Gargnano – one of the most scenic towns in Lake Garda, this small community is noted for its curved shoreline which looks especially great when contrasted against the mountains in the distance. The narrow winding roads also add to the charm. The area is also known historically for its lemon gardens such as the Limonaia la Malora Lemon Garden.
Salo – the former capital of the short-lived Republic of Salo, the town is well known for its many palazzos as well as the cathedral which dates back from the 15th century. It is one of the larger towns around Lake Garda and the promenade lining the coast is the longest in the region.
Sirmione – the most touristy among the towns around Lake Garda (and with good reason!), Sirmione is a tiny and narrow peninsula jutting out of the lake like an appendix. One could easily spend an entire day here exploring Castello Scaligeri and the Roman ruins of Grotte di Catullo. The coastal areas of the northern part of the peninsula is termed “marbled beach” due to the colorful rocks sitting under the shallow waters and is a popular place for a soak due to the area’s thermal properties. The Caffe Grande Italia is a must-try when in Sirmione. The classy venue dates back from 1894 and has seen some noteworthy people as its patrons including opera singer Maria Callas. If you are looking to cool off, the town is also well-known for its gelato shops.
Private boat ride – From the cafe, it is a short walk to the pier where you can hire a boat to take you around the peninsula and past the drawbridge lining the castle. While it is also possible to walk around town by foot, a trolley can take visitors from one to end to another for roughly 1 to 2 Euros.
Desenzano del Garda – the largest town facing the lake and its commercial hub. It has a relatively local vibe where Italians go about their daily living. If you are heading to the lake from Milan or Venice, you’ll likely make a stop here. The main attraction is the castle which is perched on a hill in the center of town. If you are not busy shopping away in one of the town’s unusually large proportion of boutiques, I highly recommend coming up to the castle in the morning to appreciate the views. For party animals, the town offers plenty in terms of nightlife.
Garda – sharing the same name with the lake, the town of Garda is the main community in the eastern coast. A popular tourist town, Garda is filled with plenty of cafes and has more souvenir shops than I have seen anywhere else around the lake. Ferries from Sirmione dock here which make it a customary stop. Other than this, there’s not much to see here and you’re better off heading to San Zeno di Montagna or Malcesine.
Bogliaco – a charming and compact fishing village, Bogliaco is refreshingly uncrowded and is best combined with Gargnano if you plan to make a visit. There are lots of charming palaces and it’s interesting how some of them are built in the Austrian style owing to the village’s inclusion into the Austro-Hungarian Empire prior to the First World War.
The Vittoriale – A hillside estate in the town of Gardone Riviera, the Vittoriale was the residence of the Italian writer, Gabriele D’Annunzio from 1922 until his death in 1938. The estate consists of the Priory, an amphitheater, mausoleum, boathouse, a battleship and plenty of landscaped gardens. Vittoriale has been described as a lunapark, owing to the many quirky elements found within including rooms deliberately made dark, a leper’s room and another created in order to store religious relics.
Paradiso del Garda Golf Club – The southern portion of Lake Garda is blessed with unusually mild weather and as such, it’s a popular region for various sports including golf. While a number of golf clubs dot the region, one of the most scenic is perhaps the Paradiso del Garda Golf Club.
Wine tasting – We all know that Italy is synonymous to wines and Lake Garda is just next to the Veneto region, one of the leading wine producers in the country. Go for a wine degustation as I did with sommelier Igor Sartori. We ran through some of the region’s best wines within one sitting, from the prized prosecco down to deliciously sweet Fior d’ Arancio Moscato and Recioto. In between, there’s the famous Amarone della Valpolicella and the Lugana wine which is emblematic of the region surrounding Sirmione.
Lemon Garden – Lemons have always been part of Lake Garda’s heritage. This is evidenced for example in towns with names such as “Limone sul Garda.” While only a few plantations remain, one which is open to the public is the Limonaia la Malora located near Gargnano. This lemon garden was acquired by Giuseppe Gandossi, in 1978 after it had been completely abandoned for about 15 years. At the time, the garden was not well-maintained and only 6 lemon trees were left alive.