Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy located about halfway between Brescia and Verona and between Venice and Milan on the edge of the Dolomites, Northern Italy. Measuring 52km long and 17km wide it stretches from the steep alpine foothills to the northern edge of the Po Valley. Hugged by mountains and long sandy beaches, beautiful Lake Garda is a favoured holiday location. The stunning scenery, relaxed atmosphere, year-round mild temperature, and richly cultured historic towns and villages all make a Lake Garda holiday truly ideal.
Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of Lake Garda in two of our small group tours in Italy: a guided tour of the lakes and landscapes of Northern Italy; and a guided tour of Northern Italy and the Cinque Terre. Over these tours we experience the sights of the bright Italian lakes, azure seas, mountainous borderlands, vineyards, and historic towns including Milan, Venice, Verona, Trento and more. Included is a full day trip exploring the spectacular scenery of Lake Garda. This article explores the lake’s geography, climate, and key lakeside towns of Riva del Garda, Malcesine, Limone, Sirmione, and Desenzano, to assist your trip.
Geography & Climate
Italy’s largest lake, Garda borders the regions of Lombardy (southwest and west), Veneto (east and southeast), and Trentino Alto Adige (north). At Lake Garda’s narrow northern part mountains – most of which belong to the Monte Baldo – tightly surround the water with villages fitted into gaps between the towering cliffs. While further south the lake gradually spreads outwards into a nearly circular basin, backed by gentle hills and lined by beaches.
Lake Garda’s climate is altered by a complex pattern of lake breezes. Winds descend from the northern mountains to the southern plains in the morning and then flow back northwards in the afternoon. As a result the local climate is mild and sunny year round, especially compared to the rest of the region.
The temperate climate is ideal for the growth of some Mediterranean plants usually extremely rare at this altitude. Citrus fruits orchards, olive groves, vineyards, and palms all dot the landscape on the southern and western shores.
Northern Lake Garda Towns
Riva del garda, the northernmost Lake Garda town, is one of the most popular holiday resorts. The handsome town boasts mountainous scenery, an exquisite harbour, pedestrian medieval streets, a moat castle, and a 13th century Venetian clock tower. Riva del garda is also a focal point for sports and activities including sailing, windsurfing, and kite boarding.
Also at the northern end are the popular medieval towns Malcesine and Limone sul Garda. Malcesine is nestled between lake and mountain with direct access up to the Monte Baldo range. Its most prominent landmark is the 13th century Castello Scaligero (Scaliger Castle), which offers spectacular views down onto the opposite shore. Famous for its lemon groves and old village charm, Limone sits on a tiny harbour framed by mountains and greenery. Enjoy walks along the lake or more challenging hikes in the mountains.
Other popular northern towns include Torbole and Tremosine sul Garda.
Southern Lake Garda Towns
On the southern shore, the picturesque town of Sirmione is particularly charming. Enter the historic centre of Sirmione by crossing a moat on the pedestrian drawbridge of Castello Scaligero – like the castle of Malcesine named after the della Scala family of Verona. Then wander around its cobbled streets exploring its prettily painted houses and shops, as well as endless cafes and restaurants – ideal spots for lake views.
The extensive ruins of the Roman villa Grotte di Catullo sit at the northernmost end of the Sirmione peninsula. With two hectares of crumbling stone arches and walls it is the largest domestic Roman villa in Northern Italy. Explore its archaeological museum or wander around its terraced hillsides for panoramic views in three directions across the lake.
Just west of Sirmione is the bubbly little town of Desenzano centred on a marina basin. Desenzano is the most important town at the lake’s southern end, located on the Milan to Venice rail and with many convenient boat connections making it a great base to explore the lake. The town offers plenty of cafes and restaurants, and is host to the Roman Villa of Desenzano del Garda – the best preserved great late antiquity villa in Northern Italy with impressive ruins, artefacts, and mosaics.
Other popular southern towns include Bardolino, Peschiera del Garda, Lazise, and Gardone Riviera.
Tour of Lake Garda
You can visit Lake Garda as part of our 13 day guided tour of the lakes and landscapes of Northern Italy and our 22 day guided tour of Northern Italy’s lakes and alps. Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations designed for mature and senior travellers. Tours consist of small groups of between 6 and 12 people and are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here, and head to this page to make a booking.
Articles about Italy published by Odyssey Traveller
- The Roman Empire
- Who were the Roman Emperors
- Questions About Italy
- Trip Advice for Travellers going to Italy
- 10 Great Books to Read Before You Visit Italy
- as well as more articles on Italy here