Travel Guide of Gargnano, Lombardy, Italy

Gargnano is an Italian town on Lake Garda, in the province of Brescia in Lombardy. A town nestled among olive trees and lemon groves, with its vast hinterland, it is at the center of the Alto Garda Bresciano Regional Park and has always been a destination for those who love tranquility and contact with nature.

Gargnano is a vast municipality, a town between two lakes: the capital and the hamlets of Villa and Bogliaco are in fact lapped by Lake Garda and offer a typically Mediterranean landscape, while the Gargnano hinterland gradually climbs the hill to include Lake Valvestino, authentic fjord nestled between the mountains of the homonymous valley.

Gargnano is particularly picturesque with narrow, winding medieval streets, a small waterfront with a marina and a large church with an impressive spire, There are buildings dating back to the 9th century. The majority of the shops and restaurants are within a few hundred meters of the waterfront, but there are shops and hotels spread along the entire length of the main road that is set a little back from the waterfront.

The area around Gargnano is littered with orchards, olive-groves, gardens and ancient lemon-groves. The lemon groves are idiomatic of the region; their huge stone walls and tall stone pillars are easily recognisable on the hillsides and testaments to a once flourishing economy. Nowadays, they are now mainly relics tended by enthusiasts.

The municipality has 12 hamlets scattered in the northern moraine reliefs and hills of the upper Garda and various localities. Since 1962, with the construction of the Ponte Cola dam (blocking the Toscolano stream ), the municipal territory also includes a part of the Valvestino lake which constitutes its internal waters. The town is dominated on the side of the lake by Mount Comer, with an elevation of 1281 meters above sea level.

Gargnano is also renowned as a centre for sports, including athletics, sailing, archery and clay pidgeon shooting. It is sailing that Gargnano is best known for, as since 1951, it has been hosting the Centomiglia sailing regatta. Gargnano is the capital of Garda sailing. Every September the prestigious international Centomiglia regatta, the most important sailing event that takes place on the Italian lakes, starts from the hamlet of Bogliaco.

The name of the village appears for the first time in a document of 937 as Garniano, perhaps derived from the Latin stem Garenius. Passages of the Roman historian Titus Livius and inscriptions on headstones testify to the presence of Etruscans, Celts, Cenomani and Romans.

After the barbarian invasions, the town of Gargnano was ceded to the Cathedral of Verona by Bishop Eriprado. With the arrival of S. Francesco on Lake Garda a convent was built in 1100 and in 1280 a church with a beautiful portal dedicated to S. Francesco. From 1350 to 1426 the territory of Gargnano was a dominion of the Visconti of Milan, later a dominion of the Republic of Venice.

Gargnano was annexed to the Republic of Brescia following its fate under the Napoleonic domination, first as the capital of the canton and then as a Habsburg dominion up to the Kingdom of Italy. In 1866 Gargnano was bombarded by the Austrian navy during the fighting on Lake Garda which formed part of the Third Italian War of Independence.

In modern times, the Feltrinellis family contribute a lot to the local, in addition to the hospital, kindergartens and other buildings of public utility were also erected.

Main Attractions
Gargnano rich in history and art with its historic palaces and villas, religious monuments of considerable value, lemon gardens. The country welcomes tourists with its Gothic cloister of the former Convent of Saint Francis, founded in 1221. In the upper part of the town, on the state road, stands the neoclassical Church of San Martino del Vantini which contains the altarpieces of the ancient parish church. The port of Gargnano overlook several buildings some are walled which cannon balls in memory of the naval bombings in 1866.

The lakeside villages have maintained the romantic characteristic of ancient fishing villages, and the small hillside villages lying on the grassy slopes that once were the basis of the mountain economy and a wonderful view of Lake Garda and glimpses. The atmosphere in Gargnano is Mediterranean, thanks to its olive trees, vegetable gardens, gardens and ancient lemon houses. Gargnano‘s mountainous hinterland is almost entirely covered by woods while the hill is home to small villages that are worth a visit.

In the surrounding area, Villa Feltrinelli or Villa del Duce which hosted Mussolini during the days of the Republic of Salò. The Romanesque church of San Giacomo in Calì towards the north, the oldest building in Gargnano, with frescoes from the Veronese and Trent schools from the fourteenth century.

There are countless tourist itineraries for hiking along the trails. The nearby road once appeared in the chase of the James Bond movie. Gargnano is crossed by the Strada Statale 45 Bis Gardesana Occidentale which follows the course of the lake coast. From the north of Gargnano to Riva del Garda on this road it is forbidden to circulate lorries, given the narrow width of the carriageway and the presence of narrow tunnels.

There are lemon houses in Gargnano, tall pillars that point to the sky, all in a row, enclosed on three sides by white stone walls, testimony of a once unique and flourishing economy. The lemon houses were built to make it possible to grow citrus fruits in relatively cold climates. Around the years 1850/1855 in Gargnano about half of the lemon groves present on the whole coast were concentrated. In Limone del Garda they can be visited.

Just above Bogliaco is the church of San Pier d’Agrino, that boasts a 5th-century wooden statue of St. Peter and paintings by Pilotti, Brusasorci, Celesti and Ricchi. Nearby is a sanctuary where a wooden crucifix of the German Gothic school is venerated.

Along the lakeside is the 8th century villa Bettoni, which has very pretty gardens, and at the entrance to Gargnano is the former convent of St. Francis, founded in 1221. The centre of Gargnano boasts a town hall built by Traffegini in 1581.

Following the Via le Rimembrazana from the centre and heading North, a few minutes walk brings you to a park with a playground, a beach and a restaurant. Walking further, brings you to the Villa Fletrinelli, an impressive villa set in large grounds, where Mussolini lived during the period of the republic of Salo.

10 minutes or so further along this same road, passing picturesque gardens and lemon groves brings you to the tiny 12th century Romanesque church of San Giacoma in Cali. Hidden down a side street and lying next to a small harbour, it has some impressive frescoes of the 4th Century Veronese and Trento schools.

Along the Gardesana is the 11th century neo-classical church of San Martino, which was built on the remains of a Roman building. The church was enlarged in 1837 based on designs by Rodolfo Vantini which added two majestic domes. It has five altars with paintings by Andrea Celesti, Andrea Bertanza and G. Bettino Cignaroli. Inside there is also a ‘Last Supper’ by the Veronese School as well as other works by the Lombard School which date back to the 11th Century.

700 meters above Gargnano is the hermitage of San Valentino. San Valentino can be reached from Sasso (a village above Gargano), or for the more intrepid, there is a steep trek up directly from Gargnano, which includes a section on a via ferrata.

A few kilometers from Gargano, on the hill overlooking it, is the village of Navazzo, where the church has paintings by Bertanza and Muslone, fragments of frescoes dating back to the 4th century and a wooden madonna by Bussolo dating back to 1521.

Religious architectures

The church of San Martino Vescovo
The church of San Martino Vescovo is the parish church of Gargnano in the province of Brescia. It dates back to the 18th century. The church has a neoclassical facade and a high bell tower overlooking Gargnano. The interior has a single nave and preserves the Death of Sant’Alberto by Andrea Celesti, the Baptism of Giovanni Andrea Bertanza and the Death of Sant’Andrea by Giambettino Cignaroli.

The Church of San Francesco in Gargnano
Gargnano (BS) Cloister of San FrancescoBuilt in 1289 the Church of San Francesco in Gargnano presents in the façade a statue of St. Anthony of the friar Antonio Delay dated 1301. In the chapel on the right there are the remains of paintings dating back probably to the end of 1200. There are Martyrdom of Santo Stefano by Bertanza and three large canvases of the 16th century. The fourteenth-century cloister is characterized by elegant Venetian-style arches, supported by capitals sculpted with the heads of friars, lions, fish, as well as cedars and lemons. The citrus fruits carved into the capitals testify to the tradition according to which it was the Franciscan friars who brought citrus cultivation to Lake Garda. At the entrance is the sarcophagus of Argilo di Gargnano, episodes from the life of Jesus are sculpted.

Hermitage of San Valentino
The hermitage of San Valentino is a hermitage located in Gargnano, in the hamlet of Sasso. The hermitage of San Valentino is located at a height of 772 meters: the entrance is through a wooden door, hidden in the vegetation, operated by a stone tied to a rope that runs on a pulley; after a short drive you will come to a terrace surrounded by cypresses where, leaning against the mountain and overlooking Lake Garda, is the hermitage. This consists of a chapel, a sacristy, two rooms and a deposit, as well as a natural cistern, once fed by a spring, closed by a wooden door.

The chapel has a masonry facade, with a portal surmounted by a circular window; the interior is of modest size, with a single nave, with a high altar in masonry of simple workmanship on which there is a painting of the Madonna and Child, made by the hermit Geremia Paladini in 1859, who portrays himself in the work, dressed in a tunic and stick while doing this, at the feet of the Madonna together with St. Valentine. Before the restoration, the main altar was made of carved wood, with candelabra made of the same material and ex-voto pictures were attached to the walls. Along the façade, between the entrance to the chapel and the rest of the hermitage, a bell gable rises.

Historical architectures

Feltrinelli Palace
Palazzo Feltrinelli is a building located in Castello street in Gargnano, built in the years 1898-1899 and belonging to the Feltrinelli family, who then donated it to the University of Milan. It is currently the seat of the international courses of Italian Language and Culture ‘Chiara and Giuseppe Feltrinelli’ (July and first half of August) and of congress activities of the University of Milan (from March to November). It was the seat of the government of the Italian Social Republic from 27 October 1943 to 18 April 1945, shortly before the fall of the Italian Social Republic.

Villa Bettoni
Villa Bettoni is a large lake-side Neoclassical-style rural palace located in the frazione of Bogliaco, on the shores of Lake Garda, within the town limits of Gargnano, Province of Brescia, region of Lombardy, Italy. The massive villa and manicured gardens are a scenographic landmark on the Lake. By 1752, due to their services to the Holy Roman Emperors, the Bettoni family had been granted the title as Counts. The extended family decided to build a villa matching their wealth at this site, which they had owned since the 15th century.

Initially they briefly employed Adriano Cristofali, but he was dismissed in 1753. Work was restarted by Count Carlo Bettoni in 1756 with a design commissioned from Antonio Marchetti. Carlo’s brother, Count Giovanni Maria, commissioned the rational garden layout (1764-1768) from Amerigo Vincenzo Pierallini, which includes a Nymphaeum-like exedra structure dedicated to the theme of Apollo.

In niches of this hill-side villa are allegorical sculptures of virtues including charity, glory, power, honor, faith, hunting prowess, and prudence. The multistory villa block presents imposing facades on both the garden and lake-sides. The lake-side central block has colossal order pilasters atop a rusticate stone base. The lakeside roof-top balustrade has a marble pantheon of the pagan gods including Bacchus, Ceres, Jove, Venus, Pluto, Tethys, Juno, and mercury sculpted by Giovanni Battista Locatelli.

The inside has frescoes by Bernardino and Fabrizio Galliari depicting in allegory the marriage of service and wisdom (Mercury and Minerva); and power and beauty (Hercules and Omphale). The main dining room has a cycle of paintings by Alessandro Campo, a member of the studio of Andrea Celesti. One of the rooms has a large equestrian portrait of Field-marshal Bettoni.

The local dishes of Gargnano based on lake fish caught every night by the Dominici family, (called Frans) and sold the following morning in the Piazza. There is also no shortage of renowned cheeses, such as those from Costa and Briano and the precious extra virgin olive oil, produced from the Casaliva and Leccino varieties and from the rare Gargnà variety. Also important is the production of capers, which here spontaneously rise from the stone walls, enriching the landscape with their flowers.

There are many places of interest to see in the surroundings of Gargano. In Bogliaco, in the hills, you can see the Parish of San Pier d’Agrino with the fifteenth-century wooden statue of San Pietro and the paintings by Pilotti, Brusasorci, Celesti, Ricchi. In the nearby sanctuary you can admire a Gothic wooden crucifix of the German school, while in the hinterland the churches of Roina and Supina are worth a visit. On the lake you can see the magnificent eighteenth-century Villa Bettoni with its splendid gardens. In the hills you can visit the churches of Navazzo, with paintings by Bertanza, and of Muslone with fragments of frescoes from the end of the fourteenth century.

The Alto Garda Bresciano regional park
The Alto Garda Bresciano regional park is a protected natural area established in the Lombardy region by regional law in 1989. Its territory coincides with that of the Riviera dei Limoni Garda and extends from the shores of Lake Garda to the long mountainous ridge. In the main valley, the park welcomes Lake Valvestino, artificial reservoir of the sixties, home to sport fishing. The highest point of the park is Monte Caplone which reaches 1976 meters above sea level. The natural reserve of the former lake of Bondo is included in the park. Agricultural and livestock activities take place in the park, with the presence of a dairy. Characteristic are the barns of Cima Rest in the municipality of Magasa, with very pointed thatched roofs, and the military road dug along the border ridges during the first world war.