Lake Garda Overview
- Sea of tranquillity
- Coast life
- Soft-tops and speedboats
The largest and most languid of the Italian Lakes, Garda is flanked by vineyards and olive groves, cradled by snow-capped mountains, and adored by weekending lovers, motorbikers and showboaters in equal measure.
Once an Austrian territory, and marking the start of the Alps, the northern reaches of Lake Garda sports a hint of chalet chic; further south, the Mediterranean microclimate imposes a nonchalant Riviera feel along serpentine roads suspended from the rock face. To vroom along here is to follow in the tyre treads of James Bond; and the super-star villas perched above the lake have the sort of luxury trappings that would impress a retired jewel thief. Spend your days idling on the water, touring the vineyards or mooching in markets – Lake Garda's amazing natural splendour has earned it admirers from Catallus to Clooney, and it'll bowl you over, too.
Literally Lake Garda
The massive expanse of the lake (almost 400 square kilometres) has created a microclimate of mild winters and balmy summers perfectly suited to the production of olives and grapes – not to mention Riviera-remininscent sub-tropical shrubs, palm trees and scented herb gardens. The André Heller Botanic Gardens in Gardone Riviera (www.hellergarden.com) combines eco reserve with sculpture garden – pieces by contemporary artists such as Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein are dotted among a 2,000-strong plant collection that includes rare bamboo, cacti and orchids. Open daily, March–October, 9am–7pm.
- Most major town centres will have taxi ranks, but metered cabs can still be hard to come by. If you're on a tight schedule, ask your hotel to arrange transport.
- Tipping culture
- Formal restuarants may expect a more formal tip of about 10 per cent, but elsewhere, the only expectation is that you'll round the bill up with a little change.
- Siesta and fiesta
- Some shops and businesses close at around midday for lunch, reopening mid-afternoon until the end of the day. In low season, from around November to late March, there's a decidedly sleepy feel to the region, as many hotels and small restaurants wind things down for winter.
- Packing tips
- Outdoorsy gear for biking or rambling up mountains or among vines; deck shoes, shades and binoculars for lake jaunts; swimsuits if you plan on testing the waters.
- Recommended reads
- Dip into Catallus: The Complete Poems: Lake Garda is where the poet was inspired to pen his most explicit erotic works. A key scene in Thomas Mann's The Magic Mountain was inspired by the dramatic Varone Waterfall (www.cascata-varone.com).
- Menus make the most of the region's bountiful natural resources, with freshwater lake fish such as pike, carp, trout, eel and perch hogging the culinary limelight. A great supporting cast includes mountain-dwelling wild boar; bright citrus fruits; vivid herbs and aromatic olive oils.
- Regional specialities
- Visit centuries-old producer Azienda Agrigola Comincioli in Puegnago del Garda (eng.comincioli.it) to see how they make fragrant extra-virgin olive oil, wine and grappa (Italy's potent answer to schnapps); contact Roberto Comincioli to arrange tours and tastings (+39 0365 651141; email@example.com). The eastern shores of the lake are also flanked by miles of carefully tended vines, with Valpolicella and Bardolino heading up the vintage hit list.
- Euro (€).
- Time zone
- GMT +1.
- Dialling codes
- Country code for Italy: +39.
- Do go/don't go
- Many hotels will be closed over winter, reopening in time for Easter in late March or early April. Spring and Autumn are fantastic, especially if you're lounging on a sun-warmed terrace on a bright clear day. Cool mountain air makes summer pleasant on northern shores, but temperatures can soar in the south. July and August bring busy roads and packed restaurants.
Don't go home without...
…indulging your sweet tooth at Pasticceria Vassalli, a renowned pastry shop and chocolatier on Via San Carlo in Salò (+39 0365 20752; www.pasticceria-vassalli.it). Among their specialities are products made exclusively with citrus fruit grown around Lake Garda, including lemon and quince jam, candied orange peel and Cedrina, a limoncello-like liqueur.