Lake Garda, also known as Benàco, is Italy's largest lake, covering a surface area of 370 km². This blue gem is set between the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Trentino-Alto Adige. To the east, the Baldo mountain chain separates it from the Adige river, to the north it is narrow and fjord-like, whilst to the south it broadens out, surrounded by a large morainic amphitheatre, a circle of hills created during the last glacial period.
The name Benàco has been used since the Roman period, and derives from the Latin term Benacus, which indicates the presence of many promontories.
The lake is 52 km long and up to 16 km wide. It lies at an altitude of 65 m above sea level, and reaches depths of up to 365 m, in the section to the north of Gargnano. Its main tributary is the river Sarca, whilst its only emissary is the river Mincio.
The lake has five islands, which are, in order of size: Isola del Garda, which is home to a splendid palace in eighteenth-century Venetian style, and nearby, the Isola di San Biagio, also called "Isola dei Conigli", which lies some 200 metres from the lake shore, and can be reached on foot when the lake is particularly low. Both of these islands are located in the southern part of the lake. In the northern part of the lake are the Isola del Trimelone, famous for its past as a gunpowder magazine, Isola del Sogno, which, standing just 20 metres from the shore, is also accessible on foot when the lake is low, and Isola degli Olivi.
The shores of the lake feature a typically Mediterranean style of vegetation (olive trees, vine, citrus trees, palms, fruit trees, agave plants and cypresses), thanks to the microclimate created by the huge basin, which makes for particularly mild winters (amongst other things, this makes it a favourite spot for several types of birds to overwinter), and less oppressive summer temperatures.
The mildest areas of lake Garda are located on the western shore and the eastern area, whilst the southern area of the lake and the upper Trentino section prove cooler.
For foreign visitors to Italy in past centuries, this "most Italian of lakes" (due to the Mediterranean charm of its landscape) was an essential stop.
This natural environment with its wealth of different climates and qualities of light, accompanied by the grandeur and diversity of the scenery, is the reason for the long-standing celebration of lake Garda in poetry and literature.
Catullus, Michel de Montaigne, Goethe, Chateaubriand, Stifter, Heyse, Ibsen, von Hoffmannsthal, Stendhal and Lawrence are just some of the great "traveller" poets and writers who visited and described lake Garda in their works between the eighteenth and twentieth centuries.
Now as then, our lake is a greatly loved destination for tourists who come mainly from northern Europe, and can find any kind of accommodation to suit their needs. However, the different types of land formation have created areas with different densities of tourism.
From the Sixties to the present day, the eastern shores of the lake and the Trentino section as far as Limone, have been the unrivalled destination for mass tourism, organised by tour operators who, aided by easy access from the nearby Brenner motorway, have succeeded in channelling a large flow of holidaymakers, offering significant economic development for local businesses, but simultaneously leading to a globalised style of tourism, to the detriment of distinctive local characteristics.
The Valtenesi area and the southern area of the lake have in recent years been subjected to unbridled construction of serviced apartments, industrial buildings for trade and craft enterprises, and shopping centres, which have unfortunately altered the nature of these parts beyond recognition. The areas around Sirmione and Desenzano have seen the creation of theme parks the size of small towns, nightclubs and bars that attract the inhabitants of nearby cities for short breaks.
The western area from Limone to Salò, on the other hand, has always remained "uncontaminated" by mass tourism, because the SS 45 bis road, known as the “Gardesana Occidentale”, with its route full of twists, turns and tunnels, many carved into the rock, and only recently modernised, has always formed a natural barrier, keeping the tourist buses away.
In Gargnano in particular, a careful policy of preservation of its territories has prevented the excessive proliferation of holiday homes, in favour of a real, sustainable tourism far better suited to the natural context. This characteristic means we can offer tourists who choose to spend their holidays in Gargnano a setting in which to experience the sensations of yesteryear.