Lake Garda is the largest lake in Italy (370 square km) and it can be defined the “Mediterranean lake” in the north-east area. Very wide in the south, narrower and narrower going northwards, until it looks like a Norwegian fjord.
Thanks to the mountains protecting it from the coldest currents, (it is also 65 meters above sea level), there is a mild weather, whose positive consequence is the Mediterranean vegetation such as oleanders, agaves, maritime pines, cypresses, olive trees, citrus fruits, palm trees, bougainvillea, holm oaks. The variety of landscape and beautiful historical monuments complete the context.
The town of SIRMIONE unveils 2000 years of history with its immense Roman villa – the so-called “Catullus’ Grottoes”, thanks to the presence of the Veronese Poet in the1st century B.C. that composed about the beauty of the lake, the Medieval Scaligera Fortress and the Republic of Venice influence in the art of the local parish church, Saint Mary the Greatest. The historical centre and the beautiful Mansion, inhabitants want to consider Maria Callas’ Villa, complete the presentation.
The XIII century Scaligera Fortress is supposed to be the symbol of Sirmione and visits inside are possible (except on Mondays): courtyards, walkways, loopholes, drawbridges, battlements and, particularly, tourists are expected to climb the tower to admire the panorama.
The Scaligera Fortress and Catullus’ Grottoes are National Museums and therefore free tickets are available for those less than 18. (Closing on Monday for the Fortress, on Tuesday for Catullus’ Grottoes).
A tour by boat all around the extremity of the peninsula can complete the discovery of Sirmione: the thermal baths, the Mediterranean vegetation, the remains of the Roman villa, the sulfurous spring bubbles that rise, such as a geyser, and, obviously, the fortress can be seen entirely in the middle of the water.
DESENZANO is supposed to be the most inhabited town of the lake. First settlements date back to the Bronze Age (XXI-XIX century BC), and today an Archaeological Museum about the Prehistory, housed inside the former monastery of Saint Mary in Senioribus dedicated to the collector Rambotti, can be visited.
In Roman times, Desenzano was a very sought-after place. Here, noble families used to spend a long period.The current name of the town comes from "Decentius", a Roman “Dominus”. The presence of the Consular Road connecting Mediolanum to Brixia and then to Verona, facilitated the settlement.
A Roman Villa, built in the fourth century on the remains of a first century AD mansion, was put to light in 1921 and it is one of the best examples of Roman architecture in the Po Valley. It is decorated with 240 square meters of polychrome mosaics of exquisite workmanship.
In the first half of the fifteenth century (1426) Desenzano came under the control of the Republic of Venice, becoming a commercial hub and experiencing a flourishing economic development, thanks to the grain market on Tuesdays (the market also provided local products including wine, fish and citrus fruits).
A great urban and architectural development took place; let’s mention the church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene, built in 1480 and redone in 1586 according to the architect Todeschini design.
Works lasted a long time, the church hasn’t been achieved before the deadline, that’s why the façade contains Baroque elements.
The interior is simple and austere, with nave and two aisles, with Doric style columns.
The most interesting work is Giovan Battista Tiepolo’s "Last Supper", the Saint Sacrament Chapel altarpiece.
The painting was performed in 1738.
In the church there is also a pictorial cycle dedicated to Mary Magdalene by Andrea Celesti, one of the main representatives of Venetian painting of the seventeenth century.
Let's move on to SALO ', whose origins are unknown, such as the origin of the name. Salo’ hosted an important Roman settlement, but, unfortunately, there is nothing left, neither a small witness, in the historic center.
The medieval urban plan is visible, the current Via Fantoni, Via Butturini and Via San Carlo, setting up the main street of the old town, with walls all around and the two gates, one at the beginning, one at the end, of the above mentioned artery, divided the village in two, in the sense of its length.
Salo’, called "Magnifica Patria", was under the protectorate of Venice from 1336 to 1349, then dominated by the Visconti of Milan and from 1426 again under the rule of the Republic of Venice.
The economic prosperity of the village was based mainly on trade, and among the handcraft activities, linen was considerably important.
Noteworthy monuments: The Town Hall and the Church dedicated to Saint Mary the Annunciation.
From September 1943 to April 1945, while the Second World War was raging, Salo’ became capital of Italy, even if divided. In fact, in October 1943 the Italian Social Republic was born in Gargnano, also known as Republic of Salo’, for the headquarters of the Radio broadcasting from here, the last attempt by Benito Mussolini to reorganize the fascist Italy.
From Salo’, going north, we reach GARDONE RIVIERA, where tourism spread out at the end of 1800s, thanks to Wimmers, becoming a destination for elite tourists, but aristocratic villas, overlooking the lake, such as Palazzo Terzi Martinengo in Barbarano, were built, even before.
In Gardone stands the famous Vittoriale degli Italiani.
All along the Riviera dei Limoni (West Coast of the Lake) we cross TOSCOLANO MADERNO and GARGNANO, then we reach LIMONE SUL GARDA, a very pretty village facing the lake, where terraces are covered by lemon groves and modern accommodation facilities are sheltered by rock walls.
From Sirmione, we go to the east and then to the north, we discover the following resorts:
PESCHIERA DEL GARDA, which had an important strategic function, as a barrier to the river Mincio; the Serenissima built its walls, a modern fortification later consolidated by Austrians. It became a military town.
In 1848 Peschiera took part of the famous “quadrilateral” together with Verona, Legnago and Mantua.
LAZISE has been completely transformed into a Roman small town: streets following an orthogonal scheme and surrounded by walls; nowadays, it reminds a small fortified village.
The walls sheltering BARDOLINO have unfortunately been completely demolished in the nineteenth century, and even those of GARDA and MALCESINE (where the perched castle still remains) have now nearly disappeared.
To the north, RIVA DEL GARDA, very important to communicate to Val di Non and to the valley of the river Sarca, was a strategical town for Scaligeri family, that added walls and a stronghold.