has stronger Habsburg-Central European connotations. The austere towns of Riva del Garda and Arco will welcome you with elegant bars and shops. This area is very popular with Austrian and German tourists. You might almost think you were in Germany!
Going south, towards the lower part of the lake, you will come across villages built in small spaces between the mountains and the water, such as Malcesine, Brenzone sul Garda and Torri del Benaco. You can stop in one of these places to admire the old town, the Scaligero Castle, eat fish in a restaurant overlooking the lake or climb on a boat that takes you from bank to bank.
As the lower part of the lake widens, the coasts grows distant. As you reach Garda, then Lazise and finally Peschiera, the scenery becomes completely different. Even the architecture is different, with a Venetian influence. Anyone can enjoy pleasant walks or bike rides to discover this area.
There are also many attractions to be found around the lake, including:
Valpolicella - anyone who loves wine knows what Valpolicella means. If you have the chance, visit some wine cellars and discover the variety and excellence of local wines with a wine tasting, such as Amarone and Recioto.
Gardaland - Italy's most famous amusement park awaits you with attractions for children and adults, divided into thematic areas.
Verona - there is so much for you to see in the beautiful city of lovers made immortal by Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Discover the whole itinerary in this post.
Mantua - the Mincio river that comes out of Lake Garda stops here, becomes wider and surrounds the town's historic centre, filled with beautiful buildings and museums (find out what to see in this post).
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