Italy’s Largest (and most Beautiful) Lake

I was first entranced by Lake Garda and its shores more years ago than I care to mention when on a holiday trip with my parents.

I found myself again at Lake Garda in May 2007 on a “Mediavalle” day trip. Among the places we visited was the Vittoriale, Gabriele D’Annunzio’s villa paid for him handsomely by Mussolini to keep the main creator of a fascist ideology (and rival) in a safe place. I’ve written about D’Annunzio’s controversial figure as poet, novelist, philanderer, adventurer, soldier, aviator and sailor in my post at so won’t say much more about him here except to present a photo gallery of something of what we saw that day at one of Italy’s national shrines.

The “Grotte di Catullo” must have been an even more extravagant villa and was built in ancient Roman times. What remains of it today, although on a vast scale, is just part of the ground floor and the cellars. Here is a reconstruction of its original appearance:

Built towards the end of the first century BC the Grotte is the most important Roman villa in north Italy. Its attribution as Catullus’ villa is apocryphal: Catullus would have had a much more modest place – this Villa clearly belonged to a powerful Roman governor. That Catullus was much in love with the lake is shown by the poems he wrote about it:

The villa has been known ever since renaissance times when the great Palladio, who influenced so much of English classical architecture, came to study its remains.

The position of the villa, at the end of a thin peninsula thrusting itself into the depth of the southern sea-like expanse of this most beautiful of Italian lakes, is spectacular. A picturesque paddle steamer still plies the lake’s waters.

“La Divina” also had a villa here:

On the peninsula, too, is Sirmione with its fairy-tale castle

and equally fairy-tale ice-cream…


Away from the turmoil of great men and their works this swan gliding majestically on the lake seemed unperturbed by it all.

I wasn’t aware of this at the time but we would return to these magical places in autumn of the same year to celebrate a friend’s wedding. The friend had been involved in developing the Gardaland theme park – as if the wondrous lake really needed a theme park to attract visitors to this area…I found the wild life more interesting to watch:

Again, in 2013 we returned to the lake for an Easter holiday. It seems that Lake Garda has had an arcane hold on me ever since that schoolboy trip with my parents all those years ago, which is when these photos date from: