Garda Trentino is that most precious of things: a bite-size Alpine outpost where you feel like you’ve seen it all in just a few days, but which has plenty more to offer if you want to come back...
Garda Trentino is that most precious of things: a bite-size Alpine outpost where you feel like you’ve seen it all in just a few days, but which has plenty more to offer if you want to come back. That’s the beauty of its trails and peaks – there’s always one more route to do or another crag to climb. It’s the perfect recipe for a short break.
Villages, wineries, castles and forts scatter the region, all within easy reach of its central (and largest) town, Riva del Garda. Its lakeside setting makes this a great base, and when you’re not strapping on your walking books, exploring old trenches or wandering medieval villages, Riva del Garda’s restaurants and laid-back shores are a pleasure to come back to.
To make the choice even easier, we’ve put together a short break itinerary that makes the most of any visit, as you explore an area of Italy that is still a secret to many, but which never fails to surprise…
The region’s largest town, Riva del Garda, makes an excellent jumping-off point for Lake Garda itself, as well as the surrounding trails and villages. Having dropped your bags off, head for the historic town centre, beginning at the Rocca, a 12th-century lakeshore fortress that has taken on many guises over the centuries, as the home of bishop princes, Austro-Hungarian barracks and now a museum.
From atop the Rocca’s Mastio tower there are fine views, though spare time to wander the exhibits, which offer a worthy primer to a region that has seen its share of masters. The nearby Apponale Tower, a former prison and lookout post, is another worthy climb – all 165 steps of it – from which you can gaze over to the old Pretorian Palace and the Baroque churches of Inviolata and Saint Maria Assunta.
To enjoy more natural views, head to the Varone Waterfall, which is situated three km away from the centre. The surrounding walkways means you can admire the gushing cascades that drop 100m into a gorge from all angles and watch from above and below.
Having sated your hunger for culture, stop for an aperitivo (the late afternoon tipple that makes Italy so wondrous!) in town. The local white wines from the Nosiola grape are rightly famed; many are also unique to the area, with the Trentodoc, a light sparkling affair that is typically made from Chardonnay grapes, proving a very satisfying drop indeed.
Having whetted your appetite, venture out into town for dinner. Here, local produce is to the fore thanks to a project called Vacanze con Gusto, which encourages restaurants who sign up to push the best home-grown ingredients.
You can find many of these restaurants inn beautiful locations, surrounded by vineyards, in ancient structures or with stunning views of Lake Garda.
But it’s the food that put this region on the culinary map, from the iconic local carne salada, a razor-thin-sliced rump of beef served either raw or cooked, to the bounty of freshwater fish, the world’s most northerly produced olive oil and the grappas, wines and local liqueurs.
The new day brings with it plenty of opportunities to get out on the water in Riva del Garda. When the weather’s nice, stand-up paddleboarding (SUP) is an easy way to explore, with plenty of tours and schools able to teach the basics. Or just rent a board and head out on your own; it doesn’t take much practice if the water’s calm and it’s a great way to explore some of the coves and nooks that scatter the shore.
But if the water isn’t for you, get in the saddle instead and rent a bike to pedal the backhills, vineyards and olive groves to the nearby town of Arco. This route takes you through this area, called the ‘Busa’ (or ‘hole’ because of its flatness despite being sandwiched between towering peaks. It’s an easy pedal, and can include a stop in the pretty Nago-Torbole area. There, the fishing village of Torbole has the most scenic of harbours, while the walk up to Nago and its Penede castle – jutting out on a spur of rock to the north – makes a spectacular detour.
Once in Arco, take time to explore the town, which has a long history dating back to when the medieval Castle of Arco was among the most dazzling fortifications in the Alps. Stroll up to the fortress, sat atop a rock overlooking the plain of the river Sarca, for fine views, while down in the town, the gardens and Arboretum make for a peaceful escapes – especially with a gelato in hand.
But if you’d prefer to stay on solid ground (make that road!), you can hop back in the saddle and continue on into the Sarca Valley. There, umpteen family-run wineries span the route between Arco and the pretty medieval village of Drena, with cellar doors eager to let you sample the local Vino Santo – a sweet meditation wine.
This region is always celebrating something and you’re bound to find an event suited to your interest. Summer includes everything from jazz festivals and choir concerts to outdoor championships and a whole host of sport events.
Meanwhile, street food markets, firework displays and plenty of music events take place all through the year.
If you want to test yourself on the Alpine rock hereabouts, Riva del Garda and Arco are popular bases for climbers.From the giant limestone walls that make for a natural paraclimbing adventure near the village of Chiarano (there’s braille plaques at the base so visually impaired climbers can gain information on the climbs) to courses teaching you the basics, there’s routes for every level. Climbing season runs all year round.
If you’d prefer something a little easier to start with, then the region’s via ferrata routes are geared more towards those without climbing experience. The climb up the overhangs of the east wall of Monte Colodri gifts some incredible views over the Sarca Valley. Or try canyoning in the forested gorges of the Ledro Valley instead, leaping off waterfalls into the plunge pools below and battling the river’s current.
Having spent your morning pulling yourself up mountains, you might want to take it easier in the afternoon. The shores of lakes Garda and Tenno are calling, with the pebble and pines of Riva del Garda’s Pini Beach or the cool blue-green waters of Lake Tenno – where there’s even a lifeguard – on hand.
Alternatively, take some time to wander the village of Canale di Tenno instead. Its laidback cobbles and Alpine setting make it one of the most beautiful in Italy, and all the more incredible since it was practically abandoned in the 1960s. Stroll its paved alleys, arcades and squares under the gaze of its timeless 13th-century architecture.
Time your visit right to Canale and you might even stumble across the Rustico Medioevo, a medieval fair that takes over the centre of the village every August, with music, dancing and theatre played out across the squares and long into the evening.Perhaps its most anticipated treat is the local cuisine, with the chance to sample a rustic dish like polenta with peveraa, a sauce made of bread broiled in broth with pepper.
Any other time of the year, simply head to the shores of the nearest lake and go for a stroll. Sunsets are only as good as your setting, and with the twinkling waters of Garda or Tenno dancing in the half-light, these are some of the finest around.
There’s always time for one last adventure. Before your flight home, take a trip to the pretty fishing village of Torbole sul Garda. The classic photograph of its harbour is one of the iconic scenes of Garda Trentino, and if you’ve got time, squeeze in one last walk.
The Busatte-Tempesta above Torbole sul Garda is best known for the iron steps bolted to its rock face, allowing for some grand views back over the Garda waters – and it’ll only take you a couple of hours to complete. Then, make sure you have time to grab yourself one last souvenir or two in the shops across Garda Trentino, with the wine and extra virgin olive oil here famed across Italy and all over the world.
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