Our tour of Northern Italy had taken us to the most extraordinary landscapes of the Italian Lakes. Soon, we were to arrive at not only the largest of all the Lakes, but also the busiest. This was peak season and we were about to explore the shores of Lake Garda by Campervan.
Winding our way through the countryside from the Roman town of Brescia, brought us to the Southerly end of the Lake. Here, the charming lakeside resort of Désenzano Del Garda appeared before us, bringing our first view of the water.
As with so many other parts of Italy, camper parking was relatively easy. Before we knew it, we’d pulled into a private camper Sosta area at a Pizzeria, providing views of the lake from its prime position on the periphery of town.
For 15 Euro per night, the parking area came with showers and hole in the ground loo’s. Don’t you just love a traditional toilet experience? One look was enough for me! Forever thankful for my own throne back in the camper, although I did take advantage of a powerful shower.
A disturbed nights sleep followed, thanks to rowdy neighbours talking into the small hours. In the Summer heat, the open windows not only let in a welcome breeze, but also echo’s of those sat out under the night sky. Their chatter seeming louder as the stillness of the night set in.
An early morning run gave me a first glimpse of Lake Garda. Pebble beaches and lakeside sunbathing areas intermingled with various villas and holiday accommodation.
Later on, we took off on foot to explore Désenzano itself. This is a pretty, low-key resort of traditional appearance. Best of all, it was an easy walk from the camper Sosta and even better there was a laundrette!
This meant only one thing – catching up on all that weeks’ laundry! So, returning to the van, then driving into town to get the dirty washing done became priority! There’s nothing like the aroma of freshly washed clothing drifting though the van!
Next up came one of the most popular places on Lake Garda, the historic peninsula of Sirmione.
Luckily, a large car park just outside the town also had a Sosta attached. Although the 21 Euro price tag seemed a bit steep for a marked bay in a car park, ultimately the convenience proved worthwhile.
By now, a blip in the weather, brought strong winds and overcast skies. Nonetheless, off we walked into the bustling streets of the town. Lovely it was, but so touristy with it. A medieval castle stands proudly at the entrance to the narrow streets, gracefully surrounded by blue waters in a moat-like appearance.
We took to one of the easy walking routes, leading us thought the tiny streets towards the choppy lake. There’s s a hot thermal pool within a short distance of the shore, where, despite the gusty winds, a few people lay soaking in the soothing water.
At the end of the peninsula lies the Roman Ruins of a huge villa complex. After paying the small entrance fee, we took to exploring the grounds, perched high above the lake. We’ve seen a few ruins in our time and this was certainly worth a look.
So much so, that a film crew were busy filming scenes for a movie! We were soon told to stay put at various points amongst the ruins, whilst drones flew overhead capturing the actors. We’ve no idea what they were doing but every time a tourist accidentally came into shot, they huffed and puffed and started again!
After a break back at the van, an evening stroll through the restaurant-lined streets made a welcome change. After all, it’s not every day we park alongside such a tourist hot spot. Sometimes it’s really nice to soak up the atmosphere.
However, the next morning came a knock at the camper door. There stood a British lady and her husband, asking if everything was alright. It turned out that during the night their motorhome and that of another fellow Brit had been broken into whilst they slept.
There were about 30 Motorhome’s parked that night at the Sosta. The parking was well lit with security cameras and a barrier entrance, which was attended during the day. It was not unlike hundred’s of similar areas that we’ve parked at over the years and there was nothing to suggest that this may happen.
Strangely though, it had only been British vans targeted, both had gained access through the cab doors and exited through the habitation door. The thief taking any valuables in the process without waking the occupants.
Moving swiftly on, our next stop came at one of the other big tourist hot spots at Pescheira.
Here the lakeside became awash with campsites, lined with beaches and cycle paths.
Just outside the town centre was a brilliant private Sosta, offering spacious parking amongst brightly coloured floral blooms. This was to be our home for a couple of nights. Toilets and showers were included in the price, whilst the owner brought us bunches of grapes to enjoy over lunch.
A short walk led us to the lakeside and the beautiful fortified town itself. More colourful flowers adorned the promenade whilst a bustling market spilled through the narrow streets of the town.
A canal-type waterway flowed through the town walls, meandering amongst pavement cafe’s. Here, tables filled with locals and tourists amongst a charming appeal, making a relaxing place to unwind and watch the world go by.
Taking to our bikes along the lakeside cycle path seemed a good option. After about 8km, we arrived at Lazise and what a surprise find this turned out to be.
This classy little town of narrow streets and pretty squares followed a similar theme to it’s neighbouring resorts but on a smaller scale.
The beauty of Lake Garda is not only in the wonderful shores of the lake and surrounding mountains. It’s also overflowing in charismatic charm, much of which stems from the Italian architecture and abundance of those floral displays which followed us round every corner.
The only downside so far if any, was that Lake Garda is so much more touristy than the other neighbouring Italian Lakes. Although this may appeal to some, generally, we prefer the lesser frequented areas which are equally or even more beautiful.
Moving on around the lake, this time back in the Campervan, our next stop came at Bardolino. Yet another Sosta beckoned, with just us, a hedge and a cycle path separating us and the water.
Walking besides the lakeside, we couldn’t help take a moment to soak in the views from the lawned sunbathing areas. After about 3km we reached the lovely little town of Bardolino itself. Another harbour resort with the usual narrow streets and pretty vistas.
Later that evening we took to the bikes about 1.5km in the opposite direction. Soon arriving in the town of the same name as the lake, Garda.
Arriving at Garda as darkness fell, the sight of fairy lights glowing amongst the backdrop of the limestone hills looked magical.
As people dined in lakeside restaurants, the sound of singing filled the air. In true Italian style, the opera tones seemed all the more magical in the moonlight.
It’s not particularly a large town but the mix of tourist shops, bars and yet more flowers set back off the wide prom made it seem larger than life. We were quite happy to just stroll around and soak up the atmosphere.
There’s no better way to start the morning than a swim before breakfast. Well that’s my opinion but not Nigel’s, who can’t stand the water!
For me, the lake called out and in I got. Thirty minutes later, out I came dripping wet to find Nigel in a similar state to me. Except he’d had a soaking from our garage shower attachment, which had somehow worked its way loose, spraying Nige in the process.
Giving up trying to fix it as a bad job. Instead Nige sealed off its water supply and locked it away to be looked at in more detail at a later date.
Our mission had been to see all the sights and drive right round the lake. So, with this in mind and now in dry clothes, it was time to move on to the next town along at Tori del Benaco followed by Brenzone del Garda.
Here we stopped for a couple of hours to have a walk around, always good to make sure we haven’t missed anything and even better to grab another coffee!
Once again, a similar sort of town awaited. Consisting of a pretty lakeside setting, narrow streets, plenty of outdoor dining and beautiful lake and mountain views. Not forgetting, those all important floral displays.
By the time we reached Malcesine, we felt a little towned out! Of course, not to say that this castle-dominated town wasn’t lovely. However, coach tours flooded in to take tourists on the cable car ride up Monte Baldo, so we chose to leave them to it.
Instead, driving on to the next stop at the Northern end of Lake Garda, in Torbole.
The North end of Lake Garda now came into its own. Here the mountain views became more dramatic, whilst windsurfers filled the lake. A swathe of colour moving swiftly across the water, carried by the wind.
The town of Torbole is more of a modern resort, located beside the lake it’s a magnet for sports fanatics.
An old campsite provided our stop for the night. Now turned into a Sosta, the grounds still had an amenities block but the full workings of a campsite were now resigned to motorhomes only. At 24 euro a night, it was on the steep side, nonetheless the location was ideal and sometimes you just have to pay the price.
We found a shady spot beside a tree and headed off through the rear gate and onto the lakeside. A fab cycle path led off in all directions, people cycling by in a variety of gear after spending their day on the various trails.
The following morning we too took to the bikes. Riding off towards Riva del Garda, the last resort at the North end of Lake Garda, before the route would begin to drop South along the Western shore.
As we followed the flat, marked cycle path through grassy sunbathing areas and pebble beaches, the sun shone bright. Sections of lake were marked out for swimming whilst water sport enthusiasts did their thing out in the lake.
Soon, we’d reached Riva del Garda, a classy resort, with the backdrop of the cliffs rising above it. The town was bustling from market day visitors, with stalls taking over the streets, selling anything and everything.
We needed some information on walks, so headed into the tourist office to pick up a leaflet. There was so much choice, we felt we could spend several days here. Not only that, but the cycling and mountain bike trails looked incredible too.
By early afternoon, we chose to move inland, away from the lake for a couple of days. We’d come back here later to do some walking routes but first we wanted to see the rock climbing dream valley at Arco.
So off we drove, along the valley floor leaving the lake behind us. Before long, the tall solid rock faces where climbers cling to the near vertical surfaces appeared.
A castle perched on the top of one such cliff looked rather tempting. As usual, we were able to park the camper easily enough, at a Sosta below the rock face, giving us two hours free parking.
The town of Arco is filled with outdoor shops, obviously needed in this area so full of outdoor activities. We love a good outdoor shop, so we were in our element here.
As the streets came to an end, a footpath directing us to the castle had us walking the steep path to the rocky plateau. By now, it was 7pm, the castle was just closing but it didn’t stop us taking in the views from a viewing area at the top.
The outlook across the valley back towards the Northern tip of Lake Garda was well worth the hilly walk up. Time for a welcome breather and a chance to take in the scenery never felt better.
We’d heard about some real life fossilised dinosaur footprints so there was no way we were going to miss this!
Driving to the start of a 6km walk at Dro, we packed a picnic and set off on the few hour trail. Named: The Marocche le Valli Della Luna, the landscape did resemble something from outer space.
This glacial valley, was filled with huge boulders and stone tracks. Thankfully the weather was overcast, as there was no protection from the sun out in this vast open area.
A sign marked the direction of the dinosaur prints, so the excitement set in. Turning a rock-filled corner, there they were, facing us in all their glory. These sunken blobs, hollowed out into the rock were just amazing.
The whole route was quite fascinating, probably a geologist’s dream but for us, such an interesting and different walk to do.
Back in the van and driving little further on, had us arrive at Lake Cavedine. This small lake surrounded by trees, provided an ideal spot for a bit of wild camping.
Now, it’s pretty rare nowadays to get a wild camping spot, let alone a good one! Parking up in a bit of a dip alongside a rocky cliff, gave us the chance to make use of the previous occupants camp fire!
First though, more cycle route signs were too much of a temptation, so we headed off on the bikes, around the lake. What a lovely little area, quiet, laid back and far from the tourist hot spots of Lake Garda.
By the time we arrived back at the van, we had German neighbours. As the cheese and wine flowed over the glaze of the burning embers, we had a deep and meaningful conversation with the much younger German couple, who had already lit the fire while we were still exploring on the bikes.
Talking into the small hours, it turned out to be one of those rare idyllic scenes, so often portrayed as being the norm in the vanlife dreams of instagram.
Leaving the young German’s behind as they dived into the lake for a morning swim, we headed back on the road to Riva del Garda.
The day was hot, the heat was on and we wanted to walk a well known hiking and mountain bike trail known as La Ponale.
This time, we found a town Sosta, located about 3km from the start of the walk but within the town itself. Perfect for our overnight parking spot, costing just 11 Euro.
Beginning at the far end of Riva del Garda, the La Ponale Trail follows the old, winding dirt road through the mountain.
A gradual incline took us along the dirt track, passing though a series of tunnels above the lake. Each bringing relief from the searing heat. The views across Lake Garda below us were just breathtaking.
The end of the route had us arriving in the mountain village of Pregasisna, followed by a cold coke on the terrace of a local hotel.
Now, we’d intended to just walk one way and get the bus back to the start. However, somehow we got a bit mixed up and ended up missing the turning for the bus stop!
So, with not much choice of getting back, we ended up walking all the way back instead, making a 6 hour round trip! Completely shattered but worth every minute.
Our route now took us in a Southerly direction along the Western shores of Lake Garda. Once again the heat was intense, so as soon as Limone Sul Garda came into view, we parked up the camper and headed to the lakeside.
This beautiful town is home to the remains of the old lemon houses. Resembling old roman ruins, the stone structures tower above the lake.
Narrow streets lead us to a small jetty area where we perched ourselves for a couple of hours of swimming and relaxation. The lake was warm and clear, perfect for cooling down before driving further South through the lakeside villages.
After checking out a couple of potential overnight Sosta stops along the lake, we finally chose one at the lovely lakeside town of Salo.
What we hadn’t accounted for was the Saturday night partying of the locals! Never mind, the Sosta itself was lovely, surrounded by flowers with views across the lake, it sort of made up for the madness.
Once again, the bikes came out for our cycle ride into Salo town centre. Similar in appearance to many other towns here on Lake Garda, but nonetheless beautiful in its own right.
There was the usual mix of promenade dining, historic architecture and boat rides across the lake. All bringing a certain ambience to the atmosphere of an Italian Summer.
Back on the road, our route had soon come full circle. Passing through the last few towns on the Western side of Lake Garda before reaching Désenzano del Garda again at the Southern end of the lake.
Although Lake Garda is undoubtedly beautiful, we felt it was a little too touristy and busy compared to Lake Como, Lake Maggiore and Lake Iseo.
Having said that, it’s definitely worth visiting and completely enchanting, as are all the Italian Lakes. Clean, classy and cultural all spring to mind.
Then the added bonus of being an outdoor heaven for those who love messing around on the water or equally prefer their feet on dry land, Lake Garda has something for everyone. Whichever you are, Lake Garda by Campervan is simply idyllic.