Lake Garda is Italy’s largest freshwater lake and one of the most popular holiday destinations in northern Italy. I can understand why, it’s a stunning family friendly location and easily accessible, the lake is only an hour away by car from Milan airport and even closer to Verona.
We were staying in one of the most beautiful spots on the whole lake, Sirmione. Sirmione is a town located in the province of Brescia situated on the top of a narrow peninsula jutting out into the southern part of Sirmione Lake Garda.
I’ll never forget seeing the lake for the first time. It was so vast and yet so beautiful. That day, the blue hue of the water and the sky were practically the same so you couldn’t see where one finished and the other started. There was a dramatic backdrop of mountains in the distance that begged to be explored.
WHERE TO STAY
We stayed in a three bedroom self catering apartment with Italian based company Halldis.
We were met at the apartment complex by Maria, our Halldis check-in representative, who showed us into our private underground parking (including a private garage with room for two cars).
Maria walked us upstairs to our apartment through the mature landscapes. It was sheer luxury, three large bedrooms, spacious living area and kitchen, air conditioning in all rooms, all mod cons and the best bit, the private pool.
I say private because only a few apartments in that part of the complex have access to it and when we were staying there (middle of June), there was practically no-one else there so it felt like it was our own private pool. There were two other pools in the complex that we could use too but we tended to stay near the one beside our apartment.
The nearest supermarket was a short drive (it is a 20 minute walk which we did do and is fine providing you’re not doing a big shop!) so the first thing we did was to stock up on some supplies for our stay in the apartment.
THINGS TO DO WITH THE FAMILY
Visit the Castello degli Scaligeri in Sirmione
Sirmione is one of the most visited places on Lake Garda and staying on the peninsula itself meant that we only had to stroll 20-25 minutes and we were in the historical part of the town, avoiding the busy car parks.
Built in the 15th century by the Scaligeri family, the castle is considered one of the finest moated castles in all of Europe.
Watch out for the huge fish swimming in the moat . Bring your camera as this fairytale castle has several old fortifications which will call out to be photographed.
Climbing the tower in the castle will reveal stunning views over the whole peninsula and it only costs about €1 to get in.
Sirmione is also a lovely place to wander around, especially in the evening, visiting the shops, lake beach and grotto.
Take the cable car to Monte Baldo
Towards the north of the lake lies the town of Malcesine where you can travel up to the top of Monte Baldo via cable car. It can get very busy so I would recommend getting there early. If your children aren’t too young then the walk back down is meant to be breath taking, it takes about three hours. If you’re staying in the south of the lake like we were, you can get a ferry to take you to Malcesine, it takes about two and a half hours.
Go wild at Gardaland
This amusement park is popular with families visiting Lake Garda. We didn’t go ourselves as we had already enjoyed a day at Mirabilandia on the Adriatic coast but I have many friends that would highly recommend spending a full day there with the kids.
Hire a motor boat
One morning after extensive research we walked less than five minutes and hired a small motor boat from Nolo Belvedere (look out for their van with the pirate flag!).
It was under 40hp so no licence was needed. We just had to hand over one passport as a security deposit. Lifejackets and clear instructions were provided and we bombed out onto the lake for four hours.
Halfway through the morning, we dropped the anchor and jumped into the lake for a swim. It was heaven and a real highlight of the holiday for everyone. It cost us €90 to hire the boat and another €37 for the fuel we used, it was practically empty when we get back! It was worth every penny to see the lake and the surrounding towns from this amazing perspective. In fact we wished we’d booked it for longer because we could have swam more, explored more and also actually moored up in a town for a wander or food.
Visit the neighbouring towns of Bardolino, Desenzano, Pescheria or Garda.
We visited all of these towns and found them very pretty and charming, each with their own character.
They all have plenty of reasonably priced cafes and restaurants (and expensive ones too!) and naturally have beautiful views of the lake.
Just be aware of the ZTL (restricted traffic zones) in the centre of some towns, they are not always well signposted and if you drive into them they could cost a hefty fine.
Day trip to Verona
Less than an hour’s drive from Sirmione is the beautiful city of Verona, famed for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Juliet’s balcony is said to be part of a 14th century house located in the centre there.
An incredible 1st century Roman amphitheater stands majestically in the centre of Verona and hosts regular concerts and an important annual opera festival.
WHAT TO EAT IN SIRMIONE
Located outside Sirmione itself is ‘Casa Dei Pescatori‘ where we enjoyed a delicious meal on the lake shore.
It was very reasonably priced considering the quality of the food and location as it came to €75 for five of us which included a 2.50 cover charge for sitting by the river and a bottle of wine.
In Sirmione, we found the Ristorante San Lorenzo to be very family friendly. We enjoyed some homemade pasta and the kids enjoyed mussels in white wine sauce.
In Bardolino, we discovered a small place called Acqua e Grano that served pizza by the slice. The difference being that the pizza base was sour dough and really delicious.
The kids had toppings of radicchio which was drizzled with basalmic vinegar while I had parma ham, mozzarella and rocket. I would go so far as to say it was the best pizza we tasted in Italy!
We’re big fans of self catering when on holiday with the kids. It gives you a chance to cook with local ingredients and also it saves you money which you can use then to spend on fun days out.
Our Halldis apartment had a outdoor BBQ so one evening we marinated some meat, made a salad and fired up our outdoor kitchen. We had a wonderful meal watching the sunset on the balcony, until the weather changed and a thunder and lightning storm began.
It was equally fascinating for all of us to watch the lightning dance across the sky. On two further occasions, we bought food from the local market shop and cooked a delicious meal.
One evening was a sausage ragu and the other evening was carbonara. The kitchen in the apartment was so large, everyone had the chance to get involved in preparing the dishes.
I’m in love with Sirmione and I will definitely be returning. The Halldis apartment complex in Sirmione is the perfect location to enjoy Lake Garda.
The apartments are so modern and spacious and the pools are a welcome relief after a day exploring. Try and get out on the lake if possible. Whether you hire a private motor boat or book a ferry crossing, you will be blown away by the turquoise lake waters. Why not get active with the kids and hire bikes for everyone. It’s a great way to explore the peninsula. If you’re used to a beach holiday, trust me, Lake Garda will not disappoint.