Writers have sung praises of its beauty for centuries, including D.H. Lawrence, who shared his encounters in Twilight in Italy, “The lake lies dim and milky, the mountains are dark blue at the back, while over them the sky gushes and glistens with light.”
Lake Garda’s charming character is inescapable by its medieval castles, quaint lakeside villages, and crystal blue waters. Surrounded by three regions – Veneto’s rolling hills, Trentino-Alto Adige’s alpine mountains and fertile plains of Lombardy – Lake Garda is also the northernmost Mediterranean climate in Europe, where the sun-soaked area is tempered with predictable afternoon breezes. The landscape is verdant with lemon and olive groves, and vineyards that provide quaffable enjoyment made from grapes that are grown on morainic soils left from the glaciers that carved the lake millions of years ago.
Vineyards of Lake Garda offer some of the country’s most classic wines. Bardolino, the area’s famous light red wine, as well as light and refreshing Chiaretto rosatos. Lugana DOC straddles both Lombardy and Veneto on the southern shore of the lake, producing wines made mostly with Turbiana (Trebbiano di Lugana), a biotype of Verdicchio.
The easy-drinking white Custoza is typically blended from nine allowable grapes, among them, Garganega, Fernanda (Cortese) and Trebbiano di Toscano. On the western shores Valtenesi is driven by the indigenous Groppello grape(s).
International varieties such as Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are also found along the lake region as they have taken fertile residence for centuries. Garda DOC is a relatively new term since 2017 which refers to sparkling wines of Lake Garda. They are made in either Metodo Classico and/or Martinotti methods offering refreshing and clean bubbles that pair effortlessly with the lake’s conviviality and Mediterranean climate.
Wineries to visit
The 1860s farm is run by the Bertola family and is located one kilometer from the lake along the southwestern shores in Padenghe. Pratello primarily produces Lugana, and Valtenesi, Chiaretto di Valtenesi, as well as a Metodo Classico Garda DOC which spends five years on lees. Pratello is also an agriturismo, where most of the gastronomic experiences, including their extra virgin olive oil, come from the farm and nearby producers. Alpacas, chickens, donkeys and ducks live among the meadows and olive groves. Accommodation is charming and comfortable, with amenities that include dining, swimming, and a natural pond for soaking into deeper bliss.
In the scenic landscape of the morainic hills, just south of Lake Garda in Monzambano, Ricchi, the family-run winery invites guests to taste a host of wines, ranging from Garda DOC Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc, as well as Lugana, international red blends made from partially raisinated grapes, sparkling wines and grappa. Ricchi also produces olive oil made from the hills of the Mantua region.
Cavalchina pioneered the use of the name ‘Custoza’ in the early 1960s for the white wine grown in Custoza. Arrange a tasting visit to Cavalchina’s second story tasting room that overlooks the picturesque vineyards where Garganega, Fernanda and other varieties grow. In addition to Custoza, owners and brothers Luciano and Franco Piona also produce a number of wines from the lake region, including Bardolino, Chiaretto and the sparkling Cuvée Maison, a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Corvina. This Metodo Classico Garda DOC enjoys 12 months on lees to produce a creamy, dry, herbal spumante with a touch of refreshing salinity.
Costaripa is a family-run winery located in western shores of the lake in Valtenesi owned by winemaker Mattia Vezzola, who is passionate about maximizing the potential of indigenous grapes such as Groppello and Marzemino. A visit to the tasting room allows guests to taste award-winning Valtenesi wines, including the wildly popular RosaMara Chiaretto made in the ‘tear drop’ method, as well as Lugana and Metodo Classico Garda DOC.
Owned by the Prandini family, Perla del Garda strives to blend innovation and tradition with an eye on sustainability on the production of their wines coming from 34 hectares just south of Garda Lake, between Desenzano and Sirmione. They produce Metodo Classico Garda DOC made of Chardonnay and also the Millesimato Extra Brut, which is kept on the lees for at least 60 months. Tasting tours highlight Lugana wines, and include walks through vineyards to vertical tastings to appreciate the aging capacity of this wine.
Originally a farm specializing in producing vine cuttings, the Zenato family now also operates over 30 hectares in the Lugana DOC production area in the quaint town of Peschiera del Garda. Tended by third generation brothers Fabio and Paolo, they are passionate about their territory, always ensuring to protect the environment. Along with Lugana wines, Le Morette produces Bardolino, Chiaretto, sparkling wines, as well as passito, grappa, olive oil and honey.
Where to eat and stay
Ristorante Belvedere is a beautiful and serene spot for outdoor dining with views of the Veronese countryside and spectacular sunsets. A specialty is Il Nodo d’Amore (the knot of love) is tortelli made with melted butter and sage, and filled with a number of seasonal ingredients from spring peas and pumpkin, to meats.
Set within the opulent Relais Villa Cordevigo is this one-Michelin star restaurant which specializes in seafood, primarily fish, along with artistic multi-course tasting menus as their star gastronomic attraction. It is located 15 minutes southeast of the Bardolino shoreline inside an 18th century Renaissance style villa, now honored as a Relais & Chateaux property boasting pristine gardens, a wine cellar, century-old trees, a chapel and luxurious service for the most discriminating guest.
A one-Michelin star restaurant situated on the shores of Lake Garda in Gardone Riviera, chef Riccardo Camanini celebrates a range of raw and beautiful ingredients that come from the region, from sardines, lemons, olives and cheeses. The chef’s creativity and modern take on local cuisine is matched with stunning panoramic views of the lake. Altogether, a meal is a feast for all senses.
Worth a short jaunt through picturesque vineyards to Cavriana, the newly opened hospitality destination offers a respite from the busy lake towns. Peaceful and serene, the multi-level ranch house provides the ultimate Italian farm-stay with plush rooms, a restaurant, and a wellness center featuring an indoor sun-lit pool and Himalayan salt room. Enjoy views of the vineyards from comfortable dining room which specializes in seasonal, regional cuisine.
Located in Bardolino along the lake’s edge, Caesius is a destination for relaxation and wellness. Thermal water originates in the slopes of Monte Baldo and flows down to their mineral water springs where guests can sink into waters containing natural restorative properties. It also boasts indoor and outdoor pools, an expansive outdoor grounds with gardens and acclaimed cuisine to complete the visit.
Other Lake Garda Activities
Lake Garda offers stand-up paddle boarding, sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing and canoeing in addition to beach lounging, and hot springs. Boat tours are a relaxing way to see the charming lakeside towns that dot the shore. The hills that surround the lake offer exceptional opportunities for mountain biking and hiking.
Towns to visit
Perched on a promontory swathed with cypress and olive trees, Sirmione is a bustling tourist-driven town on the southern tip of the lake and home to the 13th century, moated and fortified Rocca Scaligera castle.
Other villages to visit include the colorful Bardolino Malcesine, and Limone Sul Garda, and Riva del Garda a thriving, historic town on the north shore of the lake with a waterfront promenade that stretches for miles.