Sarah Loughlin’s Top 10 things to do around Italy’s biggest Lake.
If I am totally honest, before visiting Lake Garda I thought it was just for older people, but after experiencing it first hand it really does have something for everyone. Whether you like lounging by the pool, learning about history, or trekking up mountains, you will find it all here.
1. First stop Gelato– Italian ice-cream is at the top of my to-do list on this whistle stop Garda tour. Whether you grab one scoop to go, or sit down for a huge gelato sundae you can’t come to Italy without having one! Try the award winning Crisallo Gelateria next to the Ferry Terminal in Bardolino. (http://www.cristallogelateria.com/)
2. Go on a bike ride along the lake – Bike hire around Lake Garda is great value, averaging about €6 a day, or €4 for half a day. For a gentle ride to burn off your gelato go to Garda and back from Bardolino – it’s about a 30 minute round trip along the lake front. If you are after something a bit more challenging there are 400km of bike routes to choose from, so you will have no trouble finding something to suit your level. Download the ‘Garda App’ to your smart phone or pick up a bike map when you arrive to plan your route.
3. Learn about olive oil – The Turri family olive groves in Bardolino started in 1951 as the Fratelli Turri (Turri bros.) and they have been making olive oil for over 60 years. When Valentina, one of the Turri family, and our guide for the afternoon, told us the oil smelt of fresh cut grass and tomatoes I imagined it to be subtle hints. When she handed around half a shot glass full of oil and told us to slosh it through our teeth, I have to say I was unconvinced, but it really did taste of tomatoes. Whatever you do, buy some oil in the shop to take home with you. When I got back home and opened my supermarket olive oil I was disappointed to discover it doesn’t smell like tomatoes at all.
4. Have a nose around the shops – There are lots of small interesting shops in the villages around Lake Garda. Go to Desenzano for upmarket boutique shops, or Malcesine for winding cobbled streets with quirky shops selling everything from Italian leather shoes and bags to tourist trinkets. Also check out the outdoor market which travels around the lake – see http://www.lake-garda-revealed.com/lake-garda-markets.html for the market schedule.
5. Eat like a local – Here in the North of Italy it’s not just the typical Italian pizza and pasta to tempt your taste buds. Try a local dish with fish from the lake (Pike, Sardines or Trout), or if fish isn’t your thing try ‘Tagliata’ (sliced steak with parmesan shavings and rocket).
6. Visit a vineyard – Lamberti, a vineyard about a 10 minute drive in land from Bardolino, is currently celebrating its 50th anniversary. A tour of the vines and then wine tasting back at the shop with Giuseppe the Manager was a great afternoon. If you are interested in learning all about the wine from the region visit the lake during the Bardolino wine festival, celebrating its 82nd year in October (2-6th October 2014). For details follow the link below: http://www.gardanews.com/eventi_lagodigarda.php?id=348570
7. Drink like a local – There is no shortage of choice when it comes to local wines – After you have been on a vineyard tour I am sure you will be an expert – but just in case you don’t have time for the visit, here’s a lowdown on what to drink in Garda. If you like white, try ‘Lugana’, or alternatively ‘Bardolino’ comes in red or rose – made from a mix of grapes including Corvina, Robdinella and sometimes a bit of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Bardolino is a very light red wine, great as a refreshing drink on a warm day. If wine isn’t your thing try a ‘Hugo’, this cocktail originated from the south Tyrol in Austria, and is a very popular drink in Lake Garda. Made from Presecco, soda water, mint, and either ‘Sambuco’ an elderflower cordial or St Germain Elderflower Liqueur.
8. Get out on the water – Whether its pedalos in Garda or kayaking in Malcesine, there is a bit of everything when it comes to water sports. Torbole, at the North West of the lake is famous for windsurfing, as well as kitesurfing and sailing. We stopped off in Malcesine for a quick dip! Easy Kite is predominantly a kite surf centre but also offers paddle boarding and kayaking when there isn’t much wind about. You can hire a Paddleboard for €15 per hour, the club house itself is a great place to chill out and catch some sun with the roof terrace and deck chairs/ beanbags on the lake side. http://www.easykite.it/en/
9. See some live music – There is a lot on offer for music lovers around the lake. But if you only have one evening spare head to the Grand Hotel, in Gardone Riviera, directly on the lake front, this hotel is worth a visit in itself. Originally known as the Hotel Pizzoccolo, it has been open to guests since 1884 with many famous visitors over the years including Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; Albert Sabin, who discovered the polio vaccine; and Sir Winston Churchill. The Whinnie’s bar was opened at the Grand Hotel in the 1990’s in memory of Churchill who, it is said, much enjoyed sipping his favourite champagne in this bar. The Whinnie’s bar has live music every evening (except Wednesday) from 9.30pm.
If you would prefer something outside head to the Vittoriale, house of Italian poet Gabriel d’Annunzio, who was also a guest at the Grand Hotel while waiting for his house to be ready. In the grounds of this amazing historical house there is a huge outdoor amphitheatre with a variety of acts from ballet to Brit pop legend Damon Albarn. For tickets visit their website: http://www.anfiteatrodelvittoriale.it/en/buy-online-tickets
10. Stop to smell the roses – Well, white honeysuckle actually according to Google and my limited knowledge of flowers! This wonderful small white flower gives off a sweet but subtle smell which wafts its way around the lake. Make time for a nice stroll along the lake front or take a seat on one of the well maintained benches and just watch the world go by, a perfect end to an action packed trip to Garda!
The ferry terminals are normally in the centre of town and you can buy a ticket when you get there. I found them to be reliable, and they run fairly frequently. Check out the time table to see where you can go:
The other option is the bus – not quite as reliable as the ferry, but cheaper!
Nearest airport: Verona
Airport to Verona centre via bus (€6 one way) takes 15 minutes and goes every 20 minutes.
The trains go to Desenzano (about 25 mins, €3.85) and Pesciera (about 15 mins, €3.30). For the train times check out the journey planner:
The local bus goes to other towns around the lake from Verona but can take about 3 hours depending on where you are going.
Other options would be car hire or hotel transfer.