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  • Coastline 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.

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.

Getting thereView map

  • Planes For southern or eastern Lake stays, Verona is the closest airport, but there are more international flights to Milan's Malpensa and Linate airports (both about 90 minutes from Salò on the western shore). Bergamo is another good option, about 65km west of Lake Garda.
  • Boats Car ferries cross Lake Garda between Desenzano and Riva del Garda several times a day, stopping at various ports en route (including Sirmione, Salò, Gargnano, Malcesine and Limone); pedestrian boats and catamarans are more frequent. See for timetables and fares.
  • Trains Lake Garda's Desenzano del Garda station has regular rail connections to Venice, Milan, Verona, Brescia and other Italian cities ( SIA buses (840 620 001) can connect you to towns such as Salò, where there's a bus stop just a few hundred metres from Villa Arcadio.
  • Automobiles A car is a must if you want to explore, but if you're not planning to travel much further than the perimeter of the hotel pool, you can manage without. From Milan, Lake Garda is easily reached via the A4 motorway to Venice; exit east at Brescia and take the Salò road. Brescia and Verona are both around half an hour's drive from the lake's southern tip.
  • Taxis 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.