Lake Garda shoreline in evening light

Lake Garda

The poetic beauty of Italy’s largest lake

by Tom Weber
Words Tom Weber

For centuries, artists and aristocrats, divas and dictators, poets and politicos, even James Bond himself, have fallen under the spell of alpine breezes, the scent of lemon blossom and the mesmerising shades-of-blue of Italy’s largest lake, Lago di Garda. Straddling three distinct regions –Veneto, Lombardy and Trentino-Alto Adige – this ladle-shaped body of water beckons travellers from all over to experience the Italian dolce far niente (the sweetness of doing nothing).

Lacus Benacus, as it was known during the time of the Roman Empire, is 154 kilometres around, including 45 kilometres of scattered sandy and pebbled public beaches. This postcard-perfect setting was formed during the Quaternary Age, about 1.5 million years ago, when a massive glacier slid down from the mountains, settled into a depression, melted and transformed itself into the largest freshwater lake in the Bel Paese.

People visiting Castle of Sirmione viewed from across the water
Castle of Sirmione
Façade of late Gothic style church the Duomo of Salò
The Duomo of Salò

In the narrow, fjord-shaped northern reaches of the lake, the Pelér wind blows strong and the Prealpi Gardesane mountains tower high above. Up here, the topography is wild and untamed. Lakefront cities like Riva del Garda and Torbole look less manicured than their southern siblings. Souvenir shops take a back seat to outdoor-themed stores selling climbing, hiking and camping gear. Windsurfers outnumber sailboats as they zigzag across the lake like flocks of wild geese, while paragliders silently descend from Monte Baldo like well-choreographed aerial dancers in Swan Lake.

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  • ‘Lake Garda’ is published in Anthology Volume 17. Read more features from this volume or buy it now.
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