Lake Garda is a glacial lake in northern Italy and a very popular holiday destination. Located between Brescia and Verona, this picturesque area sits in the shadow of Alpine mountain ranges, and it is popular with holidaymakers throughout the year.
The long and expansive Lake Garda is home to a collection of islands – five of which are inhabited. The largest of the inhabited islands is Isola del Garda, which has a long and illustrious history as the location of fortified settlements and a beautiful Franciscan monastery. The island is the private property of the Cavassa family, but the general public are free to visit the stunning island and its neo-gothic Villa Borghese Cavazza throughout the year. The island of Isola San Biagio lies further to the south, just off the coast of San Felice del Benaco. The other three main islands of Lake Garda – Isola di Trimelone, Isola di Sogno and Isola dell’Olivo – are all located near the north east shore.
It is believed that this enormous natural lake was formed by a glacier between 5 and 6 million years ago. The Sarca River provides the main source of water to Lake Garda, which flows from the Adamello-Presanella mountains in the upper reaches of the Italian Alps. The lake’s main outlet is the Mincio River, which stretches for more than 60 kilometres through Mantua and into the River Po near Venice.
The geographical and strategic importance of Lake Garda has resulted in the emergence of several towns and villages on its south shores. Spread across the provinces of Trentino, Veneto and Lombardy, these quaint, historic settlements have grown over the last two thousand years, and many of them still retain an ancient charm that is difficult to find in modern-day Europe. The old fortified town of Sirmione, for instance, is home to spas, the ancient Scaliger Castle and modern shops – a melting pot of new and old. Thousands of tourists flock to the sulphur springs of Lake Garda every year in order to enjoy the reported medicinal benefits it provides. And in stark contrast, the most famous theme park in Italy – Gardaland – is located only a few miles away, between the towns of Peschiera and Lazise.
The sheer scale and beauty of the largest lake in Italy is enough to attract tourists from around the world in their thousands. Particularly on the south shores, the architecture and way of life are typically Italian, and the relatively mild climate allows for the growing of beautiful lemon trees. Indeed, the town of Limone gets its name from the pretty lemon trees that grow throughout the region – an unusual sight for a region so far north.
As well as a multitude of exciting water sports, the towns and villages around the lake offer tourists an insight into an ancient way of life. These sleepy settlements feature a combination of Italian and Austrian cultures; a result of the region’s tumultuous history of dispute and warfare. Indeed, prior to Italian unification in 1870, the lake and surrounding areas were an Austrian territory.
A wide range of land-based activities are also enjoyed in the region, including hiking, mountain biking and rock climbing. Sheltered by the mountain ranges to the north, the southern shores of the lake enjoy a year-round temperate climate that attracts visitors during all four seasons. For those who prefer a more sedate travel experience, the famous lakeside markets offer a wealth of local produce and an inimitable Italian ambience that truly sums up the entire area.
Image: Fotito – Fotolia