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Lake Garda: great trekking tour all around

Lago di Garda
panorama dai pressi del Monte Cas

Towards the end of 2019, taking inspiration from several previous tours we did around various places surrounding Lake Garda, I thought it might be a good idea to try and connect the dots, defining a path divided in stages that would cover the entire tour of the Lake.

The intention was to concatenate in an (unprecedented) way existing paths and roads, obtaining an itinerary without technical difficulties and allowing the travellers to remain in sight of the Lake as long as possible.

I have proposed my intentions to some friends who joined me with enthusiasm, and we started to define the route with its stages and to retrace our itinerary in person in order to verify its congruity. We started believing it would be a very beautiful and interesting trekking route, but our expectations, during the course of the journey, were surely exceeded: the tour as a whole revealed itself to be a succession of landscapes and glimpses of rare beauty, in a well-preserved nature, and it crosses places which testify centuries of history.

To those who will follow our footsteps, we warmly wish a good journey!


Stages

The whole tour has a length of about 195 km, with 5500 m of altitude gain, and the proposed stages are nine:

  1. From Riva del Garda to Limone sul Garda, 16.9 km, 1100 m of altitude gain
  2. From Limone sul Garda to Campione del Garda, 13 km, 600 m of altitude gain
  3. From Campione del Garda to Gargnano, 17.4 km, 950 m of altitude gain
  4. From Gargnano to Salò, 23.4 km, 750 m of altitude gain
  5. From Salò to Desenzano del Garda, 26.4 km, 250 m of altitude gain
  6. From Desenzano del Garda to Peschiera del Garda, 23.5 km, 50 m of altitude gain
  7. From Peschiera del Garda to Torri del Benaco, 26.2 km, 150 m of altitude gain
  8. From Torri del Benaco to Malcesine, 23 km, 500 m of altitude gain
  9. From Malcesine to Riva del Garda, 25.6 km, 1150 m of altitude gain

The stages have been defined with lengths and altitude gains that a good walker is normally considered capable of travelling, but given the numerous towns along the route, everyone can easily redefine the stage points, splitting the tour in a different way.


General logistics

For bus timetables: the specific visitgarda page

For ferry timetables: the specific page of navigazionelaghi

For train times: the trenitalia website

For overnight stays we do not give specific indications, leaving everyone free to find their preferred accommodations.

As a guide for the route: the free trekking-etc/viewer app, with the path of each single stage downloadable for off-line use.


From Riva to Limone

Riva del Garda would deserve a chapter by itself. Its historic centre is full of charm, with the port, the fortress, churches and bell towers, and the characteristic gateways.

It is a tourist centre loved by many, who looks for a peaceful and relaxing stay or who prefers to be active practicing a wide range of sports, from sailing to climbing.

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Strada del Ponale (Ponale Road) was the only connection with Val di Ledro during the period from 1851, the final year of its construction, until 1992, after the new, more up-to-date road was completed. Subsequently, the old road was repurposed into a cycle-pedestrian track, becoming very popular.

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It seemed quite a logical choice to choose it as starting point of our itinerary, since it originates from the Southern edge of Riva del Garda’s town.

The road, which is boldly perched on steep slopes above the Lake and climbs up with a moderate, constant inclination, is wide and safe to walk. Tunnels are frequent but short.

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We follow the road up to where it forks: right forVal di Ledro, left for Pregasina.

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We go to the left and cross the bridge over Ponale torrent’s ravine and we take advantage of some shortcuts, while the road climbs via hairpin bends, to reach Regina Mundi - an excellent panoramic viewpoint.

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We keep going up until we reach Pregasina, a charming village at 532 m above the sea level.

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Later, we follow the path to Punta Larici, and after moving past Passo Rocchetta (1159 m), we reach Cima di Mughera, 1161 m, another stunning viewpoint.

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We then go down for a while until we get to Limone sul Garda.

Limone sul Garda

Here we find lemon groves and palm trees, but in the background, we can see snow-capped mountains: a typical winter contrast of Lake Garda, which keeps the climate on its banks relatively mild, while being surrounded by summits that rise above 2000 m.

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From Limone to Campione

This is the shortest stage of the whole tour. Approximately, the first half of the journey unravels on the road, crossing long stretches of countryside, and some hamlets of Tremosine’s municipality.

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Panoramic views will be frequent from now on.

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We are pleased to notice the road is uncrowded, but we are exploring during the winter season; how will it be during the summer? No problem: those who do not like the main road can opt for a more secluded route, described in the rock version of the tour. It has a greater difference in terms of height, nevertheless, there are not significant difficulties.

After passing the hamlet of Ustecchio, we begin with walking on another path, which brings enchanting views of the highest Tremosine’s hamlets.

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We enter the Bondo Valley, which surprises us with its bucolic corners.

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We reach and pass beyond Pieve, the main hamlet of Tremosine.

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We continue walking on pleasant paths, then we begin the descent into the narrow valley of Torrente San Michele, with easy assisted trails sections. Then, we cross a characteristic bridge and a tunnel.

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These are parts of a water collection system that, through forced pipes, descends towards Campione del Garda, which used to be the site of an important cotton mill.

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We are now close to the end of the stage. After having abandoned its industrial vocation, the town is now a destination for lovers of water sports: sailing, diving, canyoning.

Campione del Garda

We descend rapidly, following an almost entirely stairway path, passing close to the forced pipes, until we reach the centre of the town.


From Campione to Gargnano

In the very first stretch we go up the path that we descended at the end of the previous stage,

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but then we start to climb the slopes of Monte Cas. The path goes up steeply, and requires significant effort, although it rewards us with increasingly exciting views.

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We pass near Prabione, and continue to climb towards Monte Cas.

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From the top, located at 779 m above the sea level, the view is spectacular, extending to the Southern part of the Lake, and it includes the nearby Sanctuary of Montecastello, perched on top of a steep and high cliff.

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On the long journey that still separates us from the final destination of this stage, almost entirely downhill, we pass near the Sanctuary, then continue up to Tignale and surpass it, leaving it behind us.

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We cut across the suggestive hamlet of Aer,

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then, entering the Bornico Valley, we are enchanted by its waterfalls' unexpected beauty.

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Subsequently, we get to the residential area of Piovere.

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We walk - again - among the olive trees,

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and after a long but enjoyable descent,

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we reach the stage end. At dusk, Mount Baldo is cloaked in a splendid pink color, reflected in the Lake.

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From Gargnano to Salò

We traverse the picturesque old town of Gargnano.

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We go back up the hills again, heading south-west, and we can literally see the sun rising amidst the olive trees.

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We cross the town of Fornico. Further on, as we approach the town of Gaino, we pass underneath Mount Castello,

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then we go down to Valle delle Cartiere, at the foot of Mount Pizzoccolo.

Here in this valley, the paper industry used to flourish; as a matter of fact, there is now a scenic succession of ancient factories’ ruins and a museum for those who wish to learn more.

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We move further on towards Sanico, finding more suggestive paths,

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with breath-taking views,

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and beautiful flowers, like the Christmas Rose below.

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We surpass the districts of Sanico and Bezzuglio, proceeding our walk between the olive groves.

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Despite the powerful sun glitter, we are able to see the Island of Garda and Rocca di Manerba. We will get on the latter during the next stage.

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We pass through Supiane, going up towards San Michele and then San Bartolomeo.

Soon after the final descent to Salò begins, with some noteworthy viewpoints to be found on the way.

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In Salò we visit the centre, with Piazza Vittorio Emanuele II,

Salò

and the Gate Clock.

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It is a must to mention the presence, within Gardone Riviera’s district, of the Vittoriale degli Italiani (Shrine of Italian Victories), a huge hillside estate which belonged to the eccentric and famous poet Gabriele D’Annunzio. It is situated less than 5 km far from Salò.


From Salò to Desenzano

We leave the urban area of Salò, walking on the side of the road, away from the traffic, then we enter the green countryside towards Manerba.

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Behind us, we leave the mountainous ranges of the inland stretch between Salò and Toscolano Maderno, going on until the Lake and Rocca di Manerba (Manerba's Fortress) appear in front of us.

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We go forward within the countryside, getting glimpses of Mount Baldo.

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We cross Manerba’s area, entering the Rocca and Sasso Natural Reserve and walking uphill until we meet the first ruins, after which we reach the top.

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Thanks to a clear sky, the panorama reveals all of its splendour.

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We go down to the Sasso which is the highest point of the vertical cliff, despite being less elevated than the Rocca, where we are welcomed by a dizzying view of the Lake and its the surroundings (pay attention, there is no fence!).

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We continue on the Path of Terebindo, which runs along the top of the cliff, always at a short distance from its edges. The cliffs overlooking the Lake appear at times in all their impressive verticality.

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We go down to Porto Dusano, then proceed through the countryside, between Gardoncino and Moniga.

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Then we reach the lakefront.

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The beautiful and long walk near the shore offers wonderful sights,

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where the sun conveys a sense of spring warmth, and the slow lapping of the waves induces feelings of serenity.

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Beyond the lakeside, and after walking on a short stretch on the side of the road, we take the paved track that leads to Desenzano.

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From Desenzano to Peschiera (through Sirmione)

As it is known to many, the icon of Desenzano del Garda is its lighthouse, located on the side of the port.

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Few people know, however, that in the period between the two World Wars Desenzano was the headquarters of the Air Force’s High Speed Department, which still boasts an undefeated speed record in the seaplane category.

For this reason, there is a characteristic monument in plain sight within the touristic city centre.

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Except for the Sirmione peninsula, which surface extends into the Lake over an area of 4 km circa, the route winds its way west-to-east along the Southern shore of Lake Garda.

Along the way, we pass next to the beautiful beaches of Rivoltella del Garda and its seashore.

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Then we enter the peninsula.

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First, we get to Rocca Scaligera (Scaliger Castle), a symbol of Sirmione.

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Travelling along the Eastern lakefront, at the furthest point of the peninsula, we reach the Grotte di Catullo (Grottoes of Catullus) where there are ruins of a sumptuous villa, which allegedly belonged to the Roman poet.

While visiting, there are times when we cannot say whether we are more fascinated by the ruins themselves, or by the landscape scenery in which they are located.

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Undoubtedly, it is the combination of the two that gives this place a unique scenographic aspect.

We return to the centre of Sirmione, which was a holiday resort for the very well-known soprano Maria Callas. We pass the renowned thermal baths, crossing the narrow streets dotted with attractive ice cream parlors and shops.

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After heading back, we walk eastwards on the lakefront for a while, passing next to the suggestive village of Lugana before ending up in the lakefront’s enchanting park,

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along sections of beach, with some wooden walkways, characteristic harbors,

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and well-kept bathing premises,

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towards the final stretch of this stage leading to Peschiera.

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From Peschiera to Torri del Benaco

In Peschiera, the Mincio river, the only emissary of Lake Garda, before joining in a single riverbed, leaves the lake divided into four waterways.

It is by crossing several bridges above this intersection that we begin our journey at this stage.

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After leaving Peschiera we find ourselves already on the other side of the lakefront, with Mount Baldo offering us a splendid scenery once again.

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We keep walking for a couple of hours, still accompanied by lovely landscapes, then we reach Lazise and its castle.

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We pass through the city gate called Porta Lion, overlooking the Church of San Nicolò, and proceed along the lakefront, 

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With evocative views as far as the eye can see, with Punta San Vigilio and Mount Pizzoccolo in the background.

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After about one hour of walking, or a little more, we pass through Bardolino,

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another beautiful town. 

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At a good pace, in another hour we reach Garda.

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It feels like all these tourist places could compete with each other to amaze the visitors with their unique charm and the care they are maintained with.

We leave Garda and its inlet behind us, gradually climbing up the sides of the hills above Punta San Vigilio.

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Proceeding along the hillside full of olive groves, we get to be between 80 and 100 meters above the Lake.

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The municipality of Torri del Benaco, with the Scaliger Castle, finally appears in the distance.

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We go down the streets until we reach its centre and its lovely seashore.

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From Torri del Benaco to Malcesine

From here, we go up to Località Loncrino, through rustic paved streets,

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and take the Sentiero del Pellegrino (Trail of the Pilgrim) which gently runs up and down along the lower part of Mount Baldo’s slopes.

Our first destination is the hamlet of Crero, but before reaching it we have a chance to admire some ancient rock engravings.

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Then we reach the enchanting village.

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Shortly after, we cross the church of San Siro.

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We keep following the path, which includes a passage on a suggestive tibetan bridge,

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heading towards Pai di Sopra, another beautiful hilltop village.

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We can enjoy delightful panoramic views from the small church square.

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At this point the path includes a road stretch which passes through various hamlets, offering glimpses of the villages along the Lake, such as Castelletto di Brenzone.

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In Campo, another captivating bourg, there are many nativity scenes which still decorate some of its buildings.

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We go through Marniga, and continue our walk through these folkloristic villages, including Castello,

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to end up observing the Island of Trimelone, located between us and Campione del Garda.

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We reach Cassone,

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and we walk along the beautiful lakefront towards Malcesine,

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until we get there.

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From Malcesine to Riva del Garda

We cross Malcesine, passing at the foot of the Scaliger Castle,

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and we continue our journey on country roads,

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with new, stunning views of the Lake.

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We get to the lakefront, still early in the morning,

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and we walk up to Navene, where we begin to walk uphill, first on the road, then on tracks.

We get on Path 6, a mule track that climbs for a long time, with a constant and not excessive slope, with occasional sharp bends.

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As we go up, the views of the Lake keep arousing our senses.

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The panoramic point near Dosso dei Roveri offers a view of the whole Lake, from one end to the other, and we see the Northern shore in its entirety.

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We go on, climbing a little further, up to 1160 m of altitude, walking on a soft veil of fresh snow,

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after which we start going down.

Further on, near Dos Casina, we can clearly see Torbole, Monte Brione, and Riva del Garda.

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Hiking down we reach Torbole

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and then proceed along the lakefront towards Riva del Garda.

We cross the bridge over the Sarca River,

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Forte San Nicolò and the homonymous port,

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while the twilight begins, with pink-orange shades covering the Southern part of the Lake.

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Finally, we reach our end goal, feeling satisfied and reinvigorated by the beauties we have been able to see at each stage of our journey, and proud to show the way to whomever wishes to engage it.

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gb, is, 2020-02-22

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