A Week in Lake Garda

We spent a week in Lake Garda, staying in a resort on the southern edge of the lake but travelled all around it, exploring its northerly edges as well as the south.

Introduction and Highlights of Lake Garda

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on September 2, 2008

The Italian lakes are famous for their stunning landscapes of pastel painted waterside towns and villages, world class gardens, luxurious mosiacs and historic islands. This northern corner of Italy is a famous haunt of celebrities, couples and families. The area has an atmosphere of romance and elegance, although the towns and roads do get busy in the summer months.

Of the 3 or 4 Italian lakes that form these inviting blue splodges on the map of the Lombardy Plain, Garda is the largest. Como and Maggiore are both beautiful, but Garda is by far I think, the best suited to families.

The lakeside towns around Garda aare beautiful and have charmed foreign visitors for centuries. The colours are vivid and the geography is varied. The southern lakeshore is low, rolling land and in parts built up. The northern end is fjord-like and dramatic with its towering mountains and cliffs. Most of the lakeside towns are popular as holiday resorts.

There are splendid, slightly decaying villas in soft pinks, lush greenery and beautiful lake front towns. Parts of the lake enjoy a micro-climate which has resulted in the beautiful gardens in the villas around its fringes. Many of the towns are surrounded by lemon groves.

The main highlights of our stay were:

* Moniga del Garda - a tiny resort on the southern edge of the lake and our base for the week. It was a perfect place to come back to after a day of sightseeing and exploring. Quiet and relaxed, it has a few restaurants and bars on the lakeshore and is a lovely place for a stroll in the evening. It also enjoys sunny weather most days - even when the more northerly resorts had cloud and rain.

* Sirmione - a gem of a place, with its lovely castle and views over the lakes from the ramparts. It also has some amazing Roman ruins on a promontory. The ruins are fascinating, but the views from this area over the water are unforgettable.

* The cable car ride from Malcesine up to the top of Monte Baldo - again wonderful views of the Lake and the towns of Malcesine and Limone are delightful.

* Travelling on the high speed ferry up the Lake to Riva - the most northerly resort, watching the scenery change from gentle hills to huge craggy mountains as you speed up the lake. Also then taking the slow boat back again and having more time to soak up the glorious scenes unfolding before you.

Lake Garda - Tips and Hints

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on September 2, 2008

* In the summer the waters of the lake are warm and clean. You can rent pedaloes and go out into the lake - lots of fun. There are beaches, but these are stony and small. They also tend, in the daytime, to be packed with Italian people baking in the hot sun. It is not a traditional family bucket and spade type holiday and you will need shoes or suitable footwear to protect your feet from the stones.

* On our visit to this area, consider the options carefully. Garda is huge - 60-70 miles in length with numerous resorts. I read the following quote somewhere "pick the wrong place and you will regret it. Pick the right place and you will never forget it." This is true - consider carefully what you want from your resort and choose accordingly.

* Do not be tempted to rent a speedboat on the lake. The authorities are a bit reckless about whom such boats are rented to. No license is required.

* Visiting this area is less about specific sights and more about exploring pretty villages along the shores, relaxing in little waterfront cafes and enjoying fine food. A steamer trip on the lake and an evening stroll along the water's edge are essential experiences.

* Lots of restaurants and bars along the lake do not take credit cards. Make sure you have cash with you, just in case.

* Lake Garda is a great destination for families. Children are extremely well catered for with a plethora of water sports and well equipped holiday resorts. The adults meanwhile are happy with the wonderful lakeside bars and restaurants which have the most fabulous views.

Getting Around Lake Garda

Member Rating 0 out of 5 by Joy S on September 2, 2008

We flew from the UK into Venice Treviso on a low-cost airline. We were having a few days in Venice at the end of our break at Lake Garda, so this was the best option for us.

There are plenty of flights and airports closer, but it takes about 2 hours to drive from Treviso to the southern edge of the lake. The roads are toll roads, easy to navigate on and simple and pleasant to drive on.

At the lake itself, we used a mixture of our hire car and the ferries to get around.

Ferries are probably the best way of getting around the lake. The bonus is that you can soak up the sun while gazing at the dramatic scenery drifting by. As you travel north on the lake, you can see just how dramatic the lakeside mountains are and see so much more than you would from the road.

The car ferries offer good value for money. They are not as quick as some of the other boats, but they are the cheapest and allow you to take your car over the lake if you wish. There are 3 decks - the bottom one for vehicles, the middle deck has seating and toilets and the top deck is open.

The high speed ferries are a great fun experience. You get whisked over the lake at high speeds. They only tend to stop at the largest lakeside towns.

You can buy tickets at any major port. The kiosks close to the landing stations sell tickets and have timetables. Always make sure you can get a return boat back in time. Many boat services end by 5 or 6 in the evening, so plan ahead and do not get stranded.

Travelling along the lakeshore by car is also a fun thing to do - there are many tunnels to travel through as you go north through the mountains. The most recent James Bond film was made in this area, and they used some of these tunnel scenes in the movie. The only downside to using the car is it can take quite a long time to travel a relatively short distance. The towns do tend to be a bit congested and the traffic is slow moving, so plan for this before you set out.

Relais la Rosa dei Venti Apartments

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Joy S on September 5, 2008

We stayed in an apartment on this complex for 7 nights and booked about 6 months earlier directly through their website. We paid 1010 Euros for a 1 bedroom apartment.

There are 27 apartments altogether on this gated complex, divided into 5 buildings all of which are set in beautifully landscaped gardens on a hill. The apartments were only built in 2007, so are virtually brand new. They range from 1 - 5 bedrooms. The owners claim that every apartment has a lake view - with either a patio or balcony. This is probably technically correct, but some do have better views than others.

Our apartment was "Anders 7" - in the middle block on the first floor. It was very nice - furnishings were fairly basic, but it was spacious, clean, comfortable and modern.

We had a very large bathroom with power shower and plenty of fluffy white towels. The bedroom was also spacious with wardrobe and big double bed, and the living/dining/kitchen area had a sofa bed. The kitchen was a bit basic with just a fridgefreezer, microwave and 2 ring cooker, but it was enough for holiday cooking.

We had a huge balcony outside with table and 4 chairs, 2 loungers, loads of space for our son to play and best of all a nice view of Lake Garda.

The television had a limited choice of satellite channels and a DVD player which did not work very well. We also struggled to get the WiFi to work in the apartment - it did however work on the balcony.

At the reception area they had self-service laundry facilities which you paid for, a shared barbecue and there was an underground garage with a parking space for every car. The staff at reception were helpful, pleasant and extremely friendly.

The complex has a shared pool which had a lifeguard on duty fro 9-5 each day.

There were 2 large supermarkets about 2 minutes drive from the complex.

The apartments are only a couple of minutes walk from the lake shore and the Moniga harbour. There are a few bars and restaurants here and it is a beautiful place to go in the evening for a stroll. We did this most days at sunset.

The town of Moniga is about 10 minutes walk away - be aware though the streets, though pretty, are very narrow, do not have pavements and the traffic is fairly heavy. We found it to be a bit precarious especially with a child in tow. The old part of the town sits on a hill with castle remains and some old houses, while the new part descends down to the lake and port.

The whole area has lots of olive groves and vineyards. Apparently Moniga is the largest producer of Chiaretto - a local wine you can buy worldwide.

The port at Moniga has ferry services that connect it to Desenzano, Sirmione and other destinations.

We really loved staying here - the location was beautiful and the apartments were comfortable. There was a real mixture of nationalities - British, German, Dutch, Italian - and everyone staying there was very friendly. The whole place was very child friendly as well and our son met lots of new friends.

We would definitely go back here and would recommend it to anyone looking for nice self-catering accommodation in this area.
Relais la Rosa dei Venti
Via Porto 10, Moniga del Garda
Brescia , 25080

Parco Natura Viva - Safari Park and Zoo

Member Rating 2 out of 5 by Joy S on September 5, 2008

This is a safari park / zoo located at Pastrengo, a couple of miles east of Lazise on the southern edge of Lake Garda. We drove to it from our base in Moniga del Garda along a toll road and the journey took us 45 minutes. The countryside as you approach the park is really beautiful - lush, green and full of vineyards.

There are 2 parts to the park - a safari park and what they call a fauna park - acutally a bit like a zoo.

It costs 17 Euros for adults to go into both parks and 14 Euros for children. The parks are open daily in summer between 9am and 6pm. Obviously you need to have a car to visit and to be able to drive around the safari park.

The 2 parks cover 40 hectares in total. We went first of all to the safari park - a 5 mile long route that winds through a large area of land where you see various animals. We found the visit here to be a bit of an ordeal.

Initially when we entered it was fun, we saw ostriches, lots of deer type animals, 4 giraffes and some birds. After this point we got stuck in stationary traffic for about 40 minutes. We were hardly moving with nothing much to look at and nowhere to go. Eventually we got into the lion enclosure and saw 4 white lions, all asleep on a rock. They were impressive beasts, but not worth the long wait with a young child in a large line of cars.

When we escaped from there we passed hippos, 2 white rhinos which were right next to our car and a chimpanzee enclosure.

Altogether our visit to the safari park took 1.5 hours. Had it around half an hour to drive through, we would have enjoyed it. As it was we couldn't wait to leave and stretch our legs!

The fauna park is in a separate area next door. The car park was absolutely packed here and we drove around for 20 minutes before finding a space.

Inside the park there is a nice self-service restaurant where we had a good lunch.

The fauna park is actually a zoo. It is beautifully laid out in terraces into the hillside. There are around 200 animals from all over the world. The park is also involved in the conservation of rare plants which are in danger of becoming extinct.

We saw flamingoes, baboons and the highlight for our 4 year old son was a petting area where they had little goats. You could stroke and touch them and also buy food for them from a machine - it cost 1 Euro. We bought 2 little containers and were immediately swamped by impatient and cheeky goats, jumping up on us. It was great fun but a bit manic!

One section of this park also has a dinosaur area. There are life-sized models of dinosaurs - very interesting and well laid out and we enjoyed it here.

All in all we had a good day out here, apart from the queuing in the safari park. I would not really recommend a visit here though, unless you are right in the area and stuck for something to do (unlikely) or if you have children desperate to visit the zoo.
Parco Natura Viva
Loc. Figara, 40 Bussolengo


Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Joy S on September 6, 2008

Sirmione is on the southern edge of Lake Garda and is an ideal day trip. It is one of the most popular holiday resorts on the shores of the lake and is on the tip of a peninsula protruding from the northern edge of the Old Town.

We drove here from our base in Moniga. It took about 25 minutes, but when we got there it was an absolute nightmare to find a parking space. There are lots of car parks, but all of them seemed to be full and were not admitting any further vehicles. We drove around between them for about half an hour, until eventually someone left and we got a space. We arrived at 1:30pm, left at 5:45pm and the cost for parking for that time was 11 Euros.

The castle in Sirmione - the Rocca Scaligera is very pretty. It is a 13th century castle defended by a moat, which is patrolled by swans and ducks. The exterior is almost fairy-tale like in appearance.

The castle is open to the public, with entrance costing 4 Euros. Inside there is really only an empty shell, but you can explore the ramparts, admire the views over Lake Garda and the peninsula and climb the tower. Our 4 year old son loved it inside. There are nearly 200 steps to get to the top of the tower and it gets quite narrow in parts, but the views from the top are wonderful.

The historical centre of the town is pedestrianised. The streets are narrow and winding and very picturesque. They do, however, get very busy with tourists. There are lots of little shops - all fairly touristy, but it is enjoyable to browse and look for souvenirs.

At the end of the old town there is an open-air tourist train which makes the short run out to the Roman ruins - it goes from the northern edge of the Old Town. It costs a Euro each way and is a pleasant ride. You go through lovely olive groves and past the house where Maria Callas once lived.

The ruined Roman villa at the end of the headland is extremely impressive. Villa Romana is associated with the poet Catullus, but is probably from a later time period. The ruins are closed on Mondays and the entrance fee is 4 Euros.

The setting is stunning - surrounded by the lake with olive groves and lizards scuttling around. We wandered around the ruined walls, soaking up these marvellous views.

The small museum at the ruins has a number of interesting archaelogical finds, including charming carvings of rabbits.

We spent about 4 hours in Sirmione - a lovely place and a must see at Lake Garda.
Lake Garda, Italy
Lake Garda, Italy

Malcesine and Monte Baldo

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Joy S on September 7, 2008

Malcesine is on the eastern shores of Lake Garda. It is a pretty little medieval town with winding lanes and pleasant shops. The town and its castle are crammed between the blue lake waters and the massive mountain ridge behind - Monte Baldo. Malcesine is towards the narrow and mountainous northern edge of the lake.

We drove northwards from our base in Moniga to Limone. The distance is short - only 30 miles - but it took 1.5 hours to get there. The road is narrow, twisting and winding at times - but the views are ever so beautiful. You also have to pass through a number of towns where the traffic becomes extremely busy - we got stuck in a bad traffic jam in Salo.

The drive is wonderful, despite being slow going at times. The scenery is picture postcard perfect and as you get further north it becomes really mountainous and dramatic. It is also great fun, as you pass through numerous tunnesl blasted into the mountains. Parts of the new James Bond movie were filmed in these tunnels.

When we reached Limone we parked in a multi-storey car-park, blasted into the mountain, which was directly by the ferry. We caught the ferry across the lake to Malcesine - a pleasant 15 minute journey. Parking in the car park cost 8 Euros for about 6 hours.

Malcesine is beautiful. The medieval castle - Castello Scaligero was built in the 14th century by the Della Scala family. You can climb the tower and apparently there is a museum inside. We just admired it from the outside, due to lack of time.

The town is located at the foot of Monte Baldo - the highest mountain around Lake Garda. A cable car goes up this 1,750 metre mountain. We easily found the cable car station in the centre of town. Tickets to go to the top cost 17 Euros for adults and 8 Euros for children. We waited about 5 minutes before the cable car arrived.

Cable cars which hold 45 people run to the halfway point. Everyone though was crammed in and we found it the hottest and most sweaty journey ever. It was bliss when we got out at the middle point. Here however, you transfer to a 70 person cable car which is so much better as it performs a slow rotation, so everyone gets to enjoy the wonderful views. It is a fantastic, but be aware it does sway and bump just a little!

At the top of the mountain on a clear day you get breath-taking views of the lake and the Dolomites (apparently!). We saw absolutely nothing as the top was covered in dense cloud. Hard to believe as at the middle point it was hot, sunny and very clear.

We saw nothing from the top - visibility was almost zero. We could hear cowbells jangling, but didn't even see the cows, despite the fact they were very close. It was also absolutely freezing. All the Italians unpacked an assortment of winter clothes and fleeces from their backpacks - this was a very wise idea!

We had hoped to walk to the viewpoint - about 20 minutes from the cable car station but couldn't as the weather was too bad. They do however have a very nice self-service restaurant where instead, we had a delicious lunch.

When we came back down we strolled around Malcesine for an hour or so. The streets are really picturesque and full of nice restaurants, cafes and ice-cream shops. The main harbour is also beautiful and lined with cafes. We had a drink here and spent a pleasant half an hour waiting for the ferry back to Limone.

Limone, on the other side of the lake, is also a beautiful little town. We just wandered through on the way back to the car-park, but you could pass a pleasant couple of hours here strolling and exploring. It is also surrounded by lemon groves - hence its name.

Although we didn't get the views we had hoped for from the top of Monte Baldo, I would say it is a must do if you are at Lake Garda - the experience and the town of Malcesine are unforgettable.

A Boat Trip to Riva del Garda

Member Rating 4 out of 5 by Joy S on September 10, 2008

Riva del Garda is located at the north west end of Lake Garda. We decided to take the ferry from Desenzano at the very southern tip of the lake, all the way to Riva at the north to experience the scenery and how it changes.

We left our base at Moniga del Garda and drove 15 minutes to get to Desenzano. You can catch direct ferries from here to Riva and we found a large car-park with plenty of spaces right next to the ferry stop.

We paid 66 Euros for all of us - 2 adults and a child for a return trip. The man in the ticket booth spoke perfect English and recommended we take the high speed ferry up to Riva and to come back on the slow boat. We did as he suggested.

The high speed ferry departed promptly and the journey took 2.5 hours. The boat had 2 decks - upstairs at the back was a small outside area with about 10 seats where you could sit and soak in the sun. It was quite good fun - the boat travelled quite fast, was noisy and a little bumpy at times but stopped at 6 different places. The top deck, where we sat, had fairly small windows which were quite high up so you didn't have the best views. Sit on the lower deck if you use this ferry service. Also bring drinks / snacks as there is no facility to buy these on board.

The view as you travel northwards gets more and more dramatic with the craggy mountains. The approach to Riva is especially impressive.

Riva has lots of character and a beautiful lake front. Its location makes it one of the most spectacular spots around the lake. It is surrounded by imposing mountains and has olive trees and palms. It was a popular tourist spot at the end of the last century - some famous guests included Nietzsche, Kafka and Lawrence.

The views down the lake from Riva are stunning. The lake front is the best place to enjoy this town.

We found a table at a cafe in the main square, ordered drinks and sat soaking up the views. The Apponale Tower in the square is of historic interest. It was built in 1220 and is surrounded by 14th century porticos. The tower was used as an observation post in World War I.

We spent about 2 hours in Riva - enough to have a leisurely drink and see everything.

The slow ferry back to Desenzano takes 4.5 hours. It is a much larger ship - 3 levels, lots of seats outdoors on the top deck and the middle deck has huge picture windows. There is a restaurant on board serving a 15 Euro set menu. We didn't try this. There is also a bar where you can buy drinks and crisps etc..

We sat outside as far as Malcesine - the views are amazing. The area near Torbole had dozens of windsurfers, some of whom seemed to delight in taking their lives in their hands and race across the front of our ship.

Look out for all the road tunnels through the mountains - the new James Bond movie was filmed in these tunnels.

We enjoyed the boat trip back, but 4.5 hours was really a little too long. After Salo the scenery, though still attractive, becomes far less dramatic and we found ourselves wishing the last hour away so we could get off the ship. I would recommend, if possible, catching the ferry to and from Salo as far as Riva. That way, you get to experience the best of the scenery but cut the journey time by about 1.5 hours.


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