Today we are going to do something a little different. Rather than a medieval city, we are going to visit Lake Garda, the largest of the Italian lakes and perhaps an hour and a half north of our villa in Concamarise. I had to talk Boris into it as he wasn’t very excited about the possibilities; he hadn’t been there before. However, that was the idea; at times, Boris needs a little encouragement to spread his wings.
We had to navigate the traffic around Verona which is really tricky, but didn’t have heavy traffic until we got near the lake where cars were bumper to bumper. We reached the shoreline at Lazise, drove through a few villages including Bardolino, and stopped in the town of Garda with an ample public parking lot (pay), at least if you arrive in the morning.
We had heard from Guido’s cousin that you could drive around the lake near the shore in about 3 hours on a weekday in the summer. Apparently, we were experiencing weekend traffic on a weekday morning. We thought it more prudent to get out and look around. At least with Lake Garda you are driving relatively close to the water and can see the lake most of the time. When we stayed at Lake Como and drove around the lake there, most of the water view was obstructed. You also drove on some of the narrowest roads I have ever been on with buildings that ended inches (yes inches) from the road.
Garda was exceptionally busy on this day as there was a market in town. When we came around the ridge it looked like there were a hundred campers parked along the waterfront. However, it was just white vans and tents set up with their goodies. I would have liked to look around, the market definitely had items that were of better quality than we saw in Ceara, but I had talked Boris into a boat ride and we wanted to get started.
We didn’t see an option for just a lake tour. As an alternative, we chose a city on the ferry route and made our way to Sirmione on the southern end of the lake. Lake Garda is wide at the southern end and then becomes long and narrow north of Garda. Our route gave us a view of the eastern side of the wide section of the lake. Essentially, we had reversed our driving route so we had the water perspective of the cities we had driven through.
Our first stop was Bardolino. On the pier waiting for the ferry, we had met a friendly Scottish couple who were staying in Bardolino. They have come to Lake Garda annually for the last 23 years and were staying for two weeks on this visit. They said it is a short flat 3-mile walk between Garda and Bardolino. They have a favorite coffee shop in Garda so they walked down. Since it was really hot, they were taking the ferry back.
The wonderful thing about the ferry is that you get the best view-the water approach-to these charming cities. This is clearly the way you are meant to arrive in these communities. From the ferry, we caught a glimpse of the Church of San Severo in Bardolino. The church is of old Romanesque construction from the 11th century. Earlier in the morning when we drove through Bardolino, we saw the other significant site in this city, the Church of Santa Maria. Santa Maria was built around 915 on the site of a pagan temple. The church’s beautiful stone is what had caught my eye as we drove through the city earlier in the day.
Our next stop was Lazise, a walled city on the lake with a beautiful shipyard. Lazise was the point where the highway we were on met the road that circled the lake. The highway takes you directly to the city walls. At the roundabout, you see the Zeno Gate with the town name carved into the stone and a mosaic of the saint next to the opening in the wall.
Our ferry left the dock late from Garda and when we arrived in Lazise we had to wait for another ferry to leave before we pulled up. Fortunately the view was fabulous. As we pulled away, we got a better view of the walled castle with its water gate.
Our ferry had been hugging the shore for a while, but now we headed across the lake on our way to Sirmione. The sun was just beating down on us, but fortunately I had my hat and used the time when the ferry was stopped to apply sunscreen. Once the ferry moved, the cool breeze made the ride very comfortable. There are different style ferry boats, but all offer indoor and outdoor seating.
As we approached the peninsula of Sirmione, we saw people in boats of all kinds and a lone fisherman a ways off shore. There was a sailing club of sunfish boats and sunbathers on the beach at the Roman ruins. The Grottoes of Catullus were formed from the ruins of an ancient Roman palace and are probably best viewed from the water. You can explore the ruins while on shore.
It was time for lunch when we made it to Sirmione so we headed stairght in to the Piazza Carducci and picked a trattoria with a water view to enjoy the food and drink. After lunch we wandered the streets of Sirmione and went for a tour of Scaligero Castle. The castle has a cool split drawbridge, one side the width of a car or truck and the other a pedestrian width.
The best part of touring the castle is walking around the battlements accessed by a couple of different staircases. The castle also has a water gate which is on the opposite side of the peninsula from the ferry dock.
There are great views from the high battlement walls and the castle has a nice new wide staircase to access them. It is a bit of climb for those with mobility issues. Boris was wise not to tackle them with his injured foot. An additional staircase takes you to the top of the tall center tower offering spectacular views.
After the castle we stopped in a the church and prayer garden and stumbled upon a public beach. Sirmione is a wonderful city to just wander around the streets and check out the little shops. I am sure visiting is somewhat seasonal here. I noticed that with only a few exceptions, the shop owners stayed open during the traditional siesta period.
Sirmione was very crowded, in fact the narrow streets got rather clogged with people at times. We saw a lot of families at Lake Garda, particularly at Sirmione. It is worth noting that Italy’s largest amusement park, Gardaland, is located just off the lake in Garda which probably contributed to the larger number of families visiting in the area.
It was really hot and we decided to get a gelato to enjoy while waiting for the ferry to return to Garda. Boris’ eyes were bigger than his appetite. After the relaxing return ride, we walked around Garda a little and were shocked by how quiet the town was and how different it looked without the trucks and market tents. After a gas stop, I drove back to Concamarise arriving in time to see a beautiful sunset.