Travel Guide of Gardone Riviera, Lombardy, Italy

Gardone Riviera is an Italian town in the province of Brescia in Lombardy. It is one of the main tourist resorts of Lake Garda, characterized by its “Central European” typicality. Gardone Riviera is history, culture, and nature, merged into a perfect union. The city is full of magnificent historic buildings, and noble villas of the belle époque. It is counted among the most beautiful villages in Italy. Famous in the area is the Vittoriale degli Italiani, home of Gabriele D’Annunzio.To adorn it with the nickname of “garden city”, the Hruska Botanical Garden, with an incredible floral collection with a continental character.

Gardone Riviera offers its visitors a particular microclimate, luxuriant nature, an elegant atmosphere and a suggestive lakefront, considered as a real “botanical garden” where Central European, Mediterranean and sub-tropical vegetation alternates with the typical vegetation of Lake Garda. The lakefront of Gardone Riviera allows a peaceful walk on the shore of Lake Garda among oleanders, oranges and roses. for centuries a peculiarity of the Garda landscape have been lemons, lemon houses and terraces for citrus fruits.

The numerous parks and gardens alternate along the shore of the lake with elegant historic villas. The town is famous for the Vittoriale degli Italiani, the monumental citadel, home of the poet Gabriele d’Annunzio, now home to a prestigious museum.Also not to be missed is the Hruska botanical garden, now the Andrè Heller Foundation, with hundreds of plant species from the five continents and visible in a path that winds between rocks and lakes.

Gardone Riviera is also a mixtury of history, culture, nature. Admire the magnificent historic buildings that house prestigious hotels or period villas such as the beautiful Villa Alba, the picturesque villages: Gardone di Sotto and Gardone di Sopra which are connected by a space full of magic and sensuality: the Botanical Garden. The Hruska gardens are a floral collection with a continental character, in which Africa and South America, Asia, Europe and Australia are interwoven into each other.

Gardesana Occidentale and the villages overlooking the lake, or the windy Riva del Garda, a surfer’s paradise. Gardone Riviera allows tourists to take a vacation or a trip that is not just being on the beach and sunbathing. During the summer season is the soul of musical and cultural events. In the evening it becomes the place to have an ice cream, an aperitif or to have dinner in an elegant restaurant in the summer months.

Located on the western shore of Lake Garda. It is part of the Alto Garda Bresciano Regional Park. Other places to see near Gardone Riviera are the areas of Valtenesi with Padenghe sul Garda, Puegnago and Polpenazze, true food and wine showcases of the prized Garda extra virgin olive oil as well as inviting DOC wines.Do not miss a visit to the Vittoriale degli Italiani with its park and house-museum and the magnificent Hruska botanical gardens.

The origins of Gardone Riviera are uncertain although ancient, the hills near Gardone Riviera were inhabited since the Bronze Age, as evidenced by the archaeological excavations conducted in 2017 by the University of Padua and Pisa in the area of Mount Castello behind the hamlet of San Michele in Val di Sur. Here were found terracotta elements related to spinning, the handle of a sickle for harvesting and smelting slag that testify to metallurgical activity.

The toponym derives from the late Latin garda (military garrison) or from the Gothic warda (guard along the roads); some scholars believe it probable that the city was founded by the barbarians. In nearby Fasano, ancient Roman tombstones have been found, and in Gardone Sopra traces of a castle with a chapel dedicated to San Michele, probably of Lombard derivation.

The first certain newsdate back to the Lombard domination of the seventh century, subsequently it belonged to the bishop of Brescia and the feudal lords became the Ugoni family, who ruled the area until the seventeenth century. The most flourishing period occurred when it became part of the domains of the Serenissima. In the Venetian age, starting from 1521, the Magnifica Patria maintained conditions of privilege compared to the rest of the Brescia area.

In this period the cultivation of citrus fruit flourishes along the entire coast. “It has many gardens on the shore of the lake for perhaps ten miles from Salò to Gargnano, which do not yield to those who wrote poets of Atlas, Alcinoo, and Hesperidi, plentiful in every season of the year with all those apples that they have golden peel, lemons, oranges, Adam’s apples…”

Modern period
Gardone Riviera paid dearly with the sacking by Napoleon’s French troops in 1797. From 1815 it passed under the dominion of Austria in the Lombard-Veneto Kingdom. In this period the cultivation of citrus fruit became more and more important, in 1851 there were 54 lemon houses for 2.75 hectares and 1375 fields. Lemons, oranges, cedars sell well in the Nordic market. In 1855 the gummy begins to affect the crops: it was a catastrophe. It was only in 1873 that the bitter orange, resistant to gummies, began to be grafted and some lemon houses returned to activity.

The restoration, with the return of Austrian domination in 1815, increased tourism development, which grew mainly thanks to the promotion of the territory by a Viennese engineer, Ludwig Wimmer,who after fighting with Garibaldi stopped in Gardone Riviera, for a long period of treatment, following which he decided to build the first large hotel.

The fortune of the village began with the arrival of the Italian-Austrian Wimmer family. Luigi and Emilia Wimmer bought the Cargnacco estate in 1877, later bought by d’Annunzio: they officially moved from Brescia to Gardone in 1880. In 1881 they opened their first hotel: Il Pizzocolo. Luigi Wimmer became mayor in 1881 and accelerated the transformation of the town, laying the foundations of the garden city, with the creation of walks in the green.

Under the impulse of this engineer and above all of his wife Emilia Holzgärtner, the town is transformed, friends and acquaintances are involved, first guests of the hotel and then residents attracted by the mild climate and the possibility of buying land at reasonable prices. Above all, doctors, such as Dr. Rodhen and Koeniger, will disseminate the advantages of the resort in German specialist magazines, as a winter health resort suitable for people with delicate health. Dr. Karl Koeniger buys an eighteenth-century building with a large garden, entrusting the project to Angelo Fuchs, transforms it into a 30-room health establishment – Villa Primavera – today the building houses the town hall.

The town developed without a real master plan, but the strong influence exerted by the engineer. Fuchs, who was also the mayor of the town, and the intervention of valid architects made Gardone assume a harmonious image of a park city, as the postcards of the time reveal.

In the Belle Époque many Austrian and German families built splendid residences by the lake. The Langensiepen, industrialists of Westphalia, builders of pumps, bought Villa Ruhland and the olive grove upstream, where the architect Heinrich Schäfer built the splendid villa in neoclassical style. today known as Villa Alba, immersed in a 70,000 m² park with belvedere tower and dock, renamed by d’Annunzio Torre San Marco. Max Langensiepen, passionate about botany, starts a nursery and export business to the Nordic markets of palms and Mediterranean potted plants.

In 1897, an Evangelical church designed by the Danish architect Aage von Kauffmann was opened for worship, with funding from the Lutheran community in Frankfurt. In 1904 August Rodhen built the Pension Quisisana, a clinic still active today with the name of Villa Gemma. In 1906 the Grand Hotel Savoia was built, the work of Schäfer then Savoy Palace, to which the post-war Italian owner will add the public park, which d’Annunzio will rename “Rimbalzello”.

Among the regular guests, prof. Henry Thode, who bought the Cargnacco estate from Wimmer’s daughters: with his fame he animated the cultural scene of the town by giving lectures at the Casino on the Italian Renaissance, where he presented his monograph on St. Francis of Assisi. He brought his library and the collection of photographs of works of art to what will become the Vittoriale in the first post-war period.Daniela Senta von Bülow, grandson of Franz Liszt, brought her grandfather’s Steinway piano to Cargnacco: the countess managed to have it returned after the Second World War and donated it to the Teatro alla Scala museum, where it has recently been restored.

At Villa Annina – today Itolanda – stayed the poet Paul Heyse, Nobel prize winner in 1910, who dedicated numerous poems and short stories to Lake Garda. Another large collection of books and ancient works of art was found in Alexander Gunther’s villa by the lake in Fasano, works that after the seizure of foreigners’ assets in 1918 ended up in part in the Museum of S. Giulia in Brescia. and partly dispersed.

World Wars
The First World War puts an end to the Gardonese Bella Époque. The territory becomes the second line of defense of a front not far away: at the height of Ponale and the Ledro valley. A part of the inhabitants of Limone is transferred to Gardone Riviera. German and Austrian owned assets are expropriated.

In the first post-war period, Hruska and the pharmacist Mario Ferrari, both passionate about botany, will become the animators of the maintenance and beautification of Gardone’s parks, where we can still admire ancient trees originating from subtropical areas of the world such as camphor trees, Casmirian cypresses. and the many varieties of palm trees.

In the 1930s, winter tourism becomes summer, you go to the lake not only for wintering, but for the attractions of parties, dances, concerts, tennis, horseback riding, boat trips, walks.

In this period new prestigious villas are added to the previous ones. The villa called “the castle of Morgnaga” by the architect Egidio Dabbeni, the villa Elvira in Fasano of rationalist inspiration. One of the villas designed by Fuchs on the lake shore is remade taking inspiration from the Venetian Renaissance: villa Fiordaliso, famous for having hosted Claretta Petacci during the RSI, while Mussolini stayed in Gargnano at Villa Feltrinelli.

The Second World War and the establishment in 1943 of the Italian Social Republic, under Nazi control, disrupted the life of the Riviera. Salò, the capital, Gardone, home to German military hospitals and convalescents, embassies, the Wehrmacht telecommunications center at Villa Alba, arms factories in the galleries north of Gargnano. In 1945, Liberation arrives with the partisan brigades of Val Sabbia and above all with the advance of the Americans: the X mountain division, which under the command of General George Price Hays wins the last German resistances on the eastern shore of Garda.

Post War
After the Second World War tourism starts again very slowly, but already in 1949, with the stay of Winston Churchill at the Grand Hotel Gardone Riviera, the town returns to the honors of the worldly news, with a revival of foreign presences. In the 1960s Gardone Riviera was a traditional destination for school trips, has been relaunched with the careful restoration of the gardens and its outdoor amphitheater welcomes musicians of international level.

Main Attractions
The pretty town attracts many tourists every year, with the beauty of the landscape and the many opportunities that this area offers. Gardone Riviera is famous by Gabriele d’Annunzio, who lived here the last years of his life and wrote some works. His home, the Vittoriale degli Italiani located in Gardone di Sopra, has been declared a national monument and is one of the most visited attractions.

Gardone Riviera with its splendid villas and large hotels is also worth a visit. In the Piazzale del Vittoriale stands the parish church of San Nicola, while the Torre San Marco stands out on the lakeside and Villa Albait is well immersed in a large public park. The latter is baptized with the name of “Villa Ruhland”, whose literal translation is “Peace in the landscape”, and takes up the true essence of these places with its spectacular structure that recalls the most characteristic monuments of the Athenian acropolis. In the seventies it was purchased by the Municipality of Gardone Riviera, which transformed this wonderful Villa into a place of art and culture, becoming a perfect location for exhibitions, art reviews and cultural events of all kinds.

The shrine of Italian victories
The Vittoriale degli italiani is a hillside estate in the town of Gardone Riviera overlooking Lake Garda in province of Brescia, Lombardy. It is where the Italian writer Gabriele d’Annunzio lived after his defenestration in 1922 until his death in 1938. Il Vittoriale degli Italiani is an eclectic complex of buildings with surprising shapes, juxtaposed in a bizarre way of interlocking walls with games of raised passages, all framed by splendid gardens that follow the unevenness of the ground in a sinuous way. Here is the poet’s tomb, several works of art and sculptures, some relics, a rich library, a war museum and an evocative open-air theater that has, behind it, the magnificent landscape of Lake Garda. Erected by the will of d’Annunzio starting from 1921, it became the reign of memory of his exceptional life and of the Italian people during the First World War. The work was entrusted to the architect friend Giancarlo Maroni and today it is much more than a house museum, as every corner reserves a surprise.

The estate consists of the residence of d’Annunzio called the Prioria (priory), an amphitheatre, the protected cruiser Puglia set into a hillside, a boathouse containing the MAS vessel used by D’Annunzio in 1918 and a circular mausoleum. Its grounds are now part of the Grandi Giardini Italiani. Every area, whether external or internal, conveys the particularity and imaginative person of d’Annunzio, who here he collected an infinite quantity of relics including sculptures, medals of valor, relics, thousands of books, works of art of all kinds. Added to this are attractionsthat no one would ever think of, like the SVA plane, the military ship Puglia, the MAS 96 submarine that enrich the external environments welcoming the visitor among the luxurious gardens, where the lemonade with the Belvedere is hosted, the Portico del Parente named after Michelangelo Buonarroti and the splendid amphitheater overlooking the lake. On the top of the Vittoriale stands the mausoleum, an imposing funeral monument where d’Annunzio rests, in memory of all the greatness of the inimitable life he lived.

Hruska Botanical Garden
The Giardino Botanico Fondazione André Heller is a botanical garden located on the grounds of the André Heller Foundation above Lake Garda, in via Roma, Gardone Riviera, Province of Brescia, Lombardy, Italy. It is open daily in the warmer months. The Hruska Botanical Garden, where the typical Central European plants are flanked by the Mediterranean and sub tropical ones. the long walk leads to the discovery of beautiful plants and rare flowers, surrounded by strange buildings and various works of art. From the orderly Japanese gardens, where you can also find real ponds, you pass to the rocky area, crossing paths that reflect the most beautiful forms of nature. In this garden it is possible to admire more places on planet Earth for a truly extraordinary journey.

The garden was established circa 1901 by Arturo Hruska (1889 – 1971), an Austrian dentist and botanist, who from 1910 to 1971 collected many species on the grounds of his villa, organized as a dense forest of bamboo, Japanese ponds, streams, and waterfalls, as well as alpine plants in ravines. Since 1988 it has been owned by artist André Heller, and now contains interesting sculptures by Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, and so forth, set among more than 500 species including cactus, edelweiss, ferns including Osmunda regalis, magnolias, orchids, water lilies, and trees.

Alto Garda Bresciano Park
The Alto Garda Bresciano Park offers panoramic views made of rocks overhanging the lake, wide terraces, paths and roads that unwind between the valleys, the mountains, the woods and the villages of the hinterland and the coast that form particularly suggestive environments. It is in this context that Gardone Riviera is placed, reaching out towards the waters of the lake on the western shore which, thanks also to its enchanting position, is among the most beautiful villages in Italy.. Here the gaze is lost, caressing the marked blue of the waters of Lake Garda and the green of the luxuriant vegetation that frames it, in an enchanting play of lights and colors.

Other well-known attractions:
Casino: built in 1909 in Art Nouveau style, today a restaurant;
André Heller Botanical Garden;
Grand Hotel: built in 1884 by the engineer Luigi Wimmer. Distinguished guests include Winston Churchill, Paul Heyse and Vladimir Nabokov
Torre San Marco: built by the German industrialist with the name of Torre Ruhland (land of calm) Richard Langensiepen, was then purchased by Gabriele D’Annunzio in 1925;
Villa Alba: built between 1901 and 1909 by the architect Heinrich Schäfer for the Langensiepen family, industrialists from Westphalia, now in public ownership.

Even with regard to gastronomy you can indulge yourself. In summer, dishes with fresh fish from the lake abound (one of the most representative is trout with citrus fruits) all this can only be seasoned with the excellent DOP olive oil from Lake Garda. In autumn there are marroni di drina (chestnuts that are characterized by their star-shaped radii) used for sweets or for the typical flour from which an excellent artisan bread is also obtained, or mushrooms, excellent in risotto or with tagliatelle. In winter it’s time for gingerbread and mulled wine.

The traditional dishes are those based on lake fishsuch as perch, carpione and trout of different types and sizes: the latter is the raw material for one of the most representative dishes of the lower Garda, or the citrus trout, prepared with filleted trout and left to macerate for a whole day in a lemon and oil sauce, then the fillets are cut into thinner strips and seasoned with more cold oil and orange peels and served with crusty bread.

Thanks to the mountain pastures, there is no shortage of high quality meats and genuine cheeses, while the extra virgin Garda or “oriental” DoP oil boasts low acidity, delicacy and excellent digestibility among its organoleptic characteristics. As far as the wine vocation of the area is concerned, it is enough to remember Bardolino, one of the best Made in Italy red wine labels.

Folklore and tradition come together in the numerous events organized throughout the year in the splendid setting of Lake Garda.

In April, the Season of Music and Prose of the Vittoriale, dedicated to the musical tradition, but also to new sounds and experimentation, great national and international artists alternate during the event. The same love for tradition and authenticity is put by the people of Val Gardena in their kitchen, made with fresh and zero-kilometer products.

In August it is time for culture with the “Pagine del Garda” book exhibition, the publishing review has its roots in the Thirties, and for the occasion various workshops are organized, as well as speeches by authors, journalists and big names in Brescia and national culture and literature.

Also in August, vintage lovers set out to discover the antiques market, a perfect opportunity to do real bargains and to satisfy small veins of collecting. Other highly anticipated events are the Sagra di San Michele, a typical village festival, dedicated to grilled salamelle and cheese, the inevitable Brescia spit, and the Garda wine, a tasty excuse to climb up to San Michele and escape the heat of the Riviera.