Lake Garda is a sparkling sapphire of a lake towards the north of Italy and is the largest of the three Italian lakes. As with most destinations in Italy, you should expect to find beauty, culture and ancient ruins here, which add to the picturesque surroundings.
With Verona being a very short train ride away, you can either come to this lake as a day out or spend your entire vacation here like I did. For me, this was a week of lazing by the lake, fantastic views, ancient ruins and a luxurious hotel suite, complete with jacuzzi spa bath.
If you’re also intent on seeing all that Lake Garda has to offer, then here is my exclusive guide to making the most of your trip…
Sirmione – The Stunning South Peninsula
If you stick to the southern part of the lake, then my recommendation would be to see what Sirmione has to offer. This is the town that sits on the tip of the peninsula that juts out from the bottom of the lake and is home to a fascinating medieval castle, ancient Roman ruins and a pier that is perfect for sunbathing.
It is said that the name Sirmione derives from the ancient Greek word “syrma” meaning tail or train, and from the Gallic words “sirm” and “ona” meaning aquatic hotel. There is also a royal connection to the town as Queen Ansa of Desiderio chose this area of Lake Garda to build a monastery for the Benedictines in the 8th Century.
Sirmione also offers good links to all of the ferries that operate in Lake Garda, so it’s easy enough for you to get a ‘quick ferry’ and travel to other towns around the lake, making it a good base for your trip.
Here are my pick of the best sights to see in Sirmione…
Rocca Scaligera Di Sirmione
This castle built by the Scaligeri of Verona can be found at the narrowest part of the peninsula and is the start of the ancient part of Sirmione. It guards the only footbridge into town and looms over it with impressive square turrets and towers.
When inside the castle walls, there is not too much to see as it hasn’t been preserved as a museum or castle, so you’re really only looking at the shell itself. However, if you climb the 146 steps to the top tower, then you will be treated to fantastic views across Sirmione, the neighbouring harbour and the sparkling sapphire lake.
Entrance to this castle is offered for a small price of €4 for adults over the age of 25 or just €2 for 18-25 year olds. There is free entry for under 18s. The views you are able to see from the top of this castle are certainly worth these small prices.
Sirmione Public Gardens
To the side of the castle are some free public gardens you’re welcome to explore and wander around. Although small in size, these gardens are pretty in the summer months with flowers, wishing wells and stone statues on offer.
As these gardens are right by the coastline, you will also be afforded yet more views of the perfect blue water of this incredible lake.
Spiaggia Lido Delle Bionde
Not found within many guidebooks, this secluded little spot offers a perfect beach for sunbathing on and allows for swimming in the warm lake (for free).
As can be expected, the sand is warm and golden here; but there is also the added benefit of green spaces nearby offering some shade under the trees.
You should also be able to spot the pier that juts out into the sea, which offers fantastic views across the lake. Many young people will use this pier for yet more sunbathing so you may have to dodge between some tanned feet to get to the end of it.
Grotte Di Catullo
At the furthest point of the peninsula, you can find a large patch of Ancient Roman ruins right by the coastline.
When venturing through these ruins, you will marvel at what you can see. Within the Grotta del Cavallo and Doppio Criptoportico ‘rooms’, you really will feel like you’re stepping back in time here.
Along the way, you’ll spot the Piscina which was used like a Roman Thermae spa with warm air heating the room; and you’ll find the Trifora del Paridiso, which offers stunning views across the lake through ‘windows’ in the rock.
With entry only costing €6 for a standard ticket or just €3 for a concessionary ticket; such as for E.U. citizens aged between 18 – 25; you certainly won’t be disappointed with all that you will find here. You can also get free entry on the first Sunday of every month or if you’re under 18 – bargain!
Spa Termale Aquaria
I promised you luxury in Lake Garda didn’t I? Well, this is one way to do just that.
This spa offers indoor and outdoor thermal pools as well as an outdoor swimming pool with fresh water. You can follow a water circuit between the indoor and outdoor saunas, steam baths and experience showers; as well as relax in specially made rooms such as the Salt Room, the Music Room and the Starry Sky.
Plus, you’re welcome to book various treatments and massages during your visit for an extra charge – go on, pamper yourself! And with all of this also offering you yet more spectacular views across Lake Garda, you will be in a kind of luxurious spa heaven.
There are various packages you can opt for starting from as little as €15, so you may find a little piece of luxury for less money than you would think. To find out all of the options open to you, take a look at the spa’s website.
One last note on luxury in Lake Garda: there are so many incredible hotels and villas offering balconies and bedroom patios with lakeside views. If you do want to treat yourself a little, then I would certainly recommend opting for a lakeside view if possible.
I opted for a one-bedroom suite overlooking the lake at Casa Dei Pescatori. As they only have two suites above the restaurant, they’ve included the utmost in luxurious decor and furnishings inside. They do have apartments available next door as well but I’m not sure whether those would include the same level of luxury that I was treated to. I mean I had a jacuzzi spa bath in my bedroom, just for me!
Malcesine – The Best Views In The North East
Malcesine is a quaint little harbour town toward the north-east of the lake. Aside from viewing the pretty little harbour and people watching here, Malcesine is also home to the best views in this area… and actually, quite possibly the best views of the lake completely!
If you’re staying in Sirmione like I did, then it’s possible to get a ferry to Malcesine so that you can explore what this town has to offer. The ferry takes a couple of hours, but if you start early enough in the morning then you will certainly still be able to make the most of your day on the other side of the lake. Plus you can also see some fantastic views just from the ferry itself, that you may not have had the chance to see otherwise!
Here are my recommendations for what you can see and do in Malcesine…
At only 5900 ft (1800 metres), Monte Baldo is quite a small mountain. However, it offers tremendous views across the lake and also offers fantastic walks along the mountain paths.
There is a cable car that runs from the bottom right to the top, which costs just €10 for a return journey and it only takes about 20 minutes to reach the top. Be sure to check the cable car is running during your visit though – it’s open for 10 months of the year, but shuts during those other 2 months for maintenance.
Once you’ve arrived at the top, I can quite simply say to you – just admire the views. You will be in total awe up here. You remember how I said Lake Garda is a sparkling sapphire? Well, this will be the view that reminds you just how true that statement is!
Initially, I’d booked a paragliding activity, which was due to take me across Lake Garda from the top of Monte Baldo. However, sadly there was a storm the night before the day I had booked, so we were unable to take-off. I never did get my chance to paraglide across Lake Garda (still on the bucket list), however, I was still treated to some picture-perfect views.
Dream Valley & Malcesine Harbour
The bay of Malcesine, aptly nicknamed ‘Dream Valley’ is a charming little bay area at the foot of the town.
Picture the scene – azure blue water lapping at your feet, windsurfers gaining speed across the ripples, terracotta orange buildings along the water’s edge and the towering Monte Baldo mountain offering a dramatic backdrop behind you. These are just some of the sights you’ll see when seated or walking along the bay.
Following on from the bay, you will also come across the Malcesine harbour, which is perfect for watching some of the locals. This harbour is normally bustling in the summer months, so there will be plenty of activity going on and plenty of locals to meet.
As you’re in Italy, it’s also important you sample some gelato whilst you’re here. My recommendation would be Pizzeria Bar Gelateria Da Mario, just around the corner from the harbour along the road: Piazza Guglielmo Marconi. Their gelato window is along the side of the road and offers so many delicious flavours. Here’s the Google info about it as sadly they don’t yet have a website.
I absolutely loved visiting Lake Garda – it really was a remarkably beautiful lake and I felt such relaxation on this trip. From the luxury suite I was staying in, to lazing by the lake and trying out the thermal spa, this was a birthday treat to myself that I would want to repeat again and again! I hope I also did make the most of the unique sights on offer here as well though. Monte Baldo was the utmost surprise for me. I had been simply heading there to trial paragliding; and instead (disappointed as I was not to paraglide), I was treated to the most incredible views of the lake – such a surprise! Lake Garda really is a sparkling sapphire of a lake — I’m going to keep saying that now!
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing my tales of relaxation and luxury at Lake Garda and I hope this has inspired you to also travel there. Or have you already been? Write me a little note in the comments as I’d love to know what you think…
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