Points of interest admin March 7, 2024


At the feet of the Rocca di Garda fortress, in the heart of the Borgo, is the parish church, dedicated to Santa Maria Maggiore. Its history has early Christian roots, possibly dating back to the Longobard period, of which an evocative fragment remains with the symbols of a peacock, wheat and grapes.
Today, we see it in its 18th-century appearance, with the exception of the rectory house and cloister, a place of silence and recollection, built in the 15th century, followed by the bell tower, erected in 1571.
Once through the entrance, one can admire an ancient marble plaque on which one can read the “seal” with which Pope Innocent II, in 1138, tried to settle a dispute between the parishes of Cisano and Garda. The Baroque altarpiece is by a talented but as yet unknown painter, while the Annunziata altarpiece is by Francesco Paglia (1635-1714) from Brescia, a pupil of Guercino.
The confessionals created by Andrea Brustolon (1662-1732), a key player in the Venetian Baroque whom Honoré de Balzac had christened no less than the “Michelangelo of wood”, are genuine treasures.


To reach it, walk towards the Eastern Gate of Garda, and crossing the bridge over the Gusa stream, you will find the small church dedicated to St. Stephen.
Inside, in the only hall in which it develops, you can admire a 16th-century painting by Paolo Farinati depicting the Martyrdom of St. Stephen. The work was commissioned by the abbot Annibale Fregoso, of a noble family of Genoese origin.


Inland from Garda, in the Risàre area, a must-see is the small church of San Bernardo, which is simple, rural, and possibly dates back to the 14th century. The little church is in the hearts of the Garda fishermen, who venerate St. Bernard, a French monk of the Cistercian order who lived in the 12th century, as their patron. The ancient festival of St. Bernard, which takes place every year for three days around 20th August, shows the continuing devotion of today’s Garda residents to the Saint.


An elegant 16th-century palace, designed by Michele Sanmicheli and dominated by the tower that rises above the Eastern Gate, is one of the most evocative of the ancient entrances to the historic heart of Garda. Palazzo Carlotti tells a lot about Garda’s history. First owned by the Carlotti family and then by the Pompei family, the palace extends all the way to the lake front, where it ends with a graceful panoramic arcade, loggia, or rather “Lòsa”. Its particular architecture has a reason though: it was originally built to serve as a small dock and for this reason the ground floor has a large vaulted portico, while from the upper floor, which is more protected from the waters of Lake Garda, you can look out from a panoramic arcade.


One walks along the lake front towards the harbour square. There stands the ancient Captain’s Palace, which was once reflected in the waters of the small harbour of Lake Garda. Now the harbour is a little further on, and where boats used to moor and goods were unloaded, tourists can now stop at the pleasant Piazza Catullo.
The palace’s architectural reference is the Venetian-Gothic style. This is manifest mostly in the shape and appearance of the windows.
Its construction dates back to the 14th-15th centuries and was probably the home of the Carlotti nobles, feudal lords of Garda. According to tradition, some of the lake Captains, magistrates representing Venice, charged with maintaining security on the entire Lake Garda, and fighting piracy and smuggling, also resided in this palace.


The harbour is the vibrant centre of Lake Garda. Pleasure boats sway here right next to many fishing boats… because this is where the history of fishing on Lake Garda was made, and this is where the last co-operative of the Benaco is located, which inherits a fascinating history, to say the least.
In 1452, the fishermen of Garda, Torri and Sirmione – united in the fishing guild of the Originari – bought from the Counts Becelli of Costermano the rights to the San Vigilio fish pool, which included some of the most fish abundant areas of Lake Garda: the shores along the coast between the border with Bardolino and the castle of Torri and the shallows of Mon Varàna and Vò, the peaks of two true underwater mountains, from which shad and carp passed.
Today, just like half a millennium ago, the San Vigilio fish pool is shared between the two remaining guilds, of Garda and Torri. And every year, on 15th August in Torri and 20th August in Garda, an auction is held for the redistribution of quotas. Folklore, history and a sense of belonging are intertwined, like a fishing net cast into the water.


In the heart of the old town, leaning against the Western Gate of San Giovanni, is the 16th century palace that belonged to the diplomat and Genoese general Cesare Fregoso, a Genoese exile in the service of the Serenissima. As lieutenant in Italy of the King of France Francis I, he moved – from 1529 to 1536 – into this palace together with his secretary, Matteo Bandello, (1485-1561), considered by some scholars to be the most important novelist of the Renaissance, and it is said that in this house Bandello wrote a version of the novella Romeo and Juliet, later taken up by none other than William Shakespeare.


You have to go just outside the historical centre, alongside the Gardesana road, towards Torri, to find the Becelli-Albertini villa, rebuilt in the early 18th century by the Tuscan Albertini family.
The villa, featuring a classical façade that contrasts with the severe forms of a medieval castle, is preceded by a wide avenue flanked by two walls of tall magnolia trees, planted in 1843; here, on 11th June 1848, the king of Piedmont, Carlo Alberto, received the Lombard delegation led by Gabrio Casati with the act of annexation of Lombardy to Piedmont. The villa is a private residence and cannot be visited.
Of great interest is the Albertini Park, rich in ancient trees and enclosed by crenellated walls. It was designed by architect Francesco Ronzani, whose genius devised the villa itself. One project contemplates the forthcoming opening of the park to visitors.


At San Vigilio, a one-kilometre stroll along the lakeside promenade is enough to admire Villa Carlotti-Canossa overlooking the Corno beach. Built in the 18th century on the site of an ancient Roman settlement, sheltered to the north by the imposing Sénge wall, it stands out amidst the evergreen thickets of holm oaks. The villa overlooks the lake and reaches it with a large lawn, while a park embraces the initial slopes of the mountain behind it.  The troubled love affair between the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and the marquise Alessandra di Rudinì took place here, like on a set from a romance novel.  Seduced and abandoned by the poet, the unfortunate woman shut herself away in a Carmelite convent in France, where she died in 1931, when the villa passed to the Canossa family. The villa is private and cannot be visited.


The headland, the Bay of Sirens, the elegance of Villa Guarienti, the small church, the historic inn, the small harbour and the park. San Vigilio is a dream location, one of the icons of Garda’s beauty.
Villa Guarienti was built in the mid-16th century by the nobleman Agostino Brenzoni. And the estate is the one, on the Veronese coast, that best expresses a humanistic paragon with the exaltation of nature and a predilection for secluded places.
Harmony, measure, beauty are the constants in the architecture, in the panoramic rotunda, in the wonderful park adorned with Renaissance statues. Outside, there is a beautiful olive grove that blends away into the undergrowth, covering the last extremities of Mount Baldo.
Down the cobbled street is the small harbour, the perfect spot for a memorable photo and for many sets capturing fairytale weddings.
Embracing the small harbour is the San Vigilio inn. Winston Churchill and Maria Luigia Duchess of Parma, the King of Naples, Emperor Alexander I of Russia, Otto Hahn and his wife, the painter Edith Junghans, Vivien Leigh, Laurence Olivier all stayed here. And the list of patrons goes on.


Belonging to Villa Guarienti is the small church, owned by the Counts Guarienti of Brenzone and dedicated to Saint Vigil, lapped by the waters of the lake. If you look carefully, in a niche in the façade towards the lake you will find a small statue. This represents St John of Nepomuk, the Bohemian saint, protector of sailors, whose cult was spread over Garda during the Habsburg era. And to add to the historical charm of the place, it seems that Pisanello, a famous 15th century painter, was born here.


Along the routes up from San Vigilio to Mount Luppia, you can discover some rock carvings. Attributed to different eras, they are found throughout the middle and upper Veronese lake, but the greatest concentration, with the most interesting depictions of the life of the lake’s ancestors, can be found right here on the border between the municipalities of Garda and Torri. The smooth and polished nature of the rocks proved to be a perfect canvas for the people who lived here between the 13th and 7th centuries BC. More than 3,000 depictions of stories of weapons and warriors on more than 250 rocks are still distinctly revealed to our eyes.


In ancient times, Garda looked down on the lake from fortifications used by the Goths, Lombards, Franks and Ottonians in the Holy Roman Empire. That was the “warda”, the guard, the perfect place to guard against the enemy. Warda, Garda, with which the Benaco was renamed around the year 1000.
Around the middle of the 10th century, Queen Adelaide, widow of Lothair, was possibly held captive in the fortress by Berengar II’s henchmen. However, with the help of a monk and a handmaid, she managed to escape and cross the lake to Canossa, where she met the future emperor Otto I, who was to become her husband. From the 12th century onwards, the slow decline began, and today only traces of a thousand-year history remain.


At the foot of the Fortress of Garda, the village of Canevìni is an ancient settlement where you can experience a combination of geology and food and wine traditions. Where? In the Canevìni, small caves, ancient ravines carved into the rock, once used as naturally cooled rooms, by the air currents created in the heart of the mountain.
The constant temperature and humidity are a gift of nature, exploited over the centuries for food preservation. Today it is possible to visit them without a helmet and a speleologist’s headlamp, but with a chalice and a board to enjoy the best of the local food and wine: once a refuge, now a place of social gathering.
The village is the starting point for the Madonna del Pign and for reaching the dip that divides the two peaks above, the so-called “Cavallo delle Rocche” (literally “Saddle of the Peaks”): turn right, and you reach the summit of the Ròca vècia (294 m), the Old Peak, which dominates the lake; take the path to the left, in the middle of the woods, and you reach the entrance gate to the Ròca dei Frati (305 m), the Monks’ Peak, where the Hermitage of the Camaldolese monks is located.


In 1663, some Camaldolese monks from Mount Rua settled in Garda to oversee the construction of the monastery on this mountain. Soon other monks arrived and the community became a constant presence and an important point of reference for the inhabitants of the entire mid-lake area of Verona.
Napoleon had his say too: in 1810, he abolished the convent, which was reborn in the late 19th century when the monks regained their former property. Today the hermitage is spiritually dependent on the Arezzo monastery of Camaldoli, is open for worship and is a haven for those who seek meditation and inner peace.
A visit can be an opportunity to buy herbal teas, cosmetics, liqueurs, oil, jams and chocolates produced by the monks or brought here from other monasteries.


The statue of the Madonna del Pign, which watches over the village on the slopes of the Fortress, was erected by the citizens of Lake Garda as thanks for saving their town from the bombings of World War I.


The Valle dei Molini (“Mill Valley”) is crossed by a stream that is fed by a number of springs near Castion and is called Tesina in the first part of its course. You will find it refreshing to lose yourself in the greenery of the hop-hornbeam forest of the hills of Lake Garda, with black hornbeams, downy oaks and ash trees.
The valley takes its name from the ancient mills driven by the nearby stream. This was the industrial area of Garda: wheat and maize were once ground here, and flour and polenta were exported to the towns around Lake Garda and Monte Baldo.
The Valle dei Mulini preserves moraines from the last four glaciations and is hence protected as a European Site of Community Importance.

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