Wreathed by jagged peaks up to 2,000 metres high, 60 kilometre long Garda is Italy's largest lake. Studded with charming, peaceful, ochre-coloured resorts and ancient lemon groves, it's an ideal break for couples seeking a romantic break or families with young and teenage children.
During the summer, the lakeshore blossoms with purple bougainvilleas and pink oleanders while ram-rod straight cedars, cypress and vine, olive and citrus groves flank the steep slopes. Sleepy, romantic resorts brushed in reds, ochres and pastels, ancient churches and shaded, cobbled streets speckle its perimeter.
Aside from the stunning scenery, there are plenty of water sports available from sailing to diving. Within easy reach of Milan, Venice and Verona, Lake Garda can also be combined with a city break if you're looking for a twin centre holiday.
Milan has two airports - Malpensa Airport where easyJet flies to and Linate International - while Venice's Marco Polo Airport is also used by low cost airlines. Milan and Venice are good if you choose to stay close to the southern lake resorts and are within two to two and a half hours by road. Verona is about an hour away from the northern resort of Limone.
It's definitely worth exploring different lake resorts which each have a distinctive ambience. Hiring a car is the best way to get around but there are frequent and cheap ferry departures from most of the main resorts too.
For those looking to catch a tan on holiday one of the best beaches in Lake Garda is at Sirminone situated on a four kilometre long peninsula overlooked by Roman ruins. The popular resort features a maze of winding alleys lined with al fresco cafes, restaurants, gelatarias and souvenirs shops. Other highlights include a 15th century castle and the Aquaria spa, health and well-being centre.
The area between the twin towns of Maderno and Toscolano, which is close to the Gardone Riveria, has some of the widest beaches on the lake. Alternatively, Riva, the second largest town on the lake, is good for families.
Prosperous Salo situated on a gulf on the west bank is a good base to stay on the lake. It was here that Mussolini established a short-lived republic under Hitler's orders during the Second World War. His wartime hideout turned luxury hotel Villa Feltrenelli is close by. Learn more about the town's past at the Fascism Museum close to the local tourist office.
Salo boasts the magnificent Il Doumo church which blends together Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Its vaulted ceilings, stained glass windows and dramatic wooden cross are memorable. Wander along its peaceful streets and piazzas lined with multi-storey, pastel buildings to the long, sweeping promenade offering glorious vistas of the lake.
Visit pretty botanical gardens at Gardone Riviera, learn more about the history of lemon groves at picturesque Limone. Enjoy walks amid waterfalls at San Michele and Gardone for its parks, gardens and impressive Savoy Palace.
Day-trippers on holiday in Lake Garda should consider a visit to little-known Brescia brimming with history. Its main square is dominated by an impressive Venetian-designed town hall. Its 12th century cathedral is a fine example of Romanesque architecture. The remains of an old Roman theatre built in the second century is currently being restored to its former glory. Santa Guila Museum provides a fascinating glimpse of the transformation of Brescia through the ages - devote at least half a day to wandering around its exhibits.
Other options include enjoying opera in Verona; vineyards in Franciacourta, designer shops in Milan, or the car-free island of Monte Isola on Lake Iseo where cloud-scraping mountains seem to plunge directly into its shimmering green waters.
The lake is part of three different regions, which each have their own specialities. But wherever you eat, dining out is a treat - freshwater fish, homemade pasta and excellent wines can be enjoyed in front of shimmering lake views.
For an afternoon treat, head to Salo's Café Vassalli on Via San Carlo. A family business since 1938, it sells sweets, cakes, candied fruit, biscuits and lemon-flavoured goodies – the citrus fruit is one of the region's specialities – including the famed limoncello liquor. Hotel Doumo offers sophisticated dining - try smoked sturgeon for starters followed by lake fish risotto for mains.
Tremisone's Hotel Paradiso has an excellent restaurant. Sip Laguna wine and tuck into spinach and ricotta tortellini, mushroom risotto and polenta taragne, a local speciality where polenta drizzled with a pepper and tomato sauce is served with salty cheese. Meanwhile, Allo Scoglio in Gargnano has an unbeatable terraced setting overlooking the lake and is fantastic for fish.
Trendy Desenzano, the largest town on the lake, is the place to go if you want nightlife action. Try some of the bars around the main square, Piazza Matteotti. Highly recommended clubs include Art Club, Backstage Club, Mazoom and Circus Beat Club. In summer, open air parties are popular.
Bardolino is another option for party animals. Try the Hollywoold club, Orange Disco Garden, and Music Bar Vincent. In Limone, head for the sophisticated wine bar called La Catina del Gato Borracho.
Many of the resorts have excellent shops featuring familiar brands such as Accessorise, Diesel and Max & Co as well as high-end designer goods. Desenzano and Riva are excellent if you're after labels.
If find these boutiques expensive, search for local markets instead which typically take place at the weekend. Salo's market is worth the 30 minute brisk stroll from the waterfront for its discounted leather bags, shoes, belts and wallets.
Other popular souvenirs include wine, olives, cheeses, and limoncella liquor.
Thanks to the winds which sweep up and down Garda, resorts like Torbole have excellent water sports facilities such as wind surfing and sailing. Campione is being developed into a major water sports-based resort.
To the north east, where the mountains become more rugged, Monte Baldo is a magnet for hikers and cyclists. A cable car ride to the summit is accessible from Malcesine.
To the west lies a sprawling national park which is home to numerous wildlife, including ibex, chamonix, golden eagles and migratory birds.
Between Peschiera and Lazise on the east shore is the country's largest and most popular theme park Gardaland which has tons of rides and attractions, in addition to Movie Studios Park or Movieland.
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