Now is the best time to travel to Italy’s largest lake to avoid crowds seeking respite from the summer heat. An ideal time for scouting out the local dining scene, gliding on the water, from one shore to the next.
There are infinite ways of enjoying Lake Garda. Even for just a day trip, leaving the car behind and moving around on boats. This allows for quick coastal city-hopping, or on the other hand a more slow travel approach: shopping for specialties and sitting down for a meal with lakeside views.
The Trentino shore
Let’s begin exploring the Trento side of the lake. This is a world known windsurfing, kite surfing and mountain biking destination. In Torbole it wouòd be a sin not sitting at La Terrazza, a covered patio located only steps away from the shore. This is the reign of expert chef and owner Ivo Miorelli and his slightly modernized traditional laker cuisine. Modern Aqua Restaurant & Lounge Café on the shore is equally worthy, with chef Fabio De Filpo’s 360° cuisine.
Riva del Garda has no above average places with a view, so it makes perfect sense to stroll in the alleyways that connect the commercial port district to the historic centre. That’s where Al Volt is, a classy creative cuisine restaurant featuring a handsome wine list. In the same area, we suggest visiting the plant and food shops of Frantoio di Riva, as well as the Olio Cru and Madonne delle Vittorie olive presses, both located in the town of Arco.
The Veneto shore
Traveling from Trentino to the Veneto side of the lake (one hundred years ago this was the boundary between Austria and Italy) the first important centre is Malcesine. For fine dining lovers the trek uphill to the best fish restaurant of the Eastern shore of Lake Garda is a no brainer. Leandro Luppi, ebullient character and cook – he’s the mind behind the annual Fish&Chef event that showcases the best in sweet water fish cuisine – opens the doors to his Vecchia Malcesine. Only a five minute walk from the ferry landing and patrons are welcomed in a cozy interior with superb lakeside views and Luppi’s dishes, like gnocchi with sardines, lemon and smoke; or local fish with garlic, olive oil and chili pepper. The chef is equally expressive when it comes to cooking dry land and vegetable garden ingredients.
In Brenzone gourmands are torn on a winner between historic Osteria al Pescatore in the port area, and spectacular Locanda alla Fassa di Castelletto, which is practically in the lake. Both are worthy. Heading south, it’s not easy to find many places worthy of mention save for Regio Patio, a splendid restaurant housed in a loggia of Hotel Regina Adelaide. Here chef Andrea Costantini, a decade under the teachings of chef Bruno Barbieri, does an excellent job at employing high quality local ingredients.
The Lombardy shore
Historically the Brescia shore is the most stimulating for foodies hunting down stellar dishes and lakeside panoramas. Only a fortunate élite can afford dining at the fascinating Villa Feltrinelli and the culinary poetry created by Stefano Baiocco, but it’s sufficient to moor in the heart of Gargnano to land a table at Tortuga owned by the Filippini family. The menu also features Mediterranean seafood. Gardone Riviera is in full rebirth: right beside the old and always charming Villa Fiordaliso, where boats can dock directly at the private jetty, recently opened Lido 84 is a welcome addition. Here, Riccardo Camanini in the kitchen is regarded as one of Italy’s rising stars. The menu is among the area’s best (their thick spaghetti with butter and brewer’s yeast have won the attention of Monsieur Ducasse). Dining in one of their lakeside tables is an unbeatable experience. Equally reachable by boat. Only a few steps south, is Fagiano, the restaurant of Grand Hotel Fasano where Matteo Felter cooks excellent dishes.
Next destination is Salò. Despite the notable osteria tables located in the town’s snaking alleys, like Osteria dell’Orologio and Osteria di Mezzo as well as the newly managed Antica Trattoria alle Rose, it is virtually impossible to find worthy rivals of Locanda del Benaco mit Café: tables are set on the lake shore, the cuisine draws from bistro culture, and the experience and courtesy of the Briarava are unrivalled.
Moniga offers a magnificent veranda at Trattoria Al Porto, although their specialty is no longer freshwater fish while Manerba boasts a number of worthy restaurants, all of which can only be however reached by car. The name itself – Aquariva – denotes that Padenghe has what it takes: located within the West Garda Yacht Club and boasting a splendid terrace, it’s a perfect mix of fine dining and pleasant surroundings.
Desenzano shows off its best cookery at Esplanade, a villa on the lake. The cuisine is flawless and the added bonus is a table for two on the private jetty. The situation is equally wonderful at Rose & Sapori on the lake shore, as well as at Alla Stella, a trattoria located at a stone’s throw from the tourist wharf.
Lastly, we visit Sirmione which is well-loved by gourmands for its Speranzina restaurant, a trattoria with few fresh water dishes (but a large choice of salt water seafood) and a beautiful terrace. If on the other hand, you’re looking for creative cuisine and long time experience in the kitchen not far from the water, consider La Rucola manned by chef Gionata Bignotti. To finish the Garda tour, do not forego the spa aspect. The thermal baths here were appreciated by the Romans in antiquity, and recently requalified in the early 1900s. The last generation spa treatments can be enjoyed at Acquaria, a thermal complex set in a 6500 square meter facility that is connected to four hotels: the five-star Grand Hotel Terme (whose Orangerie restaurant and spa are worthy of mention); the four-star Hotel Acquaviva del Garda and Hotel Sirmione and Promessi Sposi, and the three-star Hotel Fonte Boiola. Be sure to carve out a few hours of R&R in the shadow of the Scaligero castle. Opera lovers will appreciate strolling around the town that dedicated a palazzo to world known soprano Maria Callas in the central piazza Carducci.
Boating on the lake
Seeing Lake Garda from the water is a whole other experience in regards to the (equally stunning) dry land view from the curvy Gardesana drive. In order to discover the lake from the water it’s possible to hop on a ferry operated by Navigazione Laghi. The fleet on Lake Garda boasts 23 units and a wide range of offers: Cars and motorbikes can be carried on board in three itineraries (Desenzano-Riva-Desenzano, Maderno-Torri-Maderno, Limone-Malcesine-Limone). Otherwise it’s possible to leave vehicles in car parks located in close proximity of the 30-plus docks where ferries and fast catamarans have stops. Stations are most always strategically positioned in town centres near the port. This is ideal to visit the towns and enjoy pleasant meals. The Navigazione Laghi boating company also offers day passes as well as steamboat cruises aboard the Italia and the Zanardelli.
Theme and amusement parks
Millions of Italians and foreigners visit Lake Garda to visit the area’s great amusement parks. The most famous of these is Gardaland in Castelnuovo del Garda: 500 square meters of worldwide acclaimed quality rides and facilities. In 2015 the park celebrated its 40th anniversary with brand new and improved attractions and adding new ones. From June 1st there is a second hotel facility within the park – the Adventure Hotel – four stars with 100 theme rooms that complete the park experience.
North of this is Canevaworld Resort, with four independent theme park areas: Caneva Aquapark (famous for its water slides), Movieland Park (inspired by Hollywood magic), Rock Star Restaurant and Medieval Times Restaurant & Show, for dining and shows for each theme.
A third worthy destination is Natura Viva located in Pastrengo, between Garda and the city of Verona. This is an animal conservation sanctuary featuring many animal species in the Safari Park and in the walk paths, for a journey in the fauna of the five continents, amid ostrich, giraffes, reptiles, lemurs, flamingos and alligators.
In Italy’s largest lake, the sports scene is dominated by water sports. This is a sailing destination, home to important international regattas and a perfect training field. In fact virtually every sailing clubs on the Garda shores offers quick sailing camps and hour-long classes. In the Trento side of the lake powerboats are not allowed in order to give boaters, windsurfers and kite surfers freedom of movement.
In the northern end of Lake Garda, with its mountains reflected in the water, a large following of free climbers is present (Rock Master Festival in Arco, held annually at the end of August is a huge magnet). Also mountain biking, with splendid and challenging routes.
Golf is equally in full expansion, with courses located at a short distance from the lake: Golf Club Bogliaco, Golf Club Colombaro, Golf Club Arzaga, Borgo Machetto Desenzano Country Club, Golf Club Paradiso del Garda, Golf Cà degli Ulivi.
Vittoriale: the self-erected monument to D’Annunzio
Gabriele d’Annunzio landed on Lake Garda in February 1921 to complete the draft of his Notturno and took up residence in a villa in Gardone Riviera that had belonged to German art critic Henry Thode. He was supposed to stay for only a few weeks, instead this ended up being his last place of residence. For 17 years, the Italian poet designed around the villa – later defined Prioria – a unique complex he named the ‘Vittoriale degli Italiani’. With the help of local friend and architect Giancarlo Maroni, the nine hectares of lush vegetation on a hill overlooking Lake Garda became the setting for the poet-soldier’s feats and WWI happenings. The place is worth a visit, best if off season, and especially for art lovers interested in the estate’s many notable pieces. During summer the open air ‘Teatro all’aperto’ theatre, with breathtaking views on the lake, is home to concerts and performances.
Navigazione sul lago: www.navlaghi.it
Canevaworld Resort: canevaworld.it
Natura Viva: parconaturaviva.it
Terme di Sirmione | tel. 030 990 4922 | termedisirmione.com
Where to eat
La Terrazza | Torbole (TN) | via Benaco, 24 | tel. 0464 506083 | allaterrazza.com
A definite northern Garda must thanks to chef-owner Ivo Miorelli: great local fish-based cuisine amid modern art pieces. Elegant with lakeside veranda.
Aqua | Torbole (TN) | via Lungolago Conca d’Oro | tel. 0464 505142 | aquaristorante.com
The name suggests the place’s unique location: it is virtually in the lake. Fine Italian cuisine and properly baked pizzas: in the kitchen a “laker” from Lago d’Orta, Fabio De Filpo.
Al Volt | Riva del Garda (TN) | via Fiume, 73 | tel. 0464 552570 | ristorantealvolt.com
One of Garda’s most refined restaurants in the heart of the historic centre. The cuisine reflects the surroundings with both fish and meat dishes. Don’t miss the quaint outdoor dining area.
Vecchia Malcesine | Malcesine (VR) | via Pisort, 6 | tel. 045 7400469 | vecchiamalcesine.com
Leandro Luppi is among the best chefs creating sweet water fish dishes. In his splendid lakeside boutique restaurant located near the castle he lends 360° emotion. 2 Forks.
Osteria al Pescatore | Castelletto di Brenzone (VR) | via Imbarcadero, 1| tel. 045 7430702 | osteriaalpescatore.it
There is no menu here, it’s the day’s catch to inspire the well-executed offer. The place is cozy and the ambiance romantic thanks to candle-lit tables and stone vaulted ceilings, overlooking the wharf. 2 Gamberi.
Alla Fassa | Castelletto di Brenzone (VR) | via Nascimbeni, 11| tel. 045 7430319 | ristoranteallafassa.com
Lovers of lake fish enjoyed on the water cannot forego visiting this evergreen restaurant: precise cuisine, beautiful veranda and five rooms upstairs. 1 Fork.
Regio Patio dell’Hotel Regina Adelaide | Garda (VR) | via San Francesco d’Assisi, 23 | tel. 045 7255977 | regina-adelaide.it
Andrea Costantini is a chef to keep a close watch on. The dished served in the gorgeous gourmet restaurant located in one of the area’s luxe hotels testify this.
Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli | Gargnano (BS) | via Rimembranza 38/40 | tel. 0365 798000 | villafeltrinelli.com
Stefano Baiocco’s elegantly presented dishes, especially the vegetarian ones, are the added value of the favorite hotel of world leaders and tycoons. 2 Forks.
Tortuga | Gargnano (BS) | via XXIV Maggio | tel. 0365 71251 | ristorantelatortuga.it
More than a pirate’s lair, this is a romantic boutique eatery overlooking the Gargnano wharf. The menu pleases locals and foreigners alike, with above par skill expressed in the hand-stretched pasta dishes. 2 Forks.
Lido 84 | Gardone Riviera (BS) | corso Zanardelli, 196 | tel. 0365 20019 | ristorantelido84.com
Riccardo Camanini’s talent and constant desire to improve, as well as service and enchanting position have made this place famous in a mere two seasons. And there’s room for more. 2 Forks.
Villa Fiordaliso | Gardone Riviera (BS) | corso Zanardelli, 196 | tel. 0365 20158| villafiordaliso.it
Myth, elegance, silence. In addition to these elements, the cuisine follows one of Lake Garda’s most enchanting settings with a menu composed of both classic and original dishes including lake fish. 2 Forks.
Il Fagiano del Grand Hotel Fasano | Gardone Riviera (BS) | corso Zanardelli 190 | tel. 0365 290220 | ghf.it
The increasingly popular gourmet cuisine of the Brescia shore’s most acclaimed hotels and the modern interpretations of chef Matteo Felter matches the enviable position.
Locanda del Benaco mit Caffè | Salò (BS) | lungolago Zanardelli, 44 | tel. 0365 20308 benacohotel.com
Privileged position on the lake side for this recently renovated boutique hotel. On the ground floor with delightful outdoor dining area is Gianni Briarava’s restaurant. 1 Fork.
Antica Trattoria alle Rose | Salò (BS) | via Gasparo da Salò, 33 | tel. 0365 43220 | trattoriaallerose.it
The city’s most famous trattoria has changed hands and background: less local tradition and more focus on modern cuisine. The wine cellar and quality products remain the same. 1 Fork.
Osteria dell’Orologio | Salò (BS) | via Mattia Butturini | tel. 0365 290158 | osteriadellorologio.it
Attention to all osteria lovers check out the large counter, the chalkboard listing the day’s wines, enjoy the competence of the owner. Plus as far as cuisine, mostly local dishes: simple, carefully prepared and served in large portions. 1 Gambero.
Osteria di Mezzo | Salò (BS) | via di Mezzo, 10 | tel. 0365 290966 | osteriadimezzo.it
A family place located in an alley in the historic centre, whose philosophy is simplicity. Ingredients – both local and not – are however carefully selected. Notable wine cellar and liqueur list.
Al Porto | Moniga (BS) | via del Porto, 29 | tel. 0365 502069
Historically renowned modern sweetwater cuisine served on the lake terrace, less creative yet tasty dishes. 1 Fork.
Aquariva | Padenghe (BS) | viale Guglielmo Marconi, 57 | tel. 030 9908899 | aquariva.it
Trendy setting with a large terrace and the excellent cuisine by chef Paolo Favalli, which leans heavily on local and marine seafood. The wine cellar focuses on champagne, a passion cultivated by the chef’s brother Ivan. 1 Fork.
Esplanade | Desenzano (BS) | via Lario, 3 | tel. 030 9143361 | ristorante-esplanade.com
In Emanuele Signorini and Massimo Fezzardi’s restaurant it’s all about charm, outdoor dining and large dining rooms. The cuisine is modern and offers 360° experiences, with lots of salt water fish and a vegetarian menu. Top wine cellar. 2 Forks.
Rose & Sapori dell’Hotel Villarosa | Desenzano (BS) | lungolago Cesare Battisti, 89 | tel. 030 9144585 | ristoranteroseesapori.com
In a modern four.star hotel – like Villa Rosa Hotel – there’s room for a lake view restaurant and a 360° mneu that caters to vegetarians and vegans. 1 Fork.
Alla Stella | Desenzano (BS) | vicolo Molini, 6 | tel. 030 9911187
An ancient mill near the port has been transformed in a quality osteria. Well-executed dishes and a notable selection of cheeses and cured meats.
La Speranzina | Sirmione (BS) | via Dante, 16 | tel. 030 9906292 | lasperanzina.it
Provençal-style interiors and a fabulous terrace are the strong points of this luxury trattoria that serves marine seafood and creative dishes.
La Rucola | Sirmione (BS) | passaggio Strentelle, 7 | tel. 030 916326 | ristorantelarucola.it
Gionata Bignotti’s place continues to astound for its technical and whimsical dishes, and where the chef’s love for Asian cuisine exalts Italian ingredients. 2 Forks.
by Maurizio Bertera
translated by Eleonora Baldwin