Lake Garda (Lago di Garda): Where Parents can take a REAL Vacation

7.26_garda coverYou’ve seen this, right?  Is it a vacation or a trip?  Hilarious.  And true.

For the most part, I take a lot of trips.  I’m OK with that.  I’ve got a lot I’d like to see.  In the little kid years, I figured I’d be looking at trips instead of relaxing vacations anyway.

But what if I told you about a magical place where you could have an actual vacation?  A vacation where you could linger over your breakfast coffee admiring the beautiful view.  A vacation where you kept forgetting what day it is because you felt fully disconnected.  A vacation where you could finish a sentence talking to your spouse over a delicious dinner.

You’d say it was all too good to be true, right?

Well, harried friend, let me tell you about Lake Garda.

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Limone sul Garda

If you’re all, Lake What?, I don’t blame you.  I’d never heard of Lake Garda before coming to Italy either.  Think of it like a secret Lake Como minus the George Clooney.

This is a bit of a haul from Rome, like six hours in the car.  We split our trip with a few days outside of Bologna.  If you are coming from Milan or Venice or even Munich, it would be closer.

Lake Garda is in Italy, but its proximity to Germany and Austria make it feel worlds away from the Italy I know.  Restaurants open early.  German beer flows on tap.  I was even offered a cappuccino AFTER DINNER.  I know.  Craziness.

Also, Lake Garda feels very different than other parts of Italy.  Because of the lake air trapped by mountains, the area is very humid.  Grape vines snake between orchards.  I even saw kiwis.  (They grow on vines, who knew?)

Where We Stayed

We opted to stay at Maso Bergot Agriturismo (of course) in the town of Arco outside of Riva del Garda.  Unlike my usual modus operandi, this one does not offer breakfast or dinner, but it was a good fit for our trip.

Picture modern apartment rentals.  Very clean.  Very modern.  I enjoy charm on our travels, but sometimes it is just nice not to have to walk two steps up to the toilet or to rummage through the dish drawer to find a matched set.  None of that here.

Our apartment had a living/kitchen/bedroom area with a separate master bedroom and bath.  This arrangement cut down on my late night snacking, but that’s probably for the best.  Both rooms opened onto our own patio with recliners and outdoor table.

The agriturismo is entirely fenced in.  If it wasn’t for the open pool, I would have felt comfortable letting the kids wander on their own.

In addition to the pool, there is a small playground complete with sandbox.  Also a communal grill stocked with both charcoal and wood.

We had a terrific view of the Alps, but no view of the lake.  If that is important to you, we saw a lot of places by the water near Malcesine that looked pretty great.  I know of someone who stayed in Sirmione and loved it, but we didn’t venture that far south.

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Restaurants with Playgrounds(!!)

One of the other things that made our vacation great was the abundance of restaurants we found with playgrounds.

(I KNOW, right?)

We dined al fresco at Ristorante Boccon D’oro while the kids played at the adjacent playground.  (I had to stand up to see them from our table; you could get closer tables, but they were already taken.)

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We took advantage of the indoor play area at Ristorante Peter Pan.  Maybe the food wasn’t anything special and maybe the kids spent all of their time in the play area watching TV, but no matter.  We were on VACATION.  Also, did I mention the live parrot by the bar?

Image via Peter Pan

Or how about a straight up biergarten??  That’s right.  You heard me.  Speck Stube by Malcesine has shaded tables, delicious food, beer on tap (naturally) all in view of a sizable playground.  You order the food at the counter and take it away.  No wait at all for the little guys.  It was seriously good food too.  James is still fantasizing about his ribs.  We may have posted up there all afternoon.

Image via Speck Stube

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and water too!

Oh, right, the lake.  You can do just about every water thing imaginable on the water.  (OK, that’s not true.  I saw no jetskis.)

You can rent a motor boat.  Or a paddleboat.  Or go windsurfing.  Or paddleboarding.  You can ride the ferry all over the lake.

Or you can just do what we did and post up and enjoy the beach.  The beach at Riva del Garda is pretty fantastic.  There are large swaths of grass to relax.  Bike paths.  Cafes.  Shaded playground.

The water was a little on the chilly side, but it didn’t stop people from swimming all over.  I mean, other people.  Not me.  I found it to be enjoyable thigh-high water, but not actually get my suit wet water.

If you are going to spend a lot of time on the lake, I’d come prepared for the pebble/rock bottom.  Mentally I expected this.  I did not, however, anticipate how irksome it is to stand on rocks–even smooth ones–for an extended period of time.  Water shoes would be good.  Maybe a float just to sit on when you put your feet in the water.

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And More

Garda is surrounded by adorable towns that are perfect for a low stakes al fresco meal or a stroll with gelato.  If you are up for some stairs, check out the Limonaia in Limone.

Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda

Riva del Garda

There is a lot of gorgeousness in Italy, but I really swooned for the scenery at Lake Garda.  Even when things weren’t going to plan, I could just stare out across the water to the mountains and feel myself relax.  A good vacation indeed.

Have you been to Lake Garda?  Any tips?

5 thoughts on “Lake Garda (Lago di Garda): Where Parents can take a REAL Vacation

  1. Amanda C says:

    I’m so glad you enjoyed it!!!! I genuinely can’t say enough about how much we enjoyed our vacation to Lake Garda also! I mean, it might be a do-it-twice kind of place, because it was just so perfect and relaxing, which I didn’t think was possible with 2 LITTLE kids! Reading this made me swoon a bit, and remember our trip in April:)

    • Melissa says:

      TOTALLY agree on do it twice. I’m trying to cram in a lot in our last year here, but already thinking about how we could squeeze in one more Garda.

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