Italy’s largest lake – Lake Garda – sits in the north of Italy. It falls into three different Italian provinces – Verona in the south east, Brescia in the south west and Trentino in the north. Its towns stretch from Sirmione in the south to Gardone Riviera in the west and Riva del Garda at its northernmost tip where the lake is also framed by the beautiful Dolomite mountain range. It is a popular tourist spot with holidaymakers flocking to its shores to enjoy the beautiful scenery and crystal clear waters. So, if you’re thinking about a Lake Garda villa holiday, here’s our guide to some of the top reasons why you may want to add Lake Garda to your bucket list of places to visit in Italy!
1. To taste the lemons!
The upper part of Lake Garda (or Alto Garda as it is known) is famous for its citrus production. The mild climate and geographical location (which means that the fruits are protected from the cold north winds by the mountains) along with the fact that the rocks around retain and then release heat, means that lemon production can thrive here. In fact, lemons have been grown here since as early as the 13th century thanks to the Franciscan friars of Gargano. It is assumed that it was these monks who constructed the first terraces and lemon houses in the area, further protecting the lemon plants from any harsh winter weather. These days you’ll pretty much find lemons wherever you go! However, for lemons in most abundance, head to the area around Limone, Gargano and Maderno.
To find out more about the history of lemon growing, visit the Ecomuseo della limonaia Pra dela Fam where you can enjoy a tour of the limonaia and sample a whole range of products made from marmalade to limoncello. Another place worth a visit is the Limonaia del Castel where you will find a superb example of terracing nestled against the rocky walls of Monte Sughera.
2. To enjoy the water sports
Also in the Alto Garda are ample opportunities to take to the water. You’ll find sailing and surfing in abundance around Gargano, Limone and Tremosine. Or, if you prefer to watch sport rather than actively take part, try and coincide your visit to Lake Garda with the annual Centomiglia Freshwater Regatta in Bogliaco. Held every September, the event attracts hundreds of teams from all over Europe.
Or if you can’t be there in September, you can still watch some more traditional water sports. Keep an eye out for the four rowers who row standing up in the traditional, flat-bottomed bisse boats of Lake Garda.
3. To go walking
There are too many incredible walks to be able to mention them all but suffice it to say that the landscape of Lake Garda makes a beautiful backdrop to any hike. In Alto Garda, for example, there is the Bresciano Park which offers some spectacular scenery to be enjoyed on foot.
In addition, there is also the Strada della Forra and the Sentiero del Sole. The latter is in Limone and is a panoramic trail which enjoys exceptional views taking you through olive groves and with many other fascinating sites to see en route. The former was described by Sir Winston Churchill as the ‘eighth world wonder’ and is quite breathtaking, especially the views from the Terrazza del Brivido which sits suspended 350 metres over the lake. (Incidentally for those who perhaps aren’t up to walking, this road can be enjoyed by car or by bike too!)
4. To sample the food and drink!
Whilst the Italians are certainly creative with the foodstuffs made using the lemons grown around the lake, there are plenty of other foods worth sampling during your visit to Lake Garda. There are plenty of olive groves around the lake too and the olive oil produced is light, fruity and most enjoyable!! And during your stay, also try and sample some of the Formaggella di Tremosine, a soft, fragrant and extremely delicious cheese!
And, of course, you can wash this down with some of Lake Garda’s famous wines. The most famous of these is the full-bodied red wine Amarone della Valpolicella. This boasts a distinctive aroma which is caused by the fact that its grapes are dried in the sun using the ‘straw wine’ method. But other wines include the sweet passito wine, Recioto, along with the white wines Lugana and Custoza, the red Bardolino wine and the rosé, Chiaretto.
5. To admire the castles
Lake Garda can boast a wealth of historic sites. These include the 13th century Rocca Scaligera in Sirmione which is one of Italy’s best preserved castles. These days, the castle is home to a museum which boasts both Medieval and Roman artefacts as well as explaining the history of the fortress itself. Make sure you make the time to take a walk around the castle walls and to climb the castle keep as the views from the top are well worth the effort!
Also worthy of note is the Grotte di Catullo (an old Roman villa which can also be reached on foot from Sirmione) and the castles in Desenzano (from whose panoramic observatory you can enjoy spectacular views of the lake) and the castle in Padenghe.
6. To explore the towns
As with any of Italy’s northern lakes, Lake `Garda has a plethora of picturesque lakeside towns and villages to explore. Some of the most noteworthy include Sirmione, Garda town, Salò, Riva del Garda, Bardolino, Arco, Limone sul Garda, Malcesine, Peschiera del Garda, Torbole, Lago di Tenno and Gardone Riviera.
However, by no means take this as an exhaustive list. There are plenty of others equally worth a visit. Use the public boat network to go from one to the other.
7. To head to the fair!
Gardaland is one of Lake Garda’s most famous tourist attractions and, certainly, if you have children, it’s probably going to be impossible to visit the lake without spending at least one day here. As well as plenty of amusement rides to suit all ages, it is also home to a Legoland water park and Sea Life Aquarium.
8. To visit the exquisite villas and gardens
Lake Garda doesn’t just boast plenty of Medieval castles! It also boasts some pretty spectacular villas too. Arguably the most impressive of these is the Vittoriale degli Italiani in Gardone Riviera. The villa was designed and built by renowned architect Gian Carlo Maroni who was working for the owner, the Italian poet and novelist Gabriele d’Annunzio. He lived here until his death in 1938. These days, visitors can explore the extensive gardens and discover more about this fascinating man whose life could certainly never be accused of being ‘boring’ or ‘ordinary’! As well as being able to wander through the house and admire its incredible decor and furnishings, you will also come across the poet’s very own amphitheatre, a circular mausoleum and even the aeroplane which D’Annunzio flew over Vienna in WWI!
9. To discover the history of paper making
Another fascinating part of Lake Garda’s history is its tradition of paper making. Visit the Valle delle Cartiere in Toscolano Maderno to find out more about how the energy of the river was harnessed in Medieval times to power the factories that produced paper that was famous throughout Europe. It is still possible to enjoy a lovely bike ride or to take a walk through the valley to discover these old paper trails.
10. To go cycling
Cycling is extremely popular all over Italy. But arguably nowhere has it been made so easy to cycle as on Lake Garda. By 2026, a 140 km cycle path around Lake Garda will be complete allowing sports enthusiasts to cycle all around the lake on both existing and new tracks. Some new sections of track are already open including our favourite section which is approximately 2 km long and which runs north from Capo Reamol in Limone sul Garda. The path hugs the cliffs and in some places even hovers above the water, giving riders the most incredible views. For those travelling with children, this stretch of the path is also extremely child friendly.