Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake, is located in the northern part of the country between Brescia and Verona. Ringed by mountains to the north, the area enjoys a very mild microclimate. Besides olive and lemon trees, which are unusual this far north, the region is carpeted with vineyards and is home to some of the country’s classic wines: red wines from Bardolino, rosatos from Chiaretto and white wines from Lugana and Custoza. With good weather, quaint lakeside towns, ancient ruins, medieval castles and magnificent views, Lake Garda is a haven for those who love good food, great wine, watersports and history. —Kerin O’Keefe
Bardolino is the area’s most famous red wine. It’s made predominantly with Corvina Veronese, the top local red variety, and Rondinella. Proposed updates to current regulations will create three subzones with lower yields and longer aging requirements. Bardolino boasts wild berry and floral aromas that translate into juicy red berry and baking spice on the palate. The same grapes for Bardolino produce one of Italy’s best rosatos: spicy, crisp Chiaretto. Lugana is made mainly with native grape Turbiana, which yields succulent, enveloping and ageworthy whites. Custoza is a savory blend of several grapes, but most producers focus on Garganega, Bianca Fernanda and Trebbianello.
Where to Taste
Most wineries offer tastings and tours by appointment only. Visit boutique Le Fraghe, situated in the heart of the Bardolino growing zone and owned by the dynamic Matilde Poggi. Historic firm Guerrieri Rizzardi offers guided tastings at its headquarters in Campazzi, in the hills surrounding Bardolino. In Sommacampagna, located in Custoza’s production zone, book a visit and tasting at Azienda Agricola Monte del Frá. It makes a range of local wines that include single-vineyard Custoza. Similarly, you can request a tasting at Azienda Agricola Cavalchina, the first winery to dub white wine from the area “Custoza.” In the Lugana zone, don’t miss a tasting paired with local delicacies in the modern winery immersed in greenery at Ottella. Also in Lugana, stop for a tasting or a book a tour at Tenuta Roveglia, where present-day technology and the ancient farmhouse make for a unique experience.
Where to Dine
In Bardolino, Il Giardino delle Esperidi boasts a list of more than 700 wines and a menu that changes based on the availability of seasonal ingredients, though fresh lake fish is a staple. Near Peschiera del Garda, Agriturismo 2 Laghi also specializes in seafood, as well as pasta made fresh daily. For elegant dining and incredible views, try Esplanade in Desenzano del Garda.
Where to Stay
Stay at the magnificent Villa Fiordaliso in Gardone Riviera for some seriously sumptuous lodgings. There, you can enjoy lakeside views, a stunning park and a great restaurant. In Bardolino, four star Hotel Caesius Thermae & Spa Resort offers onsite thermal pools, or stay at Aqualux Hotel Spa & Suite, another four-star spot focused on wellness. For cozy, country chic, check out the lodge at Cascina Girolda on the outskirts of Peschiera del Garda.
When to Go
Spring, summer and early fall are the best times to enjoy outdoor activities and tour wine country.
Lake Garda offers sailing, windsurfing, kite surfing and canoeing in addition to its pristine beaches. Chartered boat tours are a great way to see the lakeside towns. The hills that surround the lake offer exceptional opportunities for mountain biking and trekking. Feeling waterlogged? Visit Gardaland, Italy’s premier amusement park.
In Sirmione, visit the 13th-century Scaliger Castle and the ruins of Grotte di Catullo, named after the ancient Roman poet Catullus and built between the end of the 1st century B.C. and the beginning of the 1st century A.D. Entrance to each is only six euros, though kids under 18 can visit the latter for free.