• Richard Hammond

Green Traveller's Guide to Lake Garda, Italy

Updated: Feb 21

Lake Garda (Lago di Garda), in Northern Italy, is the largest lake in Italy and a mecca for activity holidays. It's about half-way between Milan and Venice, is surrounded by mountains, often snow-capped, and, thanks to its micro-climate, it is internationally known for its production of olive oil and wine. Popular towns included Bardolino, Malcesine and Brenzone on the eastern shore and Limone, Tremosine, Gargnano and Salò, to the west. Desenzano, Sirmione, Peschiera lie towards the south of the lake and are the most accessible by train from Verona.

Here is my green guide to Lake Garda based on my recent trip to the region as part of our SprInterRail Sporting Adventure around Europe with RailEurope, plus a selection of the many tips that have been sent in by readers via our twitter account: @greentraveller and via the Green Traveller Facebook page.

The lakes and mountains of Italy's Lake Garda region.
The lakes and mountains of Italy's Lake Garda region. Photo: Richard Hammond

See our Video Guide to Lake Garda:


Where to stay

Lefay Resort & Spa A stylish, sustainable sanctuary in the beautiful “Riviera dei Limoni”, on the West Coast of Lake Garda, half way between Milan and Venice. The resort is surrounded on all sides by vineyards, woodlands, and olive and lemon terraces. Each room has sweeping watery views and is designed to make the most of the natural light: wide spaces, natural fabrics, huge picture windows fill the rooms with light. In terms of sustainability, this place really stands out from the crowd. Our room had a whole book dedicated to the various state-of-the-art initiatives the hotel has done to reduce it's draw on energy and reduce waste. There’s a biomass system fed by wood chips, micro-turbines, complex insulation systems, and lots more. The food here is fabulous too; not just at dinner, where you'll enjoy classic high standards of Italian cuisine, but also the breakfast was just about the best we've yet come across... everything from cereals, to pastries, cakes, meat, cheese, yogurts, cooked breakfasts... there was even a huge juicer with a table laid out of various fruits and vegetables for you to select. We found it hard to leave!

The salt water swimming pool at Lefay Spa and Hotel Resort.
The salt water swimming pool at Lefay Spa and Hotel Resort. Photo Green Traveller

Hotel Elda Named after Andrea’s grandmother Elda (who opened the restaurant here in 1949), this is a genuine, honest place to stay with stylish, designer interiors, grassy meadows views, affordable rates, and – best of all - perfect Italian hospitality. It may be a bit off the beaten track, but this only adds its charm – an ideal choice if you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of modern life. The smart glass-fronted restaurant serves up creative yet traditional grub, and there’s a spa with Turkish bath, sauna and treatments available for guests too. This is a relaxing place to stay, but the hotel does have a serious side too – Andrea is a staunch believer in protecting the natural environment and has created a hotel with eco principles.

Classic local Italian fare at Scuderia Castello.
Classic local Italian fare at Scuderia Castello. Photo Richard Hammond

Scuderia Castello Scuderia is a great place to go just for a few hours horse-riding (see below), but you can also stay overnight in comfortable but basic rooms - at just 35 per person a night. The farm is pretty much self-sufficient for its energy needs: on the roof there are 60 square meter photovoltaic panels that produce 5,500-6,000 kW annually. Plus the food is largely home-made or locally sourced. We have a fantastic lunch of local cheeses, salami washed down with local Rose and finished with Giovanni's grappa.

The exterior of Scuderia Castello
A night at Scuderia Castello costs from €35 per person. Photo: Richard Hammond

Where to eat


Antico Brolo High in the hills of Gardone Riviera, and tucked away in a quiet courtyard with walls covered in ivy, is this smart little place. A glass of prosecco on arrival is a welcome offering from the friendly owners. Portions are generous, and the food fabulous - it’s worth going for the bread basket ‘ship’ alone. Try the truffle pasta and finish off with the sambuca parfait or Fragolini Selvatici con vanilla (wild strawberries with vanilla). Simple, straight-forward cuisine, an unpretentious setting, and relaxed staff.


La Tortuga This elegant, intimate Michelin-starred restaurant is just steps from the lapping shore of Lake Garda. Not surprisingly, the menu is filled with rustic fish dishes. The restaurant also has a comprehensive wine cellar.


What to do

Sirmione Peninsula The fallen columns and crumbling ancient walls hint at this Sirmione’s historical past – affluent Romans flocked here to enjoy the thermal springs. Two thousand years on and little has changed – Sirmione continues to be a popular destination for holidaymakers in search of a bit of R&R. The peninsula, which juts out into the lake on the southern side, is guarded by Rocca Scalgera, a medieval castle built by a wealthy family from Verona as an expression of their wealth. It makes an interesting place to wander around after a relaxing time in the thermal baths.

Horse riding at Scuderia Castello in the hills around Lake Garda.
Horse riding at Scuderia Castello in the hills around Lake Garda. Photo: Greentraveller

Horse-riding You can’t really beat Lake Garda as a spot for horse-riding; saddle up and set off to explore enchanting valleys, wildflower meadows, quaint Italian villages, and steep mountain trails; and wherever you are, you’ve got that beautiful expanse of blue water glistening in the distance. Scuderia Castello, a farm immersed in 60 hectares of chestnut woods and pastures, is one of the original horse-riding centres in the area and it offers various different options, from treks by the hour to week-long courses. From €25 per hour. The farm also has B&B rooms and food if you are after the full experience (see below). www.scuderiacastello.it


Centomiglia Regatta Every September, hundreds of boats take to the water for the oldest regatta in Italy – the Centomiglia. The first race took place in 1951 with just 17 boats; these days over two hundred boats take to the water in an exciting and colourful display. If you’re planning to be in the area at this time of year, it’s well worth heading down to Gargnano to watch the nautical procession leave the port.

Canyoning If you’ve haven’t yet experienced the thrills and delights of canyoning – of scrambling over slippery rocks and being pummelled by waterfalls, diving into pools of ice-cold water and being swept downriver by natural currents – then Lake Garda is a good place to try it out. There are lots of outdoor centres dotted around the lake and over 30 different routes, so whether you’re new to this watersporting craze or you're a bit of a pro, there is something to keep everyone happy.

Parco Natura Viva is a nature park and centre for protection of fauna at risk on our planet, which houses more than 1,500 animals belonging to 200 different species in large open spaces surrounded by countryside.

Parco Natura Viva is located in Bussolengo, 43 miles from Gargnano. Open from March to November.

Parco Natura Viva is a nature park and centre for the protection of endangered animals, in Bussolengo, 43 miles from Gargnano. It is home to about 200 different species. Open from March to November.

Popular Food and Wine Festivals 28-31 May: Festival of Garda Classico wine in Polpenazze 5th and 6th June: "Italia in Rosa", Moniga del Garda & Lazise, Festival of Chiaretto wine and olive oil on the two shores of the lake. Boats provide transport between the two festivals. August: Festival of Wine in San Martino della Battaglia, Desenzano del Garda September: Centomigilia Sailing Regatta: Lake Garda becomes the setting for one of the most important sailing regattas in Europe. The Centomiglia is the longest regatta on internal waters in Europe. The action starts from the small port of Bogliaco.

Getting to Lake Garda

We travelled to Desenzano station at the southern end of the lake. There are several ways to travel there, thanks to the new Thello sleeper service from Paris to Verona. Alternatively, you could take the high-speed TGV train from Paris to Turin or Milan, stay overnight, then continue in the morning to Verona. For more information about travelling by train to Italy, see our unique journey planner: Train from London to Italy.

-- This green guide to Lake Garda was researched and compiled by Florence Fortnam, Richard Hammond and Andy Hix. Thanks to Tiggy Dean and Lefay Resort & SPA Lago di Garda for hosting Green Traveller.