Lake life

Head to Italy’s Lake Garda for stunning scenery, fantastic food and total relaxation

lakes

by Zoe Bishop |

Nestled in the north of Italy, with Milan to the west, Venice in the east and the Dolomites to the north, Lake Garda enjoys 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.

Around the top of the lake, Riva del Garda in the Trentino region is renowned for its perfect water sports conditions. Enjoying Mediterranean sunshine with mountainous winds, it’s the perfect place to sail, windsurf or paddleboard against the most beautiful backdrop.

Diving is also popular in the waters in this part. Steep cliff faces, boat wrecks, canyons and plateaus, combined with some of the clearest water in Europe, lure divers – particularly in the spring and autumn when underwater visibility is best. To try it for yourself, the PADI Dive Centre ASD La Scuola Del Mare offers one-off dives from £25 per person (Padi.com).

Lakes
The harbour at Limone

The small harbour town of Limone, set on the north-western part of the lake, is notable for its spectacular setting and the towering cliffs that sit behind it. Famous for its lemon-growing history, film fans might also recognise it as a location in the Bond film Quantum Of Solace – which featured a car chase through the town and along the lakeside road.

‘Seaside’ towns

Lakes
Charming Sirmione

Further south, the lake opens up and covers a wider area, and you’d be forgiven for mistaking the pebbly beaches and vast expanse of calm water for the tranquil Mediterranean Sea. The resorts are like seaside towns with a mix of luxury villas, sophisticated campsites, hotels and self-catering accommodation to choose from.

A key town on the southern shore is Sirmione, considered the true pearl of Lake Garda and described as “the gem of all the peninsulas” by the poet Catullus. Perched on a narrow, two-mile-long strip of land that juts into the lake from the southern shore, it has cobbled streets and plenty of Roman and medieval charm.

To discover the best bits, try the private, fully customisable ToursByLocals Half Day Tour in Sirmione, which costs £187 and lasts two-and-a-half hours (Toursbylocals.com).

Led by a knowledgeable local guide, you’ll discover the medieval Scaliger Castle with its dock, the parish church of Santa Maria Maggiore, the baths enriched by the Boiola sulphur source, the villa of the great American soprano Maria Callas and the Roman Grotto of Catullo –said to be the most important archaeological area of the entire Lombardy region with its imposing remains of what was once a luxurious Roman villa on the lake.

Towards the south east lies the old fishing town of Garda, which has picturesque, colourful houses and a spectacular bay area with a wide, traffic-free promenade. Famously lively, it’s buzzing with life, day and night, and offers restaurants and chic boutiques.

From Garda, you could follow the paved promenade south to Bardolino (3km away) and Lazise (8km). With stunning views and plenty of bars and cafes dotted along the route, it makes for a pleasant stroll or cycle.

Alternatively, the popular Cavalla beach is just a few minutes’ walk away and offers crystal clear waters, deckchairs for hire and a beach bar with live music.

One of the best-connected towns on this side of the lake is Peschiera del Garda. An historical fort town, it’s criss-crossed with canals and has museums, churches and Roman ruins to discover, as well as plenty of action on the water too, as water sports and boat trips are offered here.

Out and about

Away from the lake’s shores, there are many other attractions to explore. Easily accessible from the south or east of the lake – including by rail from Peschiera – Verona is a must-see city. It has a beautiful historic centre, Roman and medieval architecture and an air of romance thanks to it being the setting of the greatest love story ever told – Romeo and Juliet. The city centre, with its famous Arena and great selection of shops, is compact enough to explore on foot. Stroll its cobbled streets and cross the River Adige on one of its historic bridges.

For stunning panoramic views, climb to the top of the Lamberti Tower or ride the funicular up to the Colle San Pietro.

Back at ground level, enjoy an espresso from one of the pasticcerias, or stop for a Spritz Aperol – a local favourite – and watch the world go by from one of the bars in Piazza delle Erbe or Piazza Bra.

Thrillseekers and kids will love the local theme parks. The most famous is Gardaland (Gardaland.it), which has a Sea Life centre and Peppa Pig Land. Elsewhere, Caneva Aquapark, part of Caneva World (Canevaworld.it), is a water park that caters for 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 Thermale del Garda (Villadeicedri.it) at Colà di Lazise is a 13-acre natural spa, surrounded by rare plants and trees and boasting two lakes and pools. They all have different water temperatures and are equipped with hydro massage features – including jets, waterfalls and cascades – to ease tired bodies and calm stressed minds.

Need to know

Lakes

• Holiday Homes in Italy has a great selection of villas and apartments to rent to suit every budget. We recommend Villa Volpara, a beautiful stone farmhouse near Garda that has shared use of a private pool and sleeps six in two bedrooms. Prices start at £1,270 for seven nights. Go to Holidayhomesinitaly.co.uk to book.

• Lake Garda is accessible from Milan and Verona airports. British Airways flights to Milan cost from £30 and Verona from £27 (each way). Go to Britishairways.com to book.

• The roads around the lake are pretty and easy to navigate, so it’s worth hiring a car to get about. Car hire, with pick-up from Verona or Milan airports, costs from £16 per day with Hertz (Hertz.co.uk).

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