Lago di Garda (Lake Garda) may not be quite as famous as that *other* Italian lake (Como), and maybe George Clooney doesn’t have a house there, but it is undeniably worth visiting. Some say even better!! I haven’t been to Como yet, so I can’t say, but it wouldn’t surprise me!
If you are driving from Vicenza (or east of the lake) there are two main routes, one with tolls and one without. I thought we should take the more scenic non-toll route since it showed the same arrival time. I usually love a scenic route. This time, as has actually happened before so you’d think I’d learn my lesson, it was very winding and curvy and steep through the mountains. Not at all the craziest road we’ve driven, but I was trying to video some things and that is where I really went wrong. It was too curvy for me to be on my phone and I started feeling the car sickness coming on! Ugh. I immediately put my phone down and did not get any videos I wanted, but did stave off the worst of it. On our way home… we took they highway!! LOL So if you too get carsick – take the highway!
In the city center of Riva del Garda
From our quick weekend experience there seem to be two ways of doing this north end of Lake Garda. 1) You can go all out and do the hiking, biking, and water sports which are all readily available in the area. Or 2) you can make it a nice relaxing time of leisurely lunches by the water, wandering
the cute streets and having aperitivo before dinner. For us this time, we did the latter! We really did originally plan on bringing our bikes, but the weather forecast was NOT favorable so we left them at home. And that ended up being fine. There are seemingly thousands of places to rent bikes there, so there’s really no need to bring your own. It is a cyclist’s town for sure!
Aperitivo on the terrace of Hotel Luise
Friday evening we enjoyed our aperitivo at the hotel on their inviting veranda and then walked down to the lake and along a nice path to the old city center. There were lots of fountains and other water features, as well as gardens and smaller plots of flowers dotted along the streets. It’s a very enjoyable place to stroll. I didn’t have a specific place in mind for dinner, but thought it would be nice to have a view of the lake. We checked out the menus of the restaurants with views and picked one that looked good. It was nice, good service and the food was good, but not great. We both got seafood (very typical in the region) and both our dishes were just a little lacking in *something*. Not bad, but not great. And to be clear, we didn’t get sick or anything. However, I will say that the pizza looked and smelled really good, as did the pasta with a meat ragu. I wished I had gotten that after that fact!! But overall it was a nice dinner experience. Right towards the end it started thundering so we got the bill and booked it back to hotel JUST before the forecasted rain poured down!
Walking from the hotel to the lake and then the city center
There was a lovely rose garden along the way
We loved our stay at Hotel Luise and highly recommend it for anyone looking for mid-range lodging. The room was a really good size, particularly for Europe, super clean, and had lots of fun, thoughtful details throughout. It’s located about a 10 minute walk from the center of old town and even closer to the lake. Probably my only complaint would be that you can’t actually see the lake from it. But it does have a very lovely outdoor space in the back with a pool, loungers, and umbrellas. Plus a veranda for your aperitivo. It’s like a little oasis! Breakfast was included in our price and it was one of the top spreads we’ve had anywhere. The ambiance of the whole hotel is modern and fun. They offered yoga on Sunday morning, bike rentals, easy parking on site, a restaurant on site, as well as a bar. They offer many, many suggestions of things to do from shopping to bike tours to visiting local artisans. All done with excellent customer service in a variety of languages.
Scroll to see the room. We highly recommend this for mid-range pricing!
Above and below, details in Hotel Luise
Breakfast at Hotel Luise was impressive; hot food, cold food, breads, pastries, meat, cheese and even PIZZA fresh from the oven!
We spent Saturday morning meandering around town, sitting by the lake, and doing a little shopping. We found ourselves in a leather goods shop that we really liked. I ended up with two new purses (!!) and Chris got a cool belt (after trying on about 6 leather jackets!). We had a nice conversation with the woman working there about the pandemic and how places like Riva (and others on the lake) were so hard hit with the slow of tourism. I can imagine! She was very happy to have us and offered some great prices! There are quite a few leather shops that carry the same or similar items and I don’t know the prices, so I can’t compare. I just know I liked her and enjoyed our shopping experience. We also made a gelato stop but I ate mine so fast I didn’t even take a pic! Chris got a lemon granita that he really enjoyed too!
Scroll through above to see some of the city center.
The nice lady at the leather shop, the MAG (museum), & a lovely church
On Saturday afternoon we drove to another town on the lake, Limone sul Garda. It was about a 20 minute drive for us, and it would’ve been about 50 minutes by bike and 45 by ferry. The reason we chose to drive was because the weather forecast (and the sky) were saying rain at any minute and the wind was whipping up the lake when we wanted to go. It did end up sprinkling a bit, but wasn’t as bad as I’d feared so we probably would’ve been fine going a different way. But no matter, we enjoyed the drive through lots of tunnels, many of which were carved out of natural rock. Limone sul Garda is a beauty too and I’d like to go back and actually stay there sometime. One thing to note: it’s built into the hillside so the streets are very steep. However, the majority of the people that we saw were retirement age and older or families with young kids (toddlers and babies mostly), so it is certainly do able with strollers and maybe not the best knees! I just wanted to give a heads up on that aspect because I hadn’t realized it would be like that before we arrived. Wear good walking shoes for sure!
Views from Limone sul Garda
We had a lovely, leisurely lunch right on the water at a restaurant I found the old-fashioned way - by looking at Google maps! I wanted to be by the water. That’s it. So that’s what I looked for and this place was perfect. We were there later in the afternoon, so they had a limited menu, but I was honestly just happy they weren’t closed for riposo. Chris got a very delicious lasagna Bolognese. It was a little warm for me to want that so I went with a mackerel salad that was light and fresh! Plus prosecco! Always a little prosecco!
Ristorante Gemma and the view from our table!
Above and below, scenes from Limone sul Garda
When we returned to the hotel we started chatting with an American couple who were at the wine bar. The only other American couple we heard/saw the whole weekend, as a matter of fact. (Mostly lots of Germans and Swiss, and a few Brits.) We quickly found out that they were living in Greenville, NC (our home state), and he had just graduated from medical school at East Carolina University – my alma mater!! (Go Pirates!!) What a small, small world! We sat and chatted with them for a bit before dinner and it was a delight!
While we didn’t do ALL the things in Riva, we enjoyed our time there relaxing and being by the lake. But there is a lot to do that I’ll list below. This is a place I’m happy we visited in May and not in July or August. It was fairly busy most everywhere. And I know the business owners are happy for that after two years of much lower tourism. It definitely feels like it’s on its way back up and I think it will probably get pretty packed and hectic this summer. But this is a perfect little spring getaway! It was reaching the low 80s so people were using the hotel pool for sure. I didn’t see anyone swimming in the lake yet (there are designated areas) but there were lots of kite surfers and boaters! Back to the busy-ness though, on our way out on that Sunday around mid-day the traffic coming in to Riva was WILD!! It was backed up for miles! I think there may have been an event happening, but still. We were blown away. I should have taken a picture!
Riva del Garda city center
Overall, it’s an easy weekend get-away for anyone living in the Vicenza (or Verona and even Padova) area(s). I hope we’ll get to go back, but either way I’m glad we got to experience this seemingly underrated gem of a lake!
Views of the lake!
Where to Stay
Hotel Luise - mid-range, we loved it
Du Lac et Du Park - luxury resort, we drove by and it looked reeeeeeal nice so I looked it up. If we were splurging, that’s where I’d choose!
Pool at Hotel Luise
Where to Eat
Ristorante Gemma (in Limone sul Garda)
Gelateria Eta Beta (Riva del Garda)
How NOT to Get There
Riva del Garda does not have its own train station, so plan accordingly if you are not able to drive there. And the closest airport is Verona (which is about an hour away).
As always, I recommend the Rome2Rio site/app for planning routes.
Lago di Garda from Riva del Garda
What to Do
Visit the MAG – Museo Alto Garda at the Rocca di Riva
Walk the Historic Center
Hike up or take the Panoramic Lift to the Bastione - the Bastione is a fort from the early 1500s that rises above Riva del Garda on the slopes of Mount Rocchetta. A new panoramic lift takes you up to the fort. The views are said to be stunning and you can even enjoy them from the bar and restaurant inside the Bastione itself.
Visit nearby towns like Limone sul Garda via ferry, bike or car
Visit a beach (spiaggia): most have chair rentals, showers, play grounds/areas, and snack bars
Hike one of the many trails in the area, alone or with guide
Enjoy water sports like kite surfing, boating (sail and motor), paddle-boarding and so much more!
Reptiland – snakes, spiders, lizards and more! This is NOT my area of interest but I’ve read that it’s well done and kids love it.
Bike, bike, bike!
Museo Alto Garda at the Rocca di Riva
More along the lake in Riva
Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with any business or website mentioned in this post.