Travel Guide of San Felice del Benaco and Garda Island, Lombardy, Italy

San Felice del Benaco is a comune in the province of Brescia, in Lombardy. San Felice del Benaco is an ideal place for holidays and to spend relaxing moments. All the areas around San Felice are so beautiful that in the past this land had earned the name of Sinus Felix, which means “happy inlet”.

Lake Garda, with its microclimate that allows the Mediterranean culture of lemons and olive trees, makes summers less sultry and windy, while winters remain mild.

San Felice del Benaco is best known for the western shore of the Lake Garda, the Isola del Garda, the largest island in the lake. In the Middle Ages a Franciscan convent was built on the Garda Island, at the beginning of the 20th century the noble Genoese family De Ferrari built a sumptuous residence in the rich Venetian Gothic style surrounded by a splendid park.

The town of San Felice, preserves the remains of the ancient Castle in the historic center. the Palazzo Rotingo, built in the 17th century, the 18th century Palazzo Rotingo richly frescoed and with wooden coffered ceilings. Now the Palazzo is Town Hall.

The former Monte di Pietà di San Felice has numerous frescoes, an elegant Venetian-type construction, with a five-arched portico with square pillars of ashlar stones. The Baroque Parish Church, dedicated to the Martyrs St. Felice, Adauto and Flavia, is located right in the center of the village and contains valuable works of art including the altarpiece by Romanino.

Just outside the historic center of San Felice del Benaco stands the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmine, an ancient Romanesque church built in 1460 and run by the Carmelite Friars. Not to be missed in Portese, near San Felice, its Port and the adjacent beach.

Also worth seeing is the Castle built in the early Middle Ages to defend the raids of the barbarians of which only a stump of a circular tower remains. On the nearby promontory of San Fermo, in front of the Isola del Garda, there is the church from the 15th century which offers a very suggestive and panoramic image of Lake Garda from above.

During the summer season, which in some years even begins in May and extends throughout September, you can sunbathe as well as in the transparent and clean waters of the lake, boat trips, quiet rides on the green cycle paths, see the various markets, have fun at patronal feasts and events that are organized every year in honor of tourists, welcome and pampered guests.

Inhabited since prehistoric times, the area of San Felice del Benaco was conquered by the Romans whose presence is testified by various archaeological finds, including a plaque dedicated to Neptune, walled up on a wall of the parish church. According to tradition, San Francisco de Asís founded the first settlement of Roman friars. After the destruction of the old Scovolo castle, which occurred when the Brescians deprived the Veronese of Valtenesi, the population emigrated to Portese and San Felice, where they built the Castle of San Felice.

Used to called Scovolo, from the Latin scopulus (rock, cliff) around the 10th century, it was equipped with a castle-refuge to protect the population from the incursions of the barbarians. In 1279, when the Brescians conquered the Valtenesi, which was part of the Veronese dominion, both the Castle and the town were destroyed and the inhabitants moved to the nearby village, called San Felice, renaming it San Felice di Scovolo.

A new castle was built in San Felice di Scovolowhich was unable to avoid the fate of the surrounding territories, subjected to the Visconti until the first half of the 15th century. In 1509 the Castle of San Felice di Scovolo was destroyed by the French to be rebuilt a few years later under the dominion of the Serenissima.

The town was the center of numerous conflicts and invasions.In the 18th century, during the war of succession to the Spanish throne, it underwent the passage of armed troops to which it had to ensure supplies of timber, without being able to avoid episodes of violence.

In 1928 the name of San Felice di Scovolo was changed to today’s San Felice del Benaco.

Main Attractions
San Felice del Benaco is located on the west shore of Lake Garda, rich with culture and scenic beauties and is surrounded by a paradisiac panorama. The mild climate makes it an ideal holiday destination. The mild climate during the whole year is very comfortable. In the fantastic spring days you can assist to the triumphal flowering of nature, in summer the fresh breeze makes the temperatures milder, autumn offers enchanting sunny days and even in winter, the temperatures are pleasant.

The “Isola del Garda”, the largest island of the whole area of Lake Garda, belongs to the San Felice del Benaco district., The luxurious palace of the family Cavazza, surrounded by marvellous Italian gardens and a rich wood made of cypresses, thorn trees and pines is situated on the island. Between April and October guided visits are organised on this breath-taking island. Feel the paradisiac atmosphere of this little island.

The places of interest in San Felice are not missing: the baroque parish church of San Felice with its 18th century frescos, the ruins of the San Felice castle with the old graveyard and the tower, the 18th century sanctuary “Madonna del Carmine”, the 16th century building “Monte di Pietà”, the ruins of the medieval castle in Portese with the municipal library, “Palazzo Cominelli” in Cisano and other cultural goods.

The weekly market takes place in San Felice on Wednesday. During the year, many events are organised, as for example movies, concerts, theatres, expositions, festivals, sport events and a program rich with entertainment for children and adults.

During the summer months of July and August, you can discover the surrounding of San Felice del Benaco with a touristic train. For bike lovers an about 18 km long bike track goes through the villages of San Felice del Benaco, Portese and Cisano.

In San Felice
The town of San Felice, which is the ancient San Felice Scovolo, preserves the remains of the ancient Castle in the historic center, the Palazzo Rotingo, built in the seventeenth century, now the Town Hall. The walk through the center makes us discover the former Monte di Pietà di San Felice, an elegant Venetian-type construction, with a five-arched portico with square pillars of ashlar stones. Inside resided the Government of the Municipality, today that the activity of the town has turned decisively towards tourism, it is the seat of the Information Office and an Exhibition Hall which hosts numerous exhibitions of contemporary artists.

Parish church
Built between 1740 and 1781 by Antonio Corbellini, in Baroque style and dedicated to SS. Felice, Adauto and Flavia. Of particular importance is the 16th century Pala del Romanino, in the right aisle Martirio di S. Bartolomeo by Johann Carl Loth, the frescoes on the vault by Carlo Innocenzo Carloni and Giosuè Scotti from 1760 and the Nativity by Zeno Veronese in the sacristy.

Scaliger tower
The tower located west of the parish church serves as the church’s bell tower. It constitutes part of the complex of the ruins of the castle built by the Scaligeri in 1330 and now used as a cemetery.

Sanctuary of the Carmine
Church of the Carmine XV century, dedicated to the Madonna del Carmine. The imposing building is characteristic of the last stage of Lombard Gothic architecture in its simplest form: the “rustic” one, strongly linked to the Romanesque tradition. The main door has a pointed arch, with a central rose window and two lateral single-lancet windows. It was restored from 1954 to ’59 for the architectural part and from 1963 onwards for the pictorial one. Santa Maria del Carmine was begun in 1460 on the area of a small chapel with the support of Ludovico II Gonzaga and his son Cardinal Francesco. It was consecrated in 1482, although it was already functioning in 1452. Today it is the destination of numerous pilgrims from all over the world.

On the fourth weekend of July, the statue of the Madonna del Carmelo is carried, on Saturday, in a solemn procession from the Sanctuary of the Madonna del Carmine,to the Parish Church of San Felice del Benaco; the next day, Sunday, the procession resumes with the return of the Madonna to the Sanctuary, through the streets of the town decorated with flowers and festive garlands.

Rotingo Palace
Located on via XX Settembre, at number 11, it is now the seat of the town hall of San Felice del Benaco. It was built in the 17th century and has undergone several transformations over time. Birthplace of the sculptor Angelo Zanelli.

Ex Monte di Pietà, formerly the Town Hall of the 17th century
The Monte di Pietà was established in 1593 by Giacomo Pace, who arranged that all the poor, from any land, could draw on it as a subsidy, without paying interest on the loaned sum. The sacred mountain was known and appreciated by all the people of the Brescia Riviera, in 1705 it was barbarously sacked by the French. The building was completely renovated in the form in which it is presented between 1665 and 1670. The construction is defined as of the Venetian type. It is an elegant structure with a five-arched portico with square pillars of ashlar stones. Inside it resided the Government of the Municipality, today it is the seat of the information office and the exhibition hall which hosts numerous exhibitions of contemporary artists.

In Portese

Parish Church of Portese
The parish church of Portese is dedicated to the Nativity of St. John the Baptist. On the apse there is a beautiful canvas by Grazio Cossali depicting the birth of the saint. A good Annunciation is depicted in front of the apse, while in the vault David, the Good Sower, Jesus Christ and Moses are painted, by Cesare Bortolotti (1854-1932. Interesting are the wooden soase, the wooden statue “Madonna with Child Recently restored, the baptismal font and the canvas depicting “The Circumcision”.

Church of San Fermo
On the promontory in front of the Isola del Garda, in the place of the ancient castle in a very suggestive position, there is the small church of San Fermo. The church was built in the 15th century on the remains of a large Roman villa: the line is the simple one of the transition time between Romanesque-Gothic and Renaissance. The only remaining fresco is in the apse: it depicts San Fermo and is attributed to Giovanni da Ulma. The feast of the patron saint is celebrated on 9 August.

The castle was built in the early Middle Ages with the function of a receptacle to defend the raids of barbarians; of it now remains only a stub of a circular tower. To the left of the entrance there is the municipal library while to the right is the meeting center of the Alpine Group of Portese.

In Cisano
The small hamlet of Cisano is located on a hill from which you can admire the enchanting landscape of the Gulf of Salò. Walking through the streets of the historic center, recently renovated, you are immersed in a quiet atmosphere in which time seems to have stopped when the cows returned from the pasture and stopped at the fountain in the square to drink. The enchanting church of Cisano is worth a visit.

Church of San Giovanni
The church was built in the 15th century and is dedicated to San Giovanni Battista Decollato, whose feast occurs every five years with a procession through the streets of the town.

Cominelli Palace
Built towards the middle of the seventeenth century by the homonymous family of Salodian origin. It is currently the headquarters of the “Cominelli Foundation” formed by the will of the poet Raffaele Cominelli (1893 – 1981). It hosts exhibitions and cultural promotion activities.

The island of Garda
The island of Garda is the largest of the Benaco islands, located in front of the promontory of San Fermo. Isola del Garda is located just 600 meters from the shore, very green with a building that stands out against the blue of the sky. It is an island full of history, stories and legends that generally welcomes visitors from April to October, with private boat services and guided tours.

Today it owes its charm above all to the extraordinary Venetian neo-Gothic style villa, designed by the architect Luigi Rovelli in the early 1900s; an imposing harmonic construction, rich in surprising architectural details. The building project promoted by Roman prince Scipione Borghese, who had the grandiose Venetian-style palace built on designs by the architect Luigi Rovelli from 1894 to 1901. It boasts a beautiful 18th-century canvas by Carlo Carloni. At its foot terraces and Italian gardens slope down to the lake. All around the vegetation is luxuriant and intact, rich in local and exotic plants, rare essences and unique flowers.

The island has been inhabited since ancient times, as evidenced by the remains found by the illustrious geologist Stoppani in 1864. It is said that Dante Aligheri, visited the island and dedicated the famous lines of the Divine Comedy to it.

In 1221 it was donated by Frederick II of Germany to the nobleman Biemino of Manerba, who granted it to St. Francis of Assisi to make it one of the first hermitages of prayer in the Brescia area. In the 15th century the island had become a thriving Franciscan school whose director was Father Francesco Licheto, an erudite writer, philosopher and theologian. In about 1690, Cosimo Medici, prince of Tuscany, who later became Cosimo III stayed on the island.

In 1429 St. Bernardino of Siena arrived there, who as vicar general of the Franciscan order had the hermitage transformed into a real monastery, himself putting his hand to the project for the church, the cloister, the cells and the gardens.

The island became an important ecclesiastical center of meditation and hosted illustrious religious figures, including the vice-general of the Franciscan Order, Father Francesco Licheto, who from 1470 established a school of theology and philosophy. However, the death of Father Francesco marked the beginning of the decline of the religious community of the island. From 1685 to 1697 the convent housed only the novice friars in retreat and, in 1798, the now ancient monastery was definitively suppressed by Napoleon Bonaparte.

After passing to the state property, the property changed many owners in the following years, to arrive in 1817 in the hands of Count Luigi Lechi of Brescia, who had a residence built on the ruins of the monastery and carried out important restoration and construction works, including the marina, built in 1830 on a project by the architect Rodolfo Vantini. The opera singer Adelaide Malanotte, a lover of Lechi, a wonderful interpreter of Rossini’s operas, lived on the island for a long time. In 1837 the count ceded the island to his brother Teodoro, a former general of the Napoleonic army, who had the terraces on the front of the house added to the complex.

In 1860 the island was expropriated by the state to build a military fortress, but the project was later abandoned and in 1870 the island came into the hands of the Duke Gaetano de Ferrari of Genoa. With his wife, the Russian noblewoman Maria Sergeevna Annenkova, he dedicated himself to the design and construction of the park, with the construction of retaining walls towards the lake and the transport of fertile land in which native essences were planted. Before the Duke’s death in 1893, they conceived together the project of a luxurious palace to be built in place of the old Lechi house. The villa, in neo – Gothic- Venetian style reminiscent of the Doge’s Palace in Venice, was built between 1894and 1901 on a project by the Genoese architect Luigi Rovelli. The palace was enriched by terraces arranged as an Italian garden, with elaborate designs of hedges and flowering shrubs.

On the death of the duchess, the property passed to her daughter Anna Maria – later the wife of the Roman prince Scipione Borghese – who made it her residence and enriched the park with exotic essences. In 1927, upon the death of the prince, the island was inherited by his daughter Livia, wife of the Bolognese count Alessandro Cavazza. His great-grandchildren, who still live there today, continuing to take care of the park and the preservation of the building, have opened the island to tourist visits since 2002.