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Lake Garda, Italy
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A local’s guide to Lake Garda

Lake Garda is Italy’s largest lake and a quintessential summertime destination. This is where to eat, stay and play

Written by
Rebecca Ann Hughes

Stretching just over 32 miles in length from the foot of the snowy Alps to the sun-drenched Padana flatlands, Lake Garda is the largest body of water in Italy. Its extensive shoreline is a spectacular succession of Roman remains, medieval towns, ancient olive groves and grand villas. The lake has attracted tourism since the classical era, when wealthy Romans came to enjoy the salubrious thermal waters that bubble up along its edge. Today, Garda still exudes the languorous feel of a summery Mediterranean resort with its mild microclimate, lemon cultivations and lakeside restaurants for long lunches. 

Tempted to visit? We don’t blame you. This is how to spend your time in Lake Garda, according to a local.

Rebecca Ann Hughes is a travel writer and Lake Garda local. At Time Out, all of our travel guides are written by local writers who know their cities inside out. For more about how we curate, see our editorial guidelines and check out our latest travel guides written by local experts.

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How to spend a holiday in Lake Garda

Where to stay

Where to stay

La Locanda del Benaco

Behind La Locanda del Benaco’s ornate Art Deco facade is a boutique hotel with a surprising minimalist interior. Everything here is sharp and stylish, following a grey and black palette with occasional pops of colour, and rooms are industrial-chic, made with materials like cement, oxidised iron and glass. Family-run with 13 rooms, the place has a cosy, friendly vibe, despite all the sharp lines. And its location is no eyesore either, situated along the seaside promenade of Salò on the western shore. The hotel restaurant offers a refined seasonal menu of lake fish and local vegetables. Double rooms start at €120 (£102). 

Locanda San Vigilio

For a hotel steeped in history, try Locanda San Vigilio, sitting right on the waterfront at Punta San Vigilio. The hotel is housed in a sixteenth-century stone building shaded by cypress, agave and oleander trees. Rooms feature carved wooden furniture and sixteenth-century prints, and some come furnished with opulent four poster beds. Wander the grounds and you’ll find a swimming pool fringed by olive trees and a historic chapel. If you’re feeling very flush, you can arrive in style at the private dock on the lake or the hotel's helipad. Double rooms start at €360 (£307).

Prati Palai

Sometimes, the lakefront can get a little busy. For an oasis of peace, take the dirt track up from the town of Bardolino to Prati Palai, a hotel located in a sixteenth-century farmhouse surrounded by olive groves. It strikes a pleasing balance between rustic and elegant with pastel-hued beamed ceilings, reclaimed wooden floors and statement furniture made by local artisans. The place is surrounded by 45 acres of meadows and woodland, where guests can stroll, have a picnic or play tennis at nearby courts. Double rooms start at €240 (£205).

Where to visit
Photograph: Shutterstock

Where to visit


The settlement of Sirmione commands a slender peninsula that juts out into the lower part of the lake. Visitors enter a flower-bedecked town through the imposing Scaligero Castle, complete with a moat and drawbridge. Built in 1277, it is a rare example of mediaeval port fortification, where defensive walls surround a small harbour (it’s not sinking). At the shoreline, dip your toes in mineral-rich 70C water. The nearby Grotto of Catullus houses the remains of a vast private Roman villa where metal pipes brought the health-giving hot water to a bathhouse. 

Limone sul Garda

The town of Limone sul Garda on the west shore of the lake encapsulates summer for me. Pale yellow and ochre villas line the peaceful waterside promenade. The bougainvillaea-adorned centre is gaudy with souvenir shops but head up the cliffside for quiet streets leading to an unexpected explosion of lemon groves. The fruit thrives so far north because of the temperate microclimate, and the small museum Limonaia del Castèl recounts how Limone’s lemons were once shipped as far as Germany.  

Monte Baldo

The sublime beauty of Garda’s sweep of blue water hugged between craggy cliffs is best appreciated from Monte Baldo. The mountain rises on the east coast, accessible by cable car from the pretty town of Malcesine. There are various hiking routes including a gentle loop through wildflower-filled meadows, a path through flora and fauna-rich woods or an adventurous trek along cliffside crests. Dotted around are rifugi (mountain huts) and malghe (farmsteads) which offer rustic food and simple accommodation in big stone lodges.

Where to eat
Photograph: Shutterstock

Where to eat

Osteria da Livio

Osteria da Livio, on the olive grove-covered hillside above Limone sul Garda, whisks diners back to the 1950s as soon as they step in the door. Varnished wooden panels and dusty bottles line the walls and trattoria-style wooden chairs with straw seats sit around tables made from barrels. There’s also a vine-shaded garden perfect for lingering after a dinner of handmade ravioli stuffed with local Tremosine cheese and grilled meat. 

Lido 84 

Epicureans should head to Gardone Riviera for Lido 84, a Michelin-starred establishment that ranked seventh in the world this year according to The List’s 50 best restaurants. It’s known as a destination restaurant for its lake views and recipes that have gained legendary status. Chef Riccardo Caminini (his brother Giancarlo acts as host) prepares contemporary creations with hyperlocal ingredients like rigatoni cacio e pepe en vessie, where the pasta is cooked in a pig’s bladder.  

Casa Leali

Venture up the hillside on the western shore to Puegnago del Garda, with its imposing medieval castle, for Casa Leali restaurant located in a restored stone farmhouse. Brothers Andrea and Marco Leali, chef and sommelier respectively, offer six-course tasting menus of inventive combinations that exalt local ingredients. On the menu is Garda lemon risotto, langoustine toast with Garda cedar broth, and spaghetti with lake sardines and cod bottarga.

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