Located between Milan and the Italian Alps lies the Italian region known for its lakes. Names like Lake Como, Lake Maggiore, Lake Lugano all conjure up images of blue water, steep verdant hillsides and white villas with pretty balconies overlooking the lake. Probably the most famous of all is Lake Garda. There are plenty of small towns along the lakesides where the geography has allowed them to grow.
Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy and is definitely it’s most famous. The scenery ranges from very mountainous in the north where small towns like Limone and Macesine seem to be clinging to the mountainside to stop themselves falling into the lake. Whilst gently rolling hillsides that might be more associated with scenes from Tuscany are found in the very south. The area between them is the type of scenery you would expect of the Italian lakes, pretty villas with flower strewn balconies that overlook the lake itself.
Lake Garda has beaches with excellent facilities including bars and restaurants. These beaches are called Lidi and you pay a small charge to use their umbrellas but get fantastic service. There are also 45km of free beaches but don’t expect the same level of facilities. Being a lake they are smooth shingle beaches in the main but there are some sandy ones to be tracked down. Check out the beach to the south of Lazise, its lovely soft sand that was put on top of the shingle to keep little toes from being stubbed on the shingle. Now, how Italian is that? There are also sandy beaches around Garda and Torri.
If you are interested in hiking or just driving to enjoy spectacular scenery then you need to focus on the north of the lake where the Dolomite Mountains seem to end tumbling into the lake.
With such a huge variety of scenery there is an equally wide variety of activities to keep you amused in the area. Of course messing around on the water is going to be up there at the top of the list and there are plenty of places where you can hire boats. There are motorboats for up to five or six people with more powerful speedboats for up to 8. You’ll need to be licensed and they’ll ask for a pretty large deposit. If you’re looking for something more peaceful then the north of the lake sees much more windsurfing and sailing.
There is some great finishing to be had all around the shores of Lake Garda but you will need a license which is readily available for around €20 from local town hall offices. There are plenty of species to be fished for including trout, carp, pike and even salmon. Do be aware though that at certain times of the year you can’t fish for particular species and you are not allowed to fish until one hour after dawn and must stop one hour after dusk.
Swimming on Lake Garda is a real pleasure. The water is very clean and warm enough to swim in between May and October but it may vary depending upon where you are on the lake. The water tends to be shallower and therefore warmer in the south but in the north it is much clearer and colder as the water runs straight of the mountains. How brave are you?
If you are careful you can choose areas where there are fewer windsurfers to make your swimming more relaxed. Avoid areas such as Torbole if you want a leisurely dip.
An area of such scenery just has to be great for mountain biking and Lake Garda doesn’t disappoint. Towns such as Riva or Torbole are a mountain bikers dream and there are places to rent bikes and equipment and there are guides who can also tell you all the best trails to ride.
If horse-back riding or trekking is your bag then you can really indulge around Lake Garda. There are some 20 riding schools to choose from with a wide variety of terrain. The schools will advise you an what level of skill you need but remember it’s going to much more demanding in the mountainous north.
With the Italian eye for all things beautiful the parks and gardens around the lake are stunning. Parco Giardiano Sigurta is recognised as one of the top five gardens in the world. They have been there for more than 400 years and planned across 560,000 square meters will keep you busy for at least a day. Other gardens of note include the Gardens on Isola Garda. Isola Garda is the largest island on the lake and is like a fairytale place to visit. You might also like to check out the public gardens at Riva.
If you have a young family the area has four themeparks where you can spend an entire day. Gardaland the biggest and is based very much on the Disneyworld experience. Found just north of Pescheria del Garda there is a free bus from the railway station to get you to the park. The park opened in 1975 and regularly attracts more than three million visitors to its amusement park, aquarium and shows. Rides such as Raptor, Blue Tornado and Colorado Boat will keep even the most fervent ride goer amused all day.
Get a little further away from the lake and if your legs can stand the steep hillside roads areas such as Tignale and Tremosine have villages with stunning views of the lake itself. If you are interested in rock climbing then a visit to Arco should be on the agenda. It’s big business here and there are plenty of sites where you can climb in the area around the town and plenty of expert local guides to help you out.
A holiday to the Italian lakes has so many different activities to offer that any family will be kept amused and with the wonderful summer weather and the even more wonderful Italian food (not just pizza and spag bol) the Italian Lakes make a perfect family destination.