A Rough Guide to Lake Garda in Italy : Things to Do in Bardolino
The Lakeside Town of Bardolino
The Italian town of Bardolino is on the eastern side of Lake Garda around 30 kilometres from Verona and is one of many pleasant towns that ring the lake.
However it gives the appearance of being a very chic area with a style and sophistication that perhaps marks it out from many others.
Certainly it has not succumbed to becoming too 'touristy' and therefore retains its distinctively Italian character.
It is thought that the name of the town actually derives from an ancient German princess 'Bardali', who was the daughter of King Argonauta Auleto and the name 'Bardolino' first appears as far back as 807 A.D in recorded documents.
It was actually an independent city-state until 1193 when it was bought by the rulers of Verona but it was later, under the Venetian Republic, that it began to thrive in agriculture and viticulture.
However it was reknowned for its wine even during the much earlier Roman period. Similar to other towns in northern Italy it was under Austrian rule for many years in the first half of the 19th century until joining the new Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
The Tourists Descend
It is a popular tourist location for foreign visitors as well as Italian holidaymakers and day-trippers. You'll find many things to do in Bardolino and lots to see as well.
Apparently it is favoured by British tourists but I found in high season that the tourist trade was very much dominated by Dutch and German people.
Walking around the streets and piazzas it was interesting to watch the tourists pass by and on market day observe them searching out the bargains and souvenirs.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN BARDOLINO
1. Take a tour around the famous vineyards in the hinterland
2. Taste the superb ice-cream at the 'gelaterie' at the lakeside
3. Go shopping for high-class quality and fashion in the main streets
4. Take part in the fun of the spring and autumn wine festivals.
5. Visit the historic churches and buildings of the town
One day I saw a couple walking along the promenade aided with what looked liked ski-poles. It was those walking poles that I've seen hill-walkers armed with in the Scottish Highlands. At least back home they were using them on the side of a steep mountain which makes practical sense to me.
But as for walking along flat ground I couldn't quite grasp the point. I find the leg department down below most efficient for that particular purpose.
Maybe they were Dutch and not accustomed to terrain that's not as flat as a billiard table and perhaps were suffering from vertigo mounting the kerb. I was tempted to follow those folk and see what happened when they came to a slope.
Would they pull out a grappling hook to climb gentle inclines or full-scale mountaineering ropes and cramp-ons to scale a small hill of a gradient less than 45 degrees, stopping off after 20 yards to grab some oxygen and a cappucino?
The Church of San Severo
I think I've taken that whimsical scenario as far as I can and besides, I don't suppose I know much about walking with poles.
Each to their own. So I'll move onto some historic buildings that can be found in Bardolino.
On my walk around the town I entered the small Church of San Severo which was very peaceful so I can understand why people feel solace inside them.
I'm not a church person myself but I do enjoy art and history so I usually take a little look inside such places. San Severo dates from the 9th century being first mentioned on record in 893 A.D, although it has undergone many renovations since.
Looking into the interior from outside it seemed very dark because of the bright sunshine but once inside my eyes quickly adjusted. It was very cool inside too and a welcome respite from the heat.
There were frescoes on the wall, most of them hard to see because of centuries of deterioration but I saw a painting with a decapitated head so I guess that was perhaps poor old John the Baptist. The frescoes date from the 12th century.
Lessons in the Park
On my walk around Bardolino in the hot afternoon I took refuge in the shade in a lakeside park to chill out and have some sandwiches.
It's situated on the lakefront towards the end of the town and is a relaxing, shaded area to enjoy a picnic or simply to take some respite from the sun.
In fact, it marks the end of the market trail so after a good morning haggling and grabbing a bargain it offers the chance to chill out for a while.
While I sat there I turned around and noticed traffic-lights in the park with little road signs and crash barriers.
A well organised little area I thought and I worried whether I may have taken an illegal left turn at a tree or jumped the red light at the shrubbery junction.
Certainly the large sign announcing all the activities that were banned in the park indicated a particularly insistent set of regulations. I feared the worst for I am a law-abiding park dweller.
Then some kids appeared on bicycles all in a line and taking instructions from a woman in uniform. She was a policewomen as the local force were conducting road safety training for the children.
She and another colleague were teaching them all about stopping at lights, giving way at junctions etc. Hopefully they can transfer their 'woodland sense' and 'bush-skills' onto the actual roads. At least they won't have to negotiate any protruding tree roots as the Italian roads are well maintained on the whole.
A Shopper's Paradise
In the centre of the town the Church of San Nicolo dominates the main shopping area of the Piazza Matteotti as it is situated at one end of the street and towers above the surrounding buildings.
Also, high above your head in the Piazza you will see a large engraved stone dedicated to Cesare Betteloni, a 19th century poet who lived in the building.
Tragically he committed suicide in 1858 but he is still celebrated for his love of Bardolino and the surrounding countryside. Another church, that of San Zeno is also a popular attraction.
Bardolino is a popular town with shoppers, especially at weekends, when mass retail therapy takes place as many Italians empty their wallets and purses on the Piazza Matteotti. There are lots of leather goods on sale especially handbags of all styles, shapes, sizes and colours as well as belts, buckles and footwear on the street and also nearby in the smaller Via Manzoni.
You'll never be stuck for a handbag in Bardolino as they are absolutely everywhere as far as the eye can see or the euro can stretch. But a curiosity to my eyes are the signs outside some establishments proclaiming 'entrata libera' informing potential customers that entry to the premises is free.
As if you are ever likely to pay simply to enter a shop. That mystifies me completely. Do such places actually exist? Do such customers actually exist?
A very busy day in the summer is Thursday because that is market day when almost the whole length of the town on the lakeside is packed with stalls. On the day that I was there it was thronged with tourists and the stalls stretched all along the promenade for about a kilometre I would guess.
I strolled through only half-interested as I don't bother much with markets and this one seemed purely aimed at tourists and quite similar to all the other lakeside markets.
There were lots of ceramics, clothes, trinkets and souvenirs including, of all things, a Mussolini cooking apron. That seems rather tasteless to me, pottering around your kitchen sporting a huge picture of 'Il Duce' as you prepare supper. Why would anyone wear a Mussolini cooking apron?
Does it inspire an authoritarian spaghetti bolognese or a totalitarian lasagne with psychotic-salad? Perhaps for short-order cooks who must be obeyed at all costs. It makes me wonder if there is such a thing as a Fascist cookbook anywhere over here?
Bars and Clubs in Bardolino
There are many pleasant bars in the town providing friendly service and a respite from the hot summer weather. Many have signed up to the 'Associazone De Gustibus' whose members strive to provide the best of hospitality to guests and visitors to the town.
One of my favourite bars is 'Lo Strambino' in Borgo Cavour where tasty pizzas are among the food that can be ordered with your beer. A cheerful place with music videos playing on the TV and lively when the channel is changed at the weekend as the locals gather to watch a big football match. I watched the Rome derby between Lazio and Roma which ended with the players fighting each other after the final whistle.
But basically it was the classic 'handbags at dawn', I told you they were everywhere, and the scrapping was over before it got started. It did strike me though how tough footballers can suddenly become after the final whistle when there is no chance of a cheeky penalty kick. Nobody clutching their face and falling dramatically to the floor, no rolling about the pitch in apparent agony.
Incidentally just across the road from 'Lo Strambino' is a Tobacconist with an internet service. The price is quite reasonable at around €4 per hour although don't forget that under Italian law you need to produce photographic I.D. in order to register for use.
Another bar where you will meet locals is the 'Asso Bar' which, if you are not careful you could seriously mispronounce. Every time I have been in the town the bar seems to be patronised by interesting characters engaged in lively conversations.
Then at the back of Bardolino on the main road is the popular 'Speck Stube' bar which as you will have gathered harks back to the Austrian past and indeed many bars serve Austrian and German beer.
Also 'La Rosticceria' has been highly recommended by visitors for its friendly hospitality and 'La Blanca' bar has a Brazilian theme even having a mini carnival in summer. For late nights you have the choice of 'L'Arancia', 'Primo' and 'Hollywood' for some night-clubbing and dancing. But be sure to wear your best clothes as there will be a dress code.
Places to eat in Bardolino
There are many fine restaurants too in Bardolino and most have very smart waiters bedecked in gleaming white shirts and smart ties with sometimes fresh aprons ready to serve their customers.
Thankfully none of the aprons had depictions of historic dictators, meglomaniacs or any other totalitarian despots.
No, they were a plain black colour contrasting nicely with their shirts and offering the simple style and utility of the traditional uniform.
Strangely there did not seem to be a lot of waitresses among the restaurant staff as I wandered along the streets.
Many of the restaurants are very attractive with excellent meals on offer and passing an open side-door I could smell the distinctive aroma of garlic mingling with the chatter and kitchen clatter of the chefs preparing some fresh dishes.
The restaurant 'Franciscus Osteria' has a very grand appearance being set in a courtyard behind a large wall and apparently a good tip is to ask the waiters for a recommendation on the best dishes of the day. The 'Locanda al Bersagliere' on via San Colombano is also popular especiallly for sea-food dishes.
Walking towards the lake down Via San Martino the restaurant and arts centre 'La Barchessa Rimbaldi' had a giant chair made out of grass, plants and straw opposite its front.
A very quirky and amusing piece of street art and over at the lakeside 'Cafe Italia' also offered up some traditional Italian music in the background which added to the atmosphere.
Nearby a delicious ice-cream could be bought at the 'Yacht Bar' which also offered an alternative to the haute cuisine as simple snacks such as burgers, hot dogs and chips could be ordered.
Along from there and still on the promenade the 'Gelatario Cristallo' is also rightly famous for its fantastic ice-cream.
But perhaps it would be unfair to highlight any particular restuarants for praise as you will probably find wonderful food and service in most establishments. This is Italy after all and you would be hard pushed to find a sub-standard meal.
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry
Of course Bardolino is most famous for its wine and holds two festivals in the summer months.
The largest is the end of season festival the 'Festa Dell'Uva' around the end of September or beginning of October and includes concerts as well as wine-tasting, food-stalls and fireworks.
I attended an earlier festival for rosé wine in late May, the 'Palio di Chiaretto' which was a thoroughly enjoyable experience. With some friends we strolled through the bustling centre of the town towards the shoreline. This was around 9pm at night and all the shops were open and brightly lit in the twilight gloom.
Lots of folk were carrying what looked like tiny canvas pouches slung over their necks and hanging at their stomachs. It was like a scene from World War 2 as they reminded me of the gas-mask containers that everyone carried around back then.
In actual fact they were used to carry the wine glass that you bought with your first drink at the stalls and which you could refill at your leisure for the satisfying price of only €1. Many people were casually strolling around the shops which made for a wonderfully surreal atmosphere at that time in the evening.
We met one of our friends who had enjoyed one such leisurely day after visiting every one of the 16 stalls on display. He staggered off to the nearest pizzeria to try to soak it all up. I never quite made it into double figures myself and was appointed as waiter for the evening it seemed.
I think we ended at stall No.9 before they all closed. Progressively the wine had been getting further away from our seats and my legs were getting further away from my brain.
My motor-neurons were barking orders from the bridge such as "Full Steam ahead" as my legs gradually wavered, and "Steady as she goes" as I inadvertently ventured over to the side of the pavement completely way off course.
My legs were screaming "Give us a couple of those poles!" but the Dutch had gone. But by then a couple of bottles had appeared out of nowhere and generous measures were handed out amongst us all.
And it was a glamourous scene at the lakeside as there were lights underneath the promenade which lit up the water near the shore and there was a video projection onto a building nearby which people watched from a little bridge that crossed over a small marina.
I looked around and saw that the fireworks had begun to mark the end of the festival. Possibly the best firework display I've ever seen, but then I haven't been around that much. They certainly knocked spots off the New Year celebrations in Glasgow and even Edinburgh back in Scotland.
They were launched from a floating platform about 100 yards out into the lake. It was a galaxy of noise, colour and sparkling lights and some of the starbursts were so huge you felt like they were going to engulf you. It was hypnotic to watch.
After one huge explosion of bright green there would be secondary blasts from the fragments with perhaps blue, red, yellow and purple colours shooting across the sky in a cascade of multi-colours. Some rockets would disperse sparkles of bright white light descending on little parachutes which would gently fall to the lake before extinguishing on the surface of the water.
That would draw your attention to the reflections of the fireworks on the waves below making a double visual effect. What a fantastic display and what a great night as the crowd marvelled at the pyrotechnics with loud exclamations and occasional ripples of applause during the excitement before a great ovation at the end.
The red wine of Bardolino has a distinctive flavour as it is made from a mixture of grapes. The corvina gives it body and colour, the rondinella provides flavour, the molinara provides fragrance.
However it is the negrara grape that provides the soft velvet taste that distinguishes it from the sharpness of many other red wines.
Throughout the summer you can take a trip through the vineyards of the hinterland exploring 'La Strada del Vino Bardolino' or 'Bardolino Wine Route' including the Zeni wine museum.
This was created in 1991 by Gaetano Zeni whose ancestors began producing wine in 1870 and among the exhibits are items dating from the 12th century. Of course, wine tasting is available and the museum also hosts theme nights.
The route was organised by the Bardolino Wine Consortium and covers nearby towns such as Cavaion, Bussolengo and Castelnouvo amongst others as well as the lakeside towns of Cisano and Lazise.
As well as admiring the many fields of vines and old farms you will also come across villas that have stood for centuries and also Romanesque churches and castles.
The Olive Riviera
The Bardolino area is also known as the 'Olive Riviera' or the 'Oliviera' for short, I suppose.
Just 2 kilometres outside the town itself is the Olive Oil Museum where you can view traditional exhibits used in making the famous olive oil.
This is situated on the main road on the lake, Via Peschiera. Entry is free on request at the adjacent shop where you can buy a variety of products. There is even an Ornithological Museum just a few minutes drive away in Cisano.
I once read a guide that said that there wasn't a lot to do in Bardolino. I hope you would agree with me after reading my meanderings that the town and surrounding area really has a lot to offer. There are many things to do in Bardolino and the surrounding area.
There is a rich mixture of history, culture, shopping, and at the end of the day, just fun. Any area reknowned for being a centre of excellence for wine production must offer lots of fun. And if you are there in the summer you can be guaranteed endless days of sunshine and pleasant times as well.
Questions & Answers
What is transportation like in the area of Bardolino How do you get around the Bardolino Wine route without a car?
Bus services are good but mainly along the coastal route. You can book tours of the wine areas but best by car for flexibility. Perhaps even by bicycle, if you're fit for it, as the countryside is amenable to cycling,Helpful 9
What is the weather like in Bardolino in September?
It can be more unpredictable. Be prepared for rain.Helpful 7
What is the weather in Bardolino like in May?
It should be sunny on the whole, and the lake is warm enough to swim.Helpful 4
Could your walkers with poles have been up in the mountains at Malcesine?
Quite possibly, the lake is a popular spot for hillwalking.Helpful 2
Are there any boat trips around the lake from Bardolino?
Yes, from springtime to autumn there are regular boat trips stopping at the main towns around the lake.Helpful 1