The Villas of Garda Lake: a unique heritage in the world

Villa Bettoni
Villa Bettoni
Thanks to the mild temperatures and breathtaking scenery, over the centuries a series of incredible historic houses have sprung up along the shores of Garda Lake, in some cases still inhabited, in others transformed into museums or luxury hotels. Visiting one of them or, why not, staying there for a night, is a real dive into history.

Fascinating and mysterious, often overlooking the lake and surrounded by beautiful gardens, the villas of Garda Lake amaze visitors with their beauty and grandeur. They are structures of great historical, architectural and cultural interest, and visiting them is like diving into the past and the history of the area and the families who lived there. Not for nothing, today some of them are used as exhibition space: it is the case, for example, of the monumental Villa Cargnacco, in Gardone Riviera, better known as Il Vittoriale, which was the home of the poet Gabriele D’Annunzio and today one of the most visited museums in Italy. Another splendid residence, which can be visited by appointment, is Villa Scipione Borghese, also known as Villa Cavazza or Villa De Ferrari. It is located on Isola del Garda, a place that in itself deserves a small excursus. It is the largest of the Garda islands and is located about 200 meters from the coast, in the territory of San Felice del Benaco. Already inhabited in Roman times, this lush island was then a refuge for pirates, before becoming an ecclesiastical center thanks to St. Francis of Assisi, who had a small hermitage built there. Over the centuries, artists and illustrious figures have stayed on the island, such as Dante Alighieri (who would have even mentioned it in his Divine Comedy), St. Anthony of Padua and the opera singer Adelaide Malanotte, unforgettable interpreter of Rossini’s works. Villa Scipione Borghese, was built between 1894 and 1901 in neo-Gothic-Venetian style, and was soon enriched by an Italian garden arranged on terraces, with elaborate designs of hedges and flowering bushes. It can be reached only by boat, with a very short trip, and today it is owned by the Cavazza family, which since 2002 organizes guided tours of both the park and the interiors.

Also not to be missed is Villa Bettoni, an admirable example of 18th-century architecture, which is not called “the little Versailles” for nothing. It stands in Bogliaco di Gargnano, on the Lombard shore of the lake, and is surrounded by Italian gardens, with citrus and olive groves. It houses a Baroque art gallery, a large library, stucco work, period furniture, sculptures and original frescoes. But what literally leaves you speechless is the grand staircase: adorned with sculptures on a mythological theme, it leads to the magnificent frescoed hall that occupies three entire floors of the building. This residence has also hosted famous people such as Napoleon, Giacomo Puccini, Victor Hugo and Giuseppe Garibaldi. Still inhabited by the Bettoni family, can be visited by appointment both internally and externally, as well as being available as a location for events and weddings. Also in Gargnano, there are two villas owned by the Feltrinelli family, one of the main exponents of Italian capitalism. The first is now one of the headquarters of the University of Milan, while the second, which was the home and headquarters of Benito Mussolini during World War II, houses a prestigious hotel. Immersed in an atmosphere of yesteryear, in addition to luxurious period furnishings and a spectacular park, the hotel also has a Michelin-starred restaurant.

Another priceless architectural jewel of Lake Garda is Villa Guarienti, a 16th-century building located in Punta S. Virgilio, one of the most picturesque sites on the Veronese coast, overlooking a romantic beach called “of the sirens”. Surrounded by a late Renaissance Italian garden of 1700 in which cypresses, olive trees, palms and lemon trees grow, the villa also includes a small church of more ancient origins than the central body and a small harbor still in operation, which allows access from the water. It is still owned by the Counts Guarienti di Brenzone, descendants of the Savoia family, but it is no longer inhabited and today it can be visited as it houses an accommodation facility, a space for events and a restaurant. Villa Albertini, located a few steps from the town of Garda, is another beautiful mansion that overlooks the Gardesana, the road that runs along the eastern shore of the lake. Built between 1500 and 1600, it is characterized by five unmistakable red towers and surrounded by a green park of six hectares that climbs along the hill, where many species of trees such as magnolias, cypresses and palms grow. This immense and scenic green lung is fortunately open to the public: visitors here can get lost among paths, fountains and caves, up to the panoramic point where the main tower is located, overlooking a small lake. Another well-kept park, which will not disappoint nature lovers, is the park of Villa Boghi in Limone sul Garda. The villa now houses the town’s Town Hall, and is therefore not accessible, while the garden is open to the public: dotted with exotic plants, citrus and olive trees, it is especially famous for its charming lemon house, one of the oldest in the area.
If you have little time available, you can opt for one of the many boat tours that will allow you to admire a good number of them from the outside, even the private ones, from an unusual and undoubtedly evocative perspective.