Get to know Lake Garda, one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in Italy.

Located in northern Italy, at the foot of the Alps, Lake Garda’s incomparable blue waters contrast beautifully with the green of the mountains. Find out more about Lake Garda here.

LAGO DI GARDA

Origin of Lake Garda

Lake Garda, located in Italy, was formed by the thaw of the last glaciation and is situated at the foot of the Alps, surrounded by mountains. It has a surface area of 370 km², on which beautiful villages such as Lombardy, Trentino and Veneto have been built.

The lake is of glacial origin. A glaciation is a period when the Earth’s global temperature drops and stays low for a long time, causing the ice of the ice caps and glaciers to expand and cover large areas of land.

This last glaciation, which occurred in the Pleistocene epoch that gave rise to Lake Garda, is known as the Wisconsin or popularly called the Ice Age. It began around 110,000 BC and ended around 10,000 BC.

The large amount of ice that accumulated on the land where Lake Di Garda is today created an immense glacier. When the glaciation ended and the Holocene Epoch began, the ice began to melt, exposing a series of geoforms that created the landscape where Lake Di Garda is today.

LAGO DI GARDA

During the time that the glacier remained on these lands, the weight, pressure and sliding of the ice masses allowed the formation of structures such as glacial cirques, which are amphitheatre-shaped depressions carved into the walls of the mountains where the glacier was for thousands of years.

This abrasion, or dragging, that occurs as the mass of snow slowly slides over the years, gives the surface concave shapes that, when the glacier disappears, allow the formation of glacial lakes.

Rocks are also formed as a result of the action of the ice, the pressure and the erosion that takes place. This is how the rocks are carved and shaped, bending as they pass through. If we look closely at the rocks, we can see the direction of flow of the ice masses that created their structure.

Subsequently, major climatic changes led to strong changes in the earth’s temperature, which started the melting process of the glacier and gave rise to Lake Garda.

The lake’s origin gives it a beautiful deep sky-blue colour, which contrasts with the green vegetation of the surrounding mountains.

The history

The history of Lake Garda is inextricably linked to that of the towns and villages along its shores. In this sense, Lake Garda has been a faithful witness to the invasions, battles and romances that have shaped what this beautiful lake is today. One of these stories is that of Monte Baldo, a rugged mountain in the Alps that lies between Trento and Verona.

It is bordered to the south by the plain of Caprino Veronese, to the west by Lake Garda, to the north by the valley that links Rovereto to Nago-Torbole and to the east by the Adige valley. This describes the geomorphology of the lake.

During the Roman period, the mountain was called Mons Polninús. Riva del Garda, now a tourist resort, was a witness to Roman events, and there are also traces of the medieval past, such as the Torre Apponale, built in 1220.

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The Venetians, who settled here in the year 400 and renovated the Town Hall, are also part of the history, while in 1375 work was carried out on the Praetorian Palace. Then, in 1924, an ancient cemetery was discovered, with graves and tombstones bearing Latin inscriptions with the word “innegiante”, in honour of the goddess Iside.

From these findings it is concluded that the Etruscans, an ancient people who were actually called Rasenas but the Romans called them Etruscans, were the first inhabitants of the area of Lake Gardia.

This history is also linked to Malcesine, a place where excavations have been found that allow us to speak of events to which Lake Garda has been a silent witness. Thanks to them, it is very probable that the colonies that settled in the area were on their way to the Alps, but they left behind burial chambers that have been useful in recognising Etruscan customs.

It is said that this is the origin of the name “Males scilices”, which means “reef of the dead”, a name given to it in 844 AD. Malcesine is a small and beautiful medieval town on the northern shore of Lake Garda. In this beautiful and ancient town there is a castle that is said to have been built by the Longobardi family of Alboino.

It is said that this castle was attacked and destroyed by the troops of Childeric, king of the Franks, to avenge the offence of Autari, king of the Longobards, for marrying Teodolina, his fiancée. However, this story is not so simple, because in reality it was a time of intense religious, political and territorial struggles.

There is even a historical episode told in the book of Paolo Diacono, author of the history of the Longobards, according to which, when Autari arrived near the present-day Reggio Calabria, he touched the water with his spear a few metres from the shore, thus marking the borders of the Longobard kingdom. This site is evidence of the Longobards’ desire to extend their dominion over the entire peninsula.

The castle was rebuilt in the 8th century after the defeat of the Longobards by the Franks, and Malcesine remained in the hands of the Frankish king Charlemagne from 768. Later, the threat of barbarian invasions by the Ungheri forced the construction of walls to defend the Borgo, a French community that besieged the area, and this is how the famous “gates” of this building were created.

In 1145, during the period of the feudal lords, Malcesine became part of the “Lordship of the Bishop of Verona” and was given a certain degree of independence as a commune, allowing it to have its own currency. Then, in 1277, came the time of the Della Scala family, lords of Verona, who renovated the castle, known since then as Castello Scaligero.

In 1400 it came under the protection of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia, a period of growth and development began and the “Gardesana dell’Agua”, a federation of 10 municipalities on Lake Garda, was born.

Then came the war of Napoleon, a French republican general who had conquered almost all of western and central Europe from Austria. French troops were also involved in these battles, known as coalitions, which ended with the defeat of Venice and the handing over of the Federation to the Lombardo-Veneto Kingdom.

Various wars of independence followed, and the area was used as a refuge by Austrian troops. In 1886 the whole area became part of the Kingdom of Italy.

For all these reasons, it is clear that Lake Garda has a history full of battles and betrayals that is well worth knowing, which can be reconstructed by sailing on its waters and walking through the streets of the villages that were built after years of fighting.

The tributaries

Lake Garda is fed by a number of tributaries that vary in size and flow, forming a basin of rivers, streams and brooks that originate in the mountains surrounding the lake. Among the most important tributaries is the River Sarca, which rises on the slopes of the famous Mount Mandrone, at an altitude of about 3,283 metres.

This river is also an outflow of Lake Garda, as it flows into the Mincio River. This river system is known as the Sarca – Lake Garda – Mincio river system, it has a length of 194 km, which are distributed as follows

  • The Sarca river with 77 km.
  • Lake Garda with 41 km.
  • The Mincio river with 75 km.

The latter has its source in Lake Garda, crosses the Lombardy plain and becomes a tributary of the Po. Other tributaries of Lake Garda are the Ponale and San Giovanni streams, and the Toscolano, Barbarano and Campione streams, which flow into the lake from the western part.

Characteristics of Lake Garda

As mentioned above, Lake Garda is of glacial origin and is located in northern Italy, at an altitude of 65 metres above sea level, with a surface area of 368 km², a length of 51.6 km and a width of 17.2 km. In the foothills of the Alps, the northern part of the lake is long and narrow, surrounded by beautiful mountains, most of which belong to the Baldo group.

In the geomorphological structure of Lake Di Garda you can see a fluvial valley, probably created by the Sarca river. In the southern part of the lake, Di Garda becomes wider and rounder, a shape caused by the movement of the glacial masses of the Neozoic period, from 66 million years ago to the present day.

Surrounding Lake Garda are the Baldo mountains to the north-east of the lake, with altitudes ranging from 2,079 metres at Altissimo di Nago to 2,218 metres at Cima Valdritta, among many others.

In the southern part there are numerous valleys, such as the famous Ledro Valley. There is also a coastal area with the Gulf of Salò and the famous peninsula of Sirmione in the southernmost part.

The climate

Lake Garda has a Mediterranean climate, with an average annual temperature of 12.5°C, ranging from 1.5°C in January to 23°C in July. Rainfall is abundant, estimated at 850 mm per year, and is well distributed throughout the year.

Lake Garda is constantly visited by two types of wind currents that allow it to show a thermal effect: one is in the afternoon, which blows from south to north and is present from midday until the sun goes down, known as the Ora.

The other current is present from early morning until early afternoon, it is a much gentler wind and is known as the Pelér.

Flora, fauna and geology

This area has a Mediterranean ecosystem, so the vegetation around Lake Garda is made up of beautiful cypresses, cedars and oleanders, the latter known not only for its colourful flowers but also for its poison. Its scientific name is Nerium oleander, a beautiful shrub that can grow up to 6 metres high, it is a fast-growing perennial. There are also olive trees and, to a lesser extent, palm trees.

As for the fauna, Lake Garda has a rich aquatic fauna in which at least 30 different species have been identified, among which we can mention: the carp, the eel, the Alosa agone, one of the most important and abundant in the lake, it belongs to the family Clupeidae in the order of Clupeiformes.

Also the Alborella, the Barbo plebejus, the trout, the sun perch and many other fish that form important aquaculture communities that develop in Lake Garda.

The lake’s endemic species of salmon, known as the carpione, which is unfortunately in danger of extinction, must also be mentioned.

In terms of geological formation, we speak of the western Gardesana, referring to the side of the lake that rises from Salò to Riva del Garda, known as Trentino; and the eastern Gardesana or Venetian Coast, referring to the stretch of the lake that rises from Peschiera del Garda to Riva in the east. Finally, Basso Garda is the largest part of the lake, corresponding to the province of Brescia.

The entire surface is characterised by a rocky relief, formed by rocks dating back to the Secondary Era, 251 million years ago. The process of erosion, which took place during the above-mentioned glaciation, gave rise to all the geoforms of this area, including gullies and some caves, which are deep carbonate deposits where thermal fluids circulate at around 40°C.

The Islands

In Lake Garda we can find eight islands which, although they are small mounds scattered over its surface, are really important and are part of its tourist development. The first one is the island of Garda, located in front of San Felice, it is the island with the largest surface.

Then there are the islands of San Biagio and Coniglio, both in the bay of Manerba. They are followed by the island of Trimelone, in front of the village of Cassone.

Then there are the islands of Val di Sogno and Olivo, near Malcesine, and finally the islets known as Altare and Stella to the south.

Tourist attractions

Visiting Lake Garda is an incredible adventure that offers an infinite number of landscapes in the same place. The geomorphology that surrounds the lake allows you to get to know the Alps, which give it a special quality, because the colour of its waters is a blue that has never been seen before.

However, as the landscape changes from mountains to valleys, you can also enjoy a different environment, full of beautiful villages that also offer a variety of architecture, traditions and different landscapes.

One of the tourist attractions is the Caves of Catullus, the ruins of an ancient Roman city. They are not really caves, because the Romans did not live in caves, but the structures of the buildings are covered with vegetation and shaped like natural caves.

It is a Roman town from the 1st century BC, where you can admire the beautiful Roman architecture, characterised by large porches and terraces overlooking the lake. The houses were distributed along the sides and in the centre of the town there was a garden with olive trees.

We also recommend a visit to the museum, which houses the archaeological finds made during the excavations, together with other Roman remains found around the lake.

To give you an idea of how long it takes to get to the lake, it is about 30 minutes by car from Verona, an hour from Milan and an hour and a half from Venice. Going to the lake by car allows you to drive around its structure, which is a beautiful sight.

A good starting point is the town of Sirmione, which, as mentioned above, is located on a peninsula to the south of the lake. There you can visit the 13th century castle.

Water sports enthusiasts can also visit the town of Gargnamo, an excellent place for sailing. In September, Centomiglia hosts one of the most important regattas in the world.

The funicular railway is another of the attractions offered by Lake Garda, where it is possible to climb to over 2,000 metres on Mount Baldo and enjoy one of the most beautiful panoramas. There is also Gardaland, a theme park with shows, an aquarium and several roller coasters.

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Villages of Lake Garda

On the shores of Lake Garda you will find many small and large villages, some more visited than others, but all truly charming. We will start with Lazise, a small village on the eastern shore of the lake. Here you can visit a castle that is 1,119 years old, making a stroll through its historic centre an unforgettable experience.

Vittoriale degli italiani

This place has political origins, as it was built in the 20’s and 30’s of the 20th century to commemorate the deeds of the Italian people during the World War, and it is well worth a visit to see the memorial monuments, its theatres and gardens of majestic beauty.

On the south side of the lake is Saló, which in its narrow streets offers much of a medieval village, and the street that borders the lake, known as the Waterfront, offers beautiful views, exquisite food and cafes to share a pleasant afternoon in the company of family or friends.

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Peschiera del Garda

This small town, very close to Sirmione, is criss-crossed by canals that give it a unique beauty. It is home to an imposing fortress that is part of the Quadrilatero, a group of buildings in northern Italy that has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Desenzano del Garda

It is a town known for the influx of national and international tourism, located just 11 kilometres from the main town of Sirmione. It has a beautiful historical centre and the famous 16th century church of Santa Maria Magdalena.

Bardolino

Heading north up the eastern side of the lake is Bardolino. Famous for its wines and its lakeside streets lined with churches, monasteries and villas. For a complete experience for all visitors arriving here, a stop at the Wine Museum is a must.

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Limone sul Garda

To see and smell Limone sul Garda is an experience like no other. Located to the north, on the western shore of Lake Garda, this town is characterised by a delicious lemon scent, due to the fact that it is home to the most extensive lemon groves in the region. The beautiful and ancient churches of San Pietro and San Rocco are also a great tourist attraction for all visitors.

It may be useful to know that this town is connected by road to Riva del Garda. In addition to its beautiful parks and beaches, it is worth visiting the Fisherman’s Museum, the Museum of Tourism and, of course, walking through its streets and enjoying its lemon groves.

Riva del Garda

Located in the Alps, at the northern end of the lake, it is full of beautiful narrow streets, among which stand out elements very typical of this town, such as the market square and the Apponmale Tower, 34 metres high, from which we can enjoy a panoramic view of this beautiful lake town.

Torre del Benaco

It is a very small village, characterised by its olive groves and dense vegetation, dominated by oak and holm oak woods. Here we can visit the Museum of the Olive Industry and see the prehistoric engravings of the area.

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Torbole

Known as the Garden of Europe, this small town borders the Monte Baldo Natural Park. It is a must for lovers of water sports such as windsurfing and mountain trekking.

Malcesine

Malcesine, a town full of history, is situated on the eastern side of Lake Garda and offers visitors and locals alike beautiful landscapes that can be enjoyed from the highest point of Monte Baldo, which can be reached by cable car or chair lift. Enjoy the historic centre and of course the beautiful Scaligero Castle.

Moniga del Garda

This town of just 2,000 inhabitants, famous for its rosé wine, is often referred to as Città del Chiaretto. Its historic centre, with a 10th century castle and 14th century walls, makes it a charming town full of tranquillity and beautiful views.

Gardone

Another of the small towns that adorn the beautiful Lake Garda, it is home to a national monument and a war museum, but it is famous for having been the residence of the famous Italian writer Gabriel D’Annunzio, Prince of Montenevoso and Duke of Gallese, a military and political figure.

The town of Sirmione

Situated on the southern shore of the lake, just north of Italy, between lavish Milan and beautiful Verona. It has no more than 8,000 inhabitants but is the main tourist centre of the region.

One of the attractions of this small town is its historic centre, which dates back to the 5th century B.C., where you can relive the Middle Ages, see the Roman ruins and, of course, enjoy the beautiful Lake Di Garda.

The climate is ideal for outdoor activities, with mild, sunny summers. The hottest months are July and August, when the average temperature is between 25 and 35°C, but don’t forget to visit the city in the cold winters, which have their own special charm.

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Sirmione is home to one of the best-preserved castles in Italy, the scene of many battles in the history of the lake, rebuilt by the Della Scala family for the protection of their family and the defence of Verona, and finally, in 1860, handed over to the Italian government for restoration.

Sirmione, the largest town on Lake Garda, is naturally the most visited and, thanks to its privileged position, offers all the facilities for a pleasant stay and for visiting the other towns on the lake.

It is equidistant from the other towns on the lake, to the east of Sirmione is Peschiera di Garda. Continuing along the shores of the lake is Bardolino, just 15 kilometres from Peschiera. From Bardolino you can reach Punta San Vigilio. To the north is Malcesine, about 25 km away, and at the northern end of the lake is Torbole.

Hotels on Lake Garda

As mentioned above, Lake Garda has many beautiful towns to visit and there are recommendations on where to stay to make the most of your holiday on Italy’s largest lake. One of the most popular is Sirmione, due to its excellent location from Venice, Milan or Verona. At the same time it is one of the most expensive due to its large number of tourists, you will find 4 star accommodation with swimming pools overlooking the lake very nice.

For tourists who prefer to travel by train, Desenzano or Peschiera del Garda have railway stations. Desenzano is known for its nightlife, with many bars and nightclubs, and there are several accommodation options with different amenities. Peschiera del Garda is chosen for its good transport links, which make it accessible for exploring the area, and has cheaper accommodation than the above places.

Map of Lake Garda

Below is a map of Lake Garda, showing the names of the mountain ranges that surround it, as well as each of the towns described in detail in the previous paragraphs.

If you liked this article, we invite you to read the following ones:

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  • Niemen River
  • Rio Grande de Matagalpa
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