Lake Garda: Desenzano & Sirmione in a day

City dwellers all over the world have come to value quick getaways to rejuvenate, and to be reminded that trees actually do exist. For the Milanese, these weekend jaunts quite often involve the lakes – and it’s no surprise why.

With a travel time of just 1 hour 30 minutes, Lake Garda easily falls into the “day trip” category. It’s a quick way to slip into vacation mode, with panoramic vistas and strolls along the many promenades (with gelato in hand, of course). And with the lake’s impressive size, you’d be forgiven if you thought you were actually on the shores of the Mediterranean.

The easiest town to reach by train is Desenzano, but a wide array of villages can be reached from there, via ferry or bus.

Desenzano

With picturesque houses and palm trees lining the street, the walk from the station is a lovely one. You’ll be immediately aware that you’re in a lakeside town, so leave your city troubles behind.

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The city boasts a lovely lakeside pathway, with views of a marina and a small but utterly charming lighthouse.

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Gelaterias are a dime a dozen, so pick your poison and go for two scoops – because you’re on holiday. Even if only for the day.

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Desenzano’s best feature is its harbor, where you can enjoy a waterfront meal among colorful buildings that are so very…Italian.

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Fishing boats are docked in front of the restaurants, serving as a reminder that the town is more than just a tourist destination – in fact, it’s a place that 25,000 people call home. Any menu should offer “lake fish,”so be sure to sample what the fishermen have caught that day.

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The town also boasts a small beach – and although it consists of gravel instead of sand, it’s still a pretty great spot to park yourself for the afternoon, watching the world go by. 

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You can also rent paddle boats, all painted in their own unique style (one even boasts Marge Simpson in a bikini).

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If you walk inland a few streets, you’ll find that the town’s charm is not solely reliant on its lakefront location. There’s no shortage of narrow streets to explore, so have a wander through the roads less traveled.

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Ferry to Sirmione

Getting to other Lake Garda towns from Desenzano is quite easy, but can be time consuming due to the lake’s size. If you’re only enjoying Lake Garda for a day, you may want to stay closer to the train station by going to Sirmione, the closest village to Desenzano.

There are different tariffs depending on how far you want to go on the ferry, but traveling to Simione will only set you back €3 (€6 return) and 25 minutes or so – and the views are incredible.

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The village has a more prestigious vibe than Desenzano, with a number of wellness centers and somewhat posh hotels. Although it’s more difficult to reach, the town is still full of vacationers, so don’t expect a remote location. However, if you look beyond the out-of-towners, you’ll find a very Italian town.

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The village’s main feature is Scaliger Castle, which dates back to the thirteenth century. It’s very photogenic, so you’ll want to snap more than a few photos. You can also go inside for just €4.

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In addition to the castle, those interested in history will be pleased to know the ruins of a Roman villa can also be found in the town. Sitting at the far end of the Sirmione peninsula, the once prestigious house was built between the end of the first century B.C. and the beginning of the first century A.D. More information can be found here. The views alone are amazing.

Speaking of views, those less interested in history and more captivated by the village’s charm can stay occupied with a number of shops, boutiques, and outside tables which offer lakeside beers.

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If you venture slightly out of the city center, you’ll find a lovely place to play mini golf. It doesn’t look like much (there are no spinning windmills you have to avoid, or dinosaur jaws to hit your ball into), but it’s good fun, and some of the holes are a lot more challenging than they look. Adult prices are €6 a person.

Venture a bit further and you’ll stumble upon Villa Pioppi, a gorgeous hotel and restaurant set back from the road, which manages to turn the heads of everyone passing by.

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The menu is pricey, and though we can’t vouch for the food, the outdoor setting by the lake is heavenly.

A place we can vouch for, however, is San Vito restaurant and pizzeria, which you’ll eventually stumble upon if you keep walking past Villa Pioppi. It has a lovely outdoor terrace with a lake view, and delicious food.

“Lake fish” pasta, a generously sized pizza (ham, mushroom, artichoke), 1/2 a liter of wine, a bottle of water, and tiramisu put us back just €33, including the cover charge. Well worth a visit.

Practicalities

Trains bound for Desenzano leave twice an hour from Milan’s Central Station. Prices vary, but a cheaper day return will cost around €18.

The most important thing to keep in mind when visiting the lakes is that ferries stop running around 8pm during the high season, and are less frequent during the low season. The same goes for buses. Be sure to plan in advance, or else you might find yourself stranded.

Lynsey Free

Lynsey Free is founder and editor of Postcards from Milan. As a freelance journalist and copywriter, her work has been published on RT.com, RT television, Sky News, News Corp sites, and MyFox channels. She is based in Milan, Italy.

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