Discover the wonders of Lake Garda, the history and the places to visit during your holiday in the several camping villages: you will dive in a territory full of fascination, timeless suburbs where legendary ventures took place, landscapes that inspired poets and writers, and you will tase the typical products of a land which offers unique itineraries related with food and wine.
Are you ready to dive in history?
Lake Garda, or “Benaco”, is the largest of the pre-alpine lakes in Italy, as well as the one with the richest history.
The name “Benaco” would appear to be of Celtic origin, with “Ben” - meaning “tip” – referring to the little peninsulas and headlands that jut out over the lake’s waters, and since ancient times the lake has provided the inspiration for some of the most beautiful pages in Greek and Latin poetry, as indeed for Dante, who dedicated two tercets replete with geographical indications to it in the Divine Comedy.
The lake’s present-day name, “GARDA”, dates back to the Middle Ages and derives from the gothic “Warda”, meaning “guard”, a reference to the rock that towers above the gulf of the same name.
The area around Garda has prospered since time immemorial thanks to its mild climate and the bright, attractive landscapes of the northern part of the lake, the morainic hills to the south, the stretches of olive groves and vineyards, the colourful flowers – especially the bouganvilles – and the history of the industrious local people.
The area boasts a unique landscape and environment, with particular geomorphological features.
This is the only lake in the Pre-Alps that stretches out over the high plain, shifting in appearance from a valley-type lake - with the characteristics of a fjord, similar to the other pre-alpine lakes – to a little sea on the plain.
For visitors coming from the north of Europe, the Val Lagarina leads to Torbole and Riva del Garda, where they will be met with a landscape that in every way resembles the fjords in the Nordic countries, with Mount Baldo overlooking it on the eastern side.
Lake Garda is fed by water from two different sources: direct rainfall on the surface and the flow into the lake from the surface or underground.
The lake is not simply a homogeneous blend of different types of water; it is characterised by a range of diverse environments, each of which forms a microcosm.
Sunlight penetrates the surface, resulting in the clear blue colour, in accordance with physical laws.
As a result of its distinctive features and the fascination they hold, Lake Garda has attracted the attention of many academics that have posed the question of how it was formed.
In 1786, the poet Wolfgang Goethe, during his “Italian Journey” took a boat trip around the shores of the lake, and was awestruck by the lively scene that met his eyes, by the magnificent views formed by the olive groves stretching out in the distance and the greenhouses filled with citrus trees. Goethe, a man of the North, saw these aspects of the landscape as heralding the natural beauties of the Mediterranean, and he was so enchanted as to point out its charms to other German, French and English writers, who subsequently followed in his footsteps in search of peace and quiet, finding this area to be an excellent backdrop for their novels.
Since then, a growing number of visitors have decided to frequent the banks of Lake Garda, attracted here by the Mediterranean-like climate, the light and the colours of the lake.
The surface area of the lake is 368 km2, and its shores touch upon three regions: Lombardy to the west, Veneto to the east and Trentino to the north, each boasting a particularly industrious province of considerable importance for the Italian economy: Brescia, Verona and Trento.
Length 52 km
Width 16-42 km
Surface Area 368 km2 ca
Perimeter 158 km
Max. Depth 346 m
Height a.s.l. 65 m
Mount Baldo, 2218 m, keeps watch over the lake and offers enchanting views, as well as walks along paths carved out over the centuries, along which visitors can admire rare species of flowers in bloom all year round.
The strikingly large Mount Baldo dominates the landscape, rising up on the eastern side of the lake from San Vigilio to Torbole: potent, lofty, outstretched and isolated, it towers above the whole lake, visible from every point of it and immediately recognisable.
For the locals, the Baldo is more than just a mountain, since in the past the grassland and high woodlands provided the local population with various means of sustenance and supplies (berries, roots, chestnuts, hay, milk and timber).
The name Baldo is derived from WALD, meaning “wood”.
Mount Baldo is a “goldmine” of vegetation and nature, boasting a wealth of rare plants, flowers and trees exclusive to the area. It is home to some 2000 species of plants that grow wild here and have earned the area the name of “THE GARDEN OF EUROPE”.
In previous centuries, people used to climb up the Baldo in search of plants used to treat illnesses.
Wildlife was also once well represented on the mountainside, with wolves, eagles and bears to be found; more common species have survived until the present day, such as the roe deer, the red fox, the golden eagle, the capercaillie, the red deer, the sparrowhawk, the rock ptarmigan and the mountain sparrowhawk ...as well as a host of beautifully coloured butterflies.
History and people
Right from the Bronze Age, the lake has been home to people who found food there and travelled across its waters, as is testified to by the frequent traces of lake dwellings found here.
In the Middle Ages, the Romans began colonising the countryside around Verona, giving rise to more stable settlements, the CASTLES: indeed, the layout of the towns along the lakeshore (Peschiera, Lazise, Bardolino, Torri del Benaco, Garda, Malcesine) derives from the castle-neighbourhood combination and the defensive features it implied, which remained in place until the Venetians defeated the Viscounts of Milan and the Carraresi family of Padua, as a result of which the population grew in the surrounding countryside and agriculture received a boost, particularly from the farming of silk worms, which fed on the mulberry leaves.
Olives and vines were grown on the hills, while at the high end of the lake – especially on the Brescia side – citrus trees were grown; in the inland areas sheep were raised, and the woodlands yielded timber. Fishing was the main business of the lakeside villages.
In 1400, the EASTERN shore of the lake – the present-day Verona side of the Garda area – was less independent and industrialised than the western shore, but the villages in the Verona District organised themselves into the GARDESANA DELL’ACQUA, a federation of a fiscal nature whose main aim was to combat smuggling and other types of crime.
From 1500, plague, cholera and famine ravaged the Garda areas, especially those in the east, because the structure of the land was such as to allow foreign soldiers to pass through it easily.
After 1815, battles in the “wars of independence” were fought here, until the areas became part of Italy: the Lombardy shore in 1859, the Veneto side in 1866 and the Trentino side in 1918.
Numerous findings from all these periods in history can be found both in the local museums and throughout the area itself.
Products from the lake area
One of the most distinctive, characteristic product of the Garda area is its extra-virgin olive oil, renowned for the light, delicate flavour that has earned it a PDO (Protected Denomination of Origin) quality label.
An excellent accompaniment to any dish is the superb wine produced in the vineyards of the Garda area: Nosiola, Merlot, Cabernet and Vino Santo in the northern areas, Garda Classico Groppello in the Valtenesi area, and Bardolino and Lugana from the lower area of the lake.
A number of itineraries make their way through the wine-growing areas, taking the visitor on a voyage of discovery through the flavours and aromas of the area…
In the upper part of the Garda area, visitors can admire the original spectacle of the winter gardens, or lemon houses. Nowhere else in the world boasts hothouses of this kind, where fine citrus trees are grown.
The area also boasts a host of other typical products, such as:
- lake fish: the fish population of the lake has risen constantly in recent years, thanks to specific operations carried out to boost the reproduction of whitefish, pike and perch. In addition to these, the lake is home to species such as eel, chub, tench, carp, allis shad, bleak, burbot, lavaret, European perch and trout, the “queen of Lake Garda”, as well as a particularly rare fish, popular with gourmets and to be found nowhere else: the Lake Garda carpione.
- cheeses: the area’s age-old cheese-making tradition continues to this day, with the production of the soft-paste “Formagella di Tremosine”, “Garda”, a semi-soft cheese with a hard, semi-cooked paste, and “Tombea”, an extremely distinctive mountain cheese. - chestnuts: in October, the Festa delle Castagne e del Marrone (Chestnut Fair) takes place in San Zeno di Montagna.
- truffles: good truffles can be found both in the mountains – for example on Mount Baldo – and on the morainic hills of Lake Garda. The variety found in this area is the large, roundish black truffle, tender and easily digestible, with a pleasantly intense aroma.
- the famous tortellini di Valeggio, made strictly by hand: ultra-fine pasta parcels filled with meat.
The lake has a reserve of heat, characterised by a climate that can be defined as sub-Mediterranean. The average temperature over the year is 12°C, peaking at 25-27° C during July and August.
The mass of water in the lake, where variations in temperature are minimal, contributes to the mildness of the climate in the Benaco area, one of the main factors that make it so popular with visitors from the north of Europe.
Another factor that helps to make the weather in the area so mild, with pleasant breezes in the summer, is the exposure to sunlight on the eastern Verona side, two hours longer than on the western shore.
Spring and autumn are the rainiest seasons, while the summer climate is Mediterranean: dry with intense stormy spells, especially in August. In winter temperatures are milder than in the surrounding areas, with fairly small amounts of rain and snow, while the lower part of the lake is rarely subject to fog.
The lake is the central element in the Benaco landscape, with the mountains making an important contribution to the scenery and the nature of the area. Precisely because of the mild climate, the lakeshore and hilly areas boast especially luxuriant vegetation, while a wealth of different species can be admired in the more mountainous areas.