Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy: situated in the north, halfway between Brescia and Verona and between Brescia and Milan. It was formed on the edge of the Dolomites, which were in turned formed by glaciers in the last Ice Age.
The name Garda originated around the 8th century and from the town of the same name. It comes from a Germanic phrase, warda, meaning ‘place of guard’.
The northern part of the lake is narrower, nestled in the mountain range known as ‘Gruppo del Baldo’ formed, as previously mentioned, by a Paleolithic glacier possibly created by steam erosion 5-6 million years ago.
Lake Garda has a micro-climate, due to the absorption of heat by this large mass of water, resulting in the surrounding territory being especially mild. This allows the growth of grape vines, palms and citrus fruits, as temperatures rarely reach freezing – which is unusual considering how far north the lake is situated.
The water of the lake is colder than the air in summer and warmer than the air in winter. This strongly contributes to mitigating the summer heat and harsh winters, which results in the climate being incredibly mild in temperature. Therefore Garda is said to have traits of a ‘pre-alpine zero-thermal oasis’ and is different from other lakes, as the average winter temperature varies between 12 – 18 degrees centigrade in winter and 24 – 30 degrees centigrade in summer.
The lake is also subjected to high altitude mountain winds, which are quite intense. The 2 major ones are the Peler, which blows from north to south in the morning, taking tepid air off the lake from the Valle del Sarca. The Ora blows from the south in the afternoon. The wind moves cool air to the mountains that are warmed by daily sunlight. There are several other winds such as the Balinot (from above Riva); the Vinessa from the east; the Ander from the north; the Gardesana (a chilly, strong breeze that regulates summer heat) and the Ponale that comes from ‘Valle di Ledro’ (the west) which blows at various times of the day. There are several other winds which have different names depending on the area.
Lake Garda is split into 3 communes: Trentino-Alto/Veneto/Lombardy.
I will be mainly talking about the Trentino-Alto region, as that is where I have stayed on my visits to this beautiful lake.
My first visit to Lake Garda was in 2007 when I stayed in Malcesine with my mum. It was quite cool as I remember (as this was in October), but still very pleasant. We had a brilliant time and visited a few local attractions, such as a ride up Monte Baldo in the cable care and a trip over to Limone by boat. I knew then that I would be back again for another visit and, yes, again in 2015 we returned to stay in the small town of Torbole (near to Malcesine). Another great holiday was had, we visited a few more places such as Riva (walking along the lake front – dodging all the cyclists !) and also partaking in a couple of wine tours and a festival at Bardolino, which had one of the best firework displays I have ever seen overlooking the lake (a lasting memory with mum).
My most recent visit was last September, when I finally persuaded hubby to visit the area with me. We decided to stay in Riva Del Garda, which is situated at the very top of the lake, nestled under the start of the Dolomites. He is a big fan of our Lake District, so I thought “The more hills, the better!”.
Riva was an important port for communications along the length of the lake, and was actually part of Austria until 1918. It is in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige with Trento and is the second largest town on the lake after Desenzano.
It is quite a tourist driven town, but, that said, it maintains the flavour of old Italy via its architecture and little alleyways. It is also still protected by the town’s fortress (enclosed within the old town gateways).
It has a beautiful harbour, surrounded by bars and suchlike. There is also access to the beach nearby – if you feel brave enough! – which is very popular with watersport enthusiasts i.e. windsurfers and canoeists.
One of Riva’s most striking features is the ‘Torre Apponale’, a full clock tower dating back to the 13th century. This overlooks the heart of the town.
Riva used to belong to the Republic of Venice (the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy), and later (from 1815-1918) to the Austrian Hungarian Empire. During the 3rd Italian war of Independence, Riva was an important supply base for the Austrian navy and was taken by Italian forces. Since the end of World War I, along with the rest of Trentino, it has been part of the Kingdom of Italy.
The town also has a Bastione, which is one the icons of the town. It was built on the Rocchetta mountain, during the 15th century, to enable military fortification above the town. We managed a 15-20 minute walk up to it after our evening meal one night (probably wine fuelled!). The views over Riva were spectacular in the dark with all the lights below 🙂
Just to the north of Riva (about 3 km) are the Varone waterfalls. Our hotel was situated not too far from here, so we decided to stroll up a take a look at them.
The waterfall itself is formed by Magnone stream which flows down the valley – this originated from the beautiful turquoise waters of Lake Tenno. It features a drop of over 90 metres and drops straight into a 55 metre rock funnel. This also features a 73 metre gorge carved by the water. It has 2 caves, the lower cave and upper cave. In the upper cave you can actually see the water flowing in from the mountain. The waterfall is also set in beautiful botanic gardens and there is a trout farm upstream.
It is a local tourist attraction and well worth a visit if you are in the area. I’d advise wearing a raincoat for the visit, as the waterfall as some force behind it!
Our last visit in the area was to a lovely little town called Arco, again situated to the north of Riva (approx 8 kms). We decided to walk it taking in the local scenery along the way, very pleasant and quite Austrian in the theme of the housing.
The town is faced on one side by sheer limestone cliffs which stand up like a wall protecting it and the castle. Because of this, the area is very popular with rock climbers throughout the area. It is also popular for mountain biking, and international bikers flock to the town.
Arco castle overlooks the town on a prominent spur overlooking the Sarca valley. The date of its foundation was probably after 1000 AD, being built by citizens and later becoming the property of nobles. This was then residence of the Arco Counts of the Middle Ages. Three paths lead to the castle and they all leave the town through the olive groves to reach the castle. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit the castle on this occasion. Maybe next time. 🙂
Arco (name from the Latin arcus, meaning bow) has many shrines and churches, a lot to take in on one afternoon’s visit. A good friend of mine has hinted she may want to go again soon, so we may have to put all this on our ‘list of things to do’ for then. Looking forward to it already 🙂
Addio per ora amico mio!