Lake Garda, (Italian: Lago di Garda), is an important tourist area in the shadow of the Dolomite mountains in Northern Italy
At just over 50 km long it is the largest lake in Italy and at its deepest point has a depth of 350 m.
The northern part of the lake was part of Austria until the end of WW1, with the whole of the lake being Austrian territory prior to the unification Of Italy in 1870.
There are small resort towns located all around Lake Garda. The largest lake in Italy the north of the lake is narrow and surrounded by mountains and is well known for its water sports and outdoor activities. The choice is endless, sailing, kite surfing, windsurfing, mountain biking, hiking, climbing etc. The south of the lake is wider and with gentle rolling hills. The south of the lake also has a warmer climate than extreme north end of the lake which is cooled by a strong breeze which rolls off the Dolomite mountain valley above Riva in the early afternoon.
The Gardaland Theme Parks are based near Lazise in the south eastern corner of the lake and there are many campsites in the area. There are quite a few small man-made beaches around the lake, but these tend to be fine shingle rather than sand.
All the resorts around the lake have different flavour and one of the great joys of a Lake Garda holiday is travelling around the by ferry or road to soak in the local ambiance. One thing all the towns share is immense civic pride which is reflected in high standards cleanliness, lack of graffiti and the politeness of the people.
Do not mix up Riva del Garda and Garda as they can often be confused and your holiday ruined by a simple mistake. Also a bit of a bother when trying to meet up with a friend at times.
All people speak Italian as a first language but basic English has increased greatly in recent years. The area is popular with tourists from northern Europe and generally most people in tourist areas also speak fluent German.
In some parts of the Dolomite mountains just to the north of the lake there are areas where German is the everyday language lingering on from the time when the region was part of Austria, which only ended in 1919.
As with anywhere in the world, it is good manners to learn how to say goodbye, hello, please, thank you etc. in Italian.
The nearest airport to Lake Garda is just outside Verona, Aeroporto Valerio Catullo di Verona with flights arriving mainly from Europe. Flights from the United Kingdom to Verona are operated by Package Holiday Companies and are also scheduled flights from London, Manchester, Leeds/Bradford, East Midlands and Dublin.
Transfers to the Lake: Many hotels particularly in the south of the lake offer reasonably priced transfers for their guests so it is always advisable to check during the booking. During the summer months there is a bus direct from the airport to the towns of Peschiera del Garda, Lazise, Bardolino and Garda. It is possible to reach other towns on the lake by public transport, by taking the Airport Shuttle bus to the centre of Verona, later bus or train. There are only two train stations on the south of lake, one at Peschiera del Garda and the other at Desenzano del Garda. Buses go direct from Verona to Desenzano del Garda and Sirmione.
Other airports serving the Lake are Milan Bergamo (Orio al Serio), Milan Linate, Milan Malpensa, Venice Marco Polo and Venice Treviso. Bergamo airport is mainly served from the UK by Ryanair and flights from Northern Ireland.
Buses operated by Arriva.it leave Verona for Peschiera del Garda, Sirmione and Desenzano del Garda.
Ferries operate every day between mid March to early November.
The number of services per day varies according to the season, with few services in Spring and Autumn. A fast ferry takes 2-2 and a half hours, including stops.
There are two car ferries crossing the lake between Limone/Malcesine and Torri del Benaco/Maderno.
Check the journey time on the time table carefully as most services take indirect routes and often taking a later ferry may reduce journey time.
It is possible to purchase hop-on-hop-off day tickets, giving unlimited travel either for the whole lake, the upper lake or the lower lake. The ferries range from historic paddle steamers to hydrofoils. High speed (Rapido) hydrofoil services require an additional premium fare but fast catamaran services are charge at normal fare.
Tickets should be bought from the Kiosk on the jetty before boarding, but allow plenty of time for buying your ticket before the sailing time as queues tend to get very long.
In the south eastern part of the lake the towns of Garda, Bardolino, Lazise and Peschiera del Garda are linked by a lakeside path. As the towns are also connected by ferry this gives the opportunity to combine walking with a ferry trip.
Rental bike service companies can be found all around the lake and there are many easy biking itineraries around the Garda Lake Region. Many hotels offer free use of bikes to guests
There are many historical places and buildings around the lake. The architectural style is mostly traditional Italian vernacular, which is very picturesque. There are also many classical style building churches, grand houses and castles. There is a large church located at the northernmost end of the lake, but appropriate clothing must be worn when visiting (eg. knees and shoulders must not be showing). The town of Limone although Lemon trees were grown there actually gets it name from being a border town between Roman provinces.
Nearby towns worth visiting include:
As per usual, fine Italian cuisine is sold. This consists of pasta, pizza and many other traditional Italian dishes. But other options are available such as German, American and British style foods. Italian ice-cream is fresh and homemade- great for those who have a sweethtooth. Ice-cream shops are common, with some sprouting out of shops and restaurants. Some "gelato" (ice-cream-like treat usually made in the shop) shops have 50+ flavours. Smaller shops with only a half dozen flavors might be more enjoyable. These seem to focus on the flavors they offer, and making the decision on which flavour to choose will take much less time. Breakfast is not the same as English or American breakfasts so be careful when you ask for full board. Breakfast at Le Paul in Sirmione, has English and American style foods. They even offer cereal.
As in anywhere in Italy expect the standard of food to be very high however because of the popularity of the Lake Garda area with German speaking tourists and the history of Austrian rule many hotel and restaurant menus also offer Austrian/German cusine.
Most hotels in northern Italy operate on a half-board basis. Hotel breakfast are continental buffet style, a selection fruits yoghurt and cereal and also a selection of sweet biscuits and pastries. In some hotels a toaster is provided for the guests to use. Some hotels will have a waiter on duty to cook eggs.
If going on a long ferry or coach journey I recommend you take pack lunch. For a small charge many hotels will provide an excellent pack lunch. Some hotels may offer one free pack lunch per week as part of a deal with package holiday company. Usually a pack lunch will contain water,fruit juice, rolls with Prosciutto (Parma Ham), cheese and some type of fruit.
Always drink plenty of water or other fluids as weather can be very warm. If you do not like sparkling water then take care, as some water is frozen and may seem still. Other times will be mistaken by you, only to hear the fizz as you open it. 'Frizzante' is the Italian word for sparkling on the bottled water, and don't be fooled by 'non frizzante' as it is sparkling. Double check your water bottle, or, if you are in a restaurant/bar, the waiter may ask "Con gas?" ie with gas simply ask to waiter for a still water (In Italian "acqua naturale"), if you don't like sparkling.
One of the most popular summer drink is the Aperol Spritz. Obtained by mixing Aperol, Prosecco wine and sparkling water (or, in alternative soda, or seltzer). Usually served in a glass with ice cubes, and a straw. Can be garnished with a slice of orange, and served with green olives.
Normal precautions should be taken, as usual. Many shops have outdoor stands and stalls, even if a shop is indoors, so always carry the receipt with you. Bag theft is not uncommon as in theme parks, lines often have a bag drop off point, which in turn is left unattended. If your bag is stolen it is usually left in the street with just your wallet or camera/phone stolen.