For epic beauty, it’s hard to beat the trip to Lake Garda. As you drive down from Brenner Pass (1,370 meters/4,495 feet) between Austria and Italy the landscape goes from Alpine to Mediterranean. On the road winding down to your destination, you start to see full unobstructed views of the spectacular emerald blue Lake Garda (Lago di Garda) and Mount Baldo (Monte Baldo) to its left sitting at 2,218 meters (7,277 feet). Your heart races from the sheer natural beauty as well as the tight “S’’ turns that don’t stop until you have landed in “The Pearl of Lake Garda” or Riva del Garda.
Located in the Lombardo, Veneto and Trentino regions of northern Italy, south of Austria, he enormous lake covers 369 square meters (approximately 142 square miles) and offers something for everyone who likes water or land.
Though options for exploring the lake and its environs are almost literally endless, this article will focus on the northern part of the lake, namely Riva del Garda, Linfano and Torbole.
There are plenty of options when it comes to lodging in Riva del Garda, Torbole and surrounding areas. A good travel website will help you find traditional lodging. However one option you may want to consider is camping! With the wonderful Mediterranean climate, you will sleep well at night and get to spend most of your vacation outside soaking up the Italian sun.
Camping in Europe is a little closer quarters than you may be used to in the U.S. but there are numerous options in the Garda area. You can find sites that have swimming pools, restaurants and full bathroom facilities. There are even sites just a short walk to the lake.
Best of all, for a prime location, your vacation will cost a fraction of a hotel stay. Be warned, though: during the high season (Pfingsten vacation — which is usually the end of May to early September) the best sites book out early. If you strike out with your search, you may want to try Camping Brione (www.CampingBrione.com) in Riva del Garda. It is only a few minutes walk to the lake and close to plenty of restaurants and shops. For just 37€ a night, you can get a camping spot or a bungalow (4 person) for around 110€ per night.
Top Tip: Pick up your full camping set up at your local Outdoor Recreation Center. https://www.Camping.info is a user-friendly site.
Any trip to Italy isn’t complete without getting your daily dose of gelato, the mouth-watering cousin to ice cream. You can feel better eating gelato every day for many reasons. It contains less fat than traditional ice cream (about 30% less calores and fat than the average vanilla ice cream), uses more milk (and less cream) and does not use egg yolks. More excuses can be provided upon request!
When it comes to your main course, definitely save a day for pizza. Let’s face it…we as Americans are obsessed with pizza. Look for something with the name “Napoli” and “wood fired” in the description (try Ristorante Pizzeria Maffei in Riva del Garda) and you will likely get what you are looking for.
Since Lake Garda is so far north, the “Alto Adige” (Southern Tyrol) mountain cuisine, which is heavy on cheese and meat, is more typical. For your “I primi” (first course) try “canederli,” which are bread balls flavored with cured ham pieces, pancetta or other cold cuts along with milk, eggs and cheese. Canederli are traditionally served in broth or drizzled with butter. For “I secondi” (second course) look for “Tyrolean goulash” which is often served with polenta.
Top Tip: Order cheese for dessert instead of something sweet. The alpine region of southern Tyrol is famous for its dairy products.
Bonus Top Tip: A trip to the wineries near Verona is a must during your tour.
Biking and e-biking
The minute you arrive in Riva del Garda, you will be able to tell this is a hot-spot for bikers (the pedaling kind). Mountain biking is very popular here with technical trails that will even make hard core enthusiasts think twice.
Never fear! There are loads of options for cruising, and with the popularity of e-bikes at an all-time high, you can ride all day and have gas left in the tank to go swimming in the evening.
One e-biking trip you may want to consider is Lake Ledro (Lago di Ledro). The lake sits at an elevation of 655 meters (2,148 feet) above Lake Garda. A popular route starts on the west side of Riva del Garda and ascends using the Via Giacomo to the Sentiero della Ponale. This path is carved out from the cliffside and overlooks the lake along the way up. Because this route is so popular, you may want to start earlier in the morning. The ride is about 24 Km (15 miles) with a 944 meter (3,100 feet) elevation gain but don’t worry…you are on an e-bike! Once up in Ledro, you can ride around the lake on your bike and go for a swim (it is an alpine lake, so a bit chillier than Garda).
Top Tip: Try e-bike Garda Focus Rent and Tour in Riva del Garda (www.e-bikegarda.it). Ask the amazing staff if you can keep the bikes overnight and take chargers with you so you will have plenty of juice for the next day’s ride.
Swimming and SUPing
Stand Up Paddleboarding, or SUPing, earlier in the day is the best bet for a nice smooth lake. Take it from me; you don’t want to be paddling back to your beach with a strong headwind when the afternoon wind picks up. There is less windsurfing traffic earlier in the day and the surfers really get cooking on a good day after lunch.
The beaches in Riva del Garda are great but can get busy. Try walking or riding along the lake (there are plenty of paths) and find a quiet spot like the one we found south of Torbole. Look for pontoon docks you can swim out to.
Top Tip: Try Torbole Beach. It’s quiet and not crowded. Bring water shoes since most lakes and beaches in Europe have rocks and not sand. Your feet will thank you.
Windsurfing and Kitesurfing
If you are interested in learning to wind or kitesurf, there are a number of schools (try Sircolo Surf Torbole at https://www.circolosurftorbole.com) that offer lessons for beginners. Lake Garda is known as the mecca for wind-water sports in the Alps. Consistent wind, beautiful weather and alpine water make a perfect combination that attracts fanatics from far and wide. The feel of skimming along the water under wind power is exhilarating, but can be tiring to learn.
Top Tip: Do some pull ups before your first lesson because it is a workout (but a lot of fun!).
Your Lake Garda trip will be one you talk about for years to come. If you want to make the trip even more epic, make a side trip to Venice as it is only 2.5 hours by car.