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Hidden Garda

Lake Garda, the largest of the Italian lakes, can also be the most crowded. Chris Allsop travelled to its western, Brescian, side in search of quieter spots, and discovered a rich vein of history…
Approaching Gargnano on Lake Garda’s western shore

Of all the Italian lakes, it’s Garda – with its enviably temperate climate – that really pulls in the punters. At the northern end (‘Alto Garda’), the blue waters spear into rugged Trentino and the pine-scented foothills of the Dolomites. Travelling south, the lake widens out to 18 kilometres and the cafés and restaurants dotted amid the promenades and marinas have a distinctly Mediterranean style.

A miniature Med on their doorsteps is hardly going to be ignored by the shivering masses of northern Europe. Interest in Garda has also been stoked by last year’s Oscar-winning film Call Me by Your Name, which used the famous Grottoes of Catullus as a location.

But Garda, with its busy ferries and 150 kilometres of shoreline, does make it easy to flee the summertime crowds and find an entirely new (both literally and figuratively) side to the lake. It’s something I discovered on a short visit to the side of the lake that falls within Brescia, a part that felt breezy and untroubled by the deluge of tourism that has the Venetians and Ligurians, in particular, pushing back. And it was centred around two beautiful destinations with intriguing histories.

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About Italia!

Our writers have travelled around Italy this month to bring you inspiration for your next adventures in 'il bel paese'. Lake Garda is our starting point, an ever-popular destination where quieter corners still remain – if you know where to go. We also head to the hills in Tuscany’s Casentino Forest (whose trees provided the wood for scaffolding to build Brunelleschi’s dome), and if you want to get fit, a healthy spa break in Puglia could be just what you’re looking for.