Laid-back Lake Garda

For a blissful seaside holiday without the sea, this Italian favourite has it all.

Laid-back Lake Garda

by Zoe Bishop |

Nestled in northern Italy, with Milan to the west, Venice in the east and the mountains to the north, Lake Garda boasts an enviable position. The largest of the Italian lakes, it covers a vast area, and the landscape, climate and vibe can vary dramatically to give you several holidays in one trip.

To the north, the shores are rockier and wilder, and the current is perfect for water sports. Closer to the border of Austria and Switzerland, the cuisine perfectly blends Italian with continental influences, and it’s a hotspot for Europeans seeking out la dolce vita. Further south, the lake opens up, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking the pebbly beaches and vast expanse of calm water for the tranquil Mediterranean. The resorts are like seaside towns, and there’s a mix of luxury villas, sophisticated campsites, hotels and self-catering accommodation.

Laid-back Lake Garda

Where to stay

We stayed at the beautifully kept Relais Rosa dei Venti in the charming resort of Moniga del Garda. An easy, 45-minute drive from Verona airport, it’s the ideal place to escape the hustle of the bigger cities and the extreme heat of the Italian summer. Small but well-formed, Moniga has all you need – a lively shoreline with restaurants and bars, plus a beautiful old town with shops, a flea market, ice cream parlours and friendly locals. It’s easy to stroll around, but there’s also the “trenino” tourist train to take you from the port up to the heart of the town if you’re feeling lazy.

Relais Rosa dei Venti, a complex of self-catering apartments in landscaped grounds, is perfectly located between the lake and the town – just a five-minute walk to either. It has two pools, a hot tub and kids’ playgrounds. Our two-bedroom apartment was generously proportioned, stylish and clean, with a large terrace overlooking the lake, complete with sun loungers, dining furniture and a hammock. You don’t need to leave the site – especially as they offer deliveries of fresh bread and pastries to your door each morning – but there’s so much more to explore that we recommend you do.

Out and about

The roads around the lake are pretty and easy to navigate, so it’s worth going for a drive. The nearest big town is Desenzano, which has a lovely marina and picturesque lanes to explore, and Verona – with its historic centre, Roman and medieval architecture and air of romance – is worth seeing. Another key town is Sirmione. Perched on a narrow, two-mile-long strip of land that juts into the lake, it has cobbled streets, a 13th-century castle and a Roman villa.

Adrenaline junkies and those holidaying with kids will be spoilt for choice with the selection of theme parks. The most famous is Gardaland (Gardaland.it), which has all the classic thrills and spills, a Sea Life centre and Peppa Pig Land. Elsewhere, Caneva Aquapark (Canevaworld.it) caters to every age and taste, so you can ride the lazy river or take off from a 35-metre-high slide.

For pure relaxation, the Parco Termale del Garda (Villadeicedri.com) at Colá di Lazise is a 13-acre natural spa surrounded by rare plants and trees, and boasts two lakes and pools. They all have different water temperatures and are equipped with hydro massage features – including whirlpools, jets, waterfalls and cascades – to ease tired bodies and calm stressed minds. Swim in the waters and laze on the surrounding grassy areas.

Eat and drink

As you’d expect, seafood is the must-eat here. We loved the fresh fish at the Trattoria al Porto. With a large lakeside terrace, this is a sophisticated spot for a leisurely lunch or dinner – the gelato is also worth sampling, as is its Pollo Milanese. Further along the shore, Le Brede pizzeria is another good option. Its terrace is covered with a canopy of grapevines and fairy lights, making it quite magical. The pizzas are delicious and, as it’s mainly catering to the camping crowd, really reasonably priced.

Up the hill is La Dogana, another classically Italian restaurant that offers great value. Set in the heart of the town, its wraparound terrace is perfect for people-watching and an al fresco dinner. Besides your main meals, treat yourself to the local pastries, coffee and gelato. Spritzes made with Aperol or Campari are popular, too, if you fancy an afternoon aperitivo.

Laid-back Lake Garda

Need to know

· A two-bed apartment with lake view at Relais Rosa dei Venti costs from £466 for seven nights at Booking.com

· Seven days’ car hire from Verona airport costs from £115 via Rentalcars.com. You can book online, on mobile or via the app.

· EasyJet flies to Verona from London Gatwick with prices starting from £16.99 per person (one way, including taxes). All flights can be booked at Easyjet.com

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