Italian Lakes (2013)

INTRODUCTION: LAKE GARDA

Virgil wrote poems to Lake Garda, Kafka set a novel here, Goethe got himself arrested, Catullus and Mussolini set up house on its shores – millions of tourists wish they could.

Garda was given its name in the Middle Ages, a reference to the guardian rocks along its fortress-like northern shores. To the ancient Romans it was known far more benignly as Lake Benacus (the Beneficent); the alternative name Benaco is still used to this day.

The largest lake in Italy, it is 51km (31 miles) long (Riva to Peschiera) and up to 17km (10.5 miles) wide at its widest point (Lazise to Moniga). It covers an area of 370 sq km (143 sq miles), and stands at 65 metres (213ft) above sea level. The lake has a coastline 158km (98 miles) long.

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Soaking up the sunshine in Bogliaco.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

Created by glaciers, Garda reaches a maximum depth of 346 metres (1,135ft). It is effectively an inland fjord, the high walls of the northern lake carved out by the action of the ice, the great low, fertile bowl at the southern end moulded by the erosion that spilled out into a vast arc, building a natural dam. The main river flowing into the lake in the north, between Riva and Torbole, is the Sarca. To the south, the Mincio flows out from the lake at Peschiera.

The mountains to the north protect the lake’s bowl from the chill Alpine winter, creating a mini-Mediterranean climate of indigo waters where lemon trees, olive groves and vineyards can thrive.

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Cycling through Arco.

Neil Buchan-Grant/Apa Publications

Now, Garda is divided between three provinces, which are based on historic empires. Its eastern shore has now become part of the Veneto province, along with Venice, Verona and Valpolicella, while the western shore is part of Brescia. The north shore is in Trentino, an area which was once part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire until the end of World War I.