Lake Garda, the huge pear-shaped lake, is always busy with yachts, kite surfers and little boats. A huge splash of dark blue amid all the green of the mountains. Its mild Mediterranean climate allows citrus trees to grow big and tall, as well as fragrant olive groves and rows of vines.
Every spring, I tell myself that I will hire a convertible vintage car, put on a headscarf and some film star sunglasses and go for a drive around Lake Garda. While I daydream about my Dolce Vita style trip, let me recommend some enjoyable outings on the shores of Lake Garda closest to Verona. One panoramic route which offers magnificent views of the lake is the Strada Gardesana, the slow, twisting road along the shore. It can get very busy in summer but the views make it well worth the effort!
The Veneto part of the lake shore runs from Peschiera to Malcesine, via many beautiful little villages, with castles, wonderful lakeside walks and a vast number of outstanding eateries. In other words, you won’t go hungry let alone thirsty, with all of the wine that is produced in this region. I will leave you with a few suggestions for day trips to my favourite lake.
A bike ride to Peschiera
Peschiera is lovely at any time, particularly for an afternoon stroll through its mediaeval old town, surrounded by the Venetian fortress that has UNESCO heritage status, while there is a cycle path running all the way from here to Mantua along the banks of the Mincio river. If you are more of a thrillseeker, then do not miss Gardaland theme park. There are rides to excite young and old alike at this big amusement park standing on the shores of the lake.
In Lazise, as well as long walks along the promenade, visit the spa for a relaxing day of rest. Where? At Villa dei Cedri. The villa is surrounded by a vast park, where the lawns are always perfectly mown. It also features two lakes, natural spas where the water is always between 30°C and 35°C. You can sun yourself in the park in winter, which is particularly beautiful, and in summer.
Elsewhere in Lazise, there is a beautiful historic building on the quayside of the old port, the 14th century Venetian customs house, which is now an elegant venue for conferences and weddings.
Bardolino and its DOC wine
A happy little town, the perfect place for relaxing during the day and soaking up the lively atmosphere on summer evenings. With lots of little bars filling the streets of the town centre and events held all year round, you certainly won’t get bored here. One of the many events is “Aperitivo Sotto le Stelle”, a night when Bardolino becomes an open-air bar for the “Starlight Aperitif”, featuring wine tasting, local food and plenty of music and entertainment.
But the highlight of Bardolino’s calendar is the Festa dell’Uva e del Vino, celebrating grapes and wine. Music, live performances and fine food all feature but it is the majestic Bardolino wine which takes centre stage. A ruby red wine with a fruity palate, it is also available as a rosé sparkling wine, called Chiaretto. Before you leave this charming town, you must also visit Bardolino’s Museum of Oil.
Giro del Crero: the balcony overlooking Lake Garda
After all this relaxation, food and fun, I thought it wouldn’t harm to do something more active. What do you say to a good hike or bike ride above Lake Garda? The Giro del Crero is an 18 km route with picture postcard panoramic views. It takes you through forests and past rocky outcrops which still bear marks made in the Bronze Age. Meanwhile, looking towards the lake you will see vast expanses of olive groves. It is not for nothing that this part of the lake is known as the Olive Riviera!
The route continues through little villages with ancient churches and stone houses, reaching Monte Luppia. If it is a nice day and not too windy, you may see some paragliders soaring over the lake.
Punta San Vigilio
Among the villages between Garda and Torre del Benaco, there is this little peninsula called Punta San Vigilio. An idyllic place, it has a little port on one side and the “Bay of Mermaids” on the other, divided by a boulevard lined with tall cypress trees, olive groves and old lemon houses. It is no surprise that it is considered the most romantic spot on the whole of Lake Garda!
Take a moment or two to wander along the narrow lanes of the village or the broad Renaissance avenues of Villa Guarienti. If you are celebrating something, I can think of no better idea than having lunch with a view in the famous Locanda San Vigilio restaurant. Or you could enjoy an aperitif at sunset, when the lake’s waters are dyed pink and orange. In short, take the advice which is inscribed on the marble plaque in the old port:
leave the worries and stresses of the city behind.
Take the cable car from Malcesine to Monte Baldo
Malcesine, so pretty and picturesque, attracts thousands of tourists from across Europe every year. With its castle built by the ruling family of Verona, the old crenellated walls and the cafés lining the shore, it has retained its distinctive charm over the years. One experience that is not to be missed on a visit to Malcesine is a trip up Monte Baldo on the cable car. The view from the cabin is incredible: the lake on one side and "Europe's Botanical Garden" on the other. Monte Baldo has earned this title thanks to its extraordinary abundance of wild flowers. A combination of colours and fragrances that only the Lake Garda climate can provide.
And there is more: the cabins of the cable car rotate, giving everyone 360-degree views on the 15-minute ride. Almost like being on a merry-go-round. When you get to the top, you will find a landscape of farmhouses and pastures, with hiking routes through the countryside.
If you are hiring a convertible car, would there be room for me? I’m joking, I will leave you to enjoy all these wonderful sights in peace!