A Rough Guide to Lake Garda in Italy : Things to Do in Peschiera del Garda
A Rough Guide to Lake Garda : Things to do in Peschiera
Pescheira del Garda is a picturesque town situated on the South of Lake Garda at the mouth of the River Mincio.
It is very small and surrounded by enormous fortress walls dating from the 16th century.
They were built by The Scalgieri's of Verona with additional structures added by Venetians, Austrians and Italians over many years, including the architect Sanmicheli.
The fortress at Peschiera played a prominent part in most of the military campaigns conducted in northern Italy, especially in the Napoleonic wars.
During the First Italian War of Independence in the 1840s it was finally taken by the Piedmontese from the Austrian occupiers.
The town actually dates from around 1400-1200 B.C. but contained a flourishing Bronze Age community long before then.
It became an important trading town as it had the geographical advantage of being sited at the opening of the River Mincio into which the lake flows.
In 1974 the remains of a Roman settlement were found and these are on display in the town.
TOP 5 THINGS TO DO IN PESCHIERA DEL GARDA
1. Enjoy wining and dining in the excellent restaurants, bars and cafes.
2. Have thrills and spills at Gardaland and the other theme parks.
3. Book a stay for fun & activity at the campsites in and around the town.
4. Go for a relaxing evening 'passeggiata' on the shores of the lake.
5. View the historical town walls, the local museums and churches.
Incidentally, someone told me that the name of Pescheira actually means 'Fish Factory' so bang goes some of the historical eloquence there.
The coat of arms of the town contains two eels and a star because the Latin writer Plinio il Vechio wrote that when the 'autumn' star shines (i.e. Venus rising) eels would come to the area by their thousands and today eel fishing still takes place in the Mincio.
Roman remains on display
Although the town clock is chimed by two eagles striking it with their beaks which might keep the eels away.
The old military fortifications surround the town in the shape of a five-pointed star, like a particular geometric shape.
Yes! there you go my friends, Pescheira had it's own Pentagon first.
Nowadays the town is a very busy resort popular with tourists and locals alike and the streets and lanes can be crammed at the weekends when many Italian daytrippers descend on the town.
The roads are busy too in summer with cars and hundreds of bikers who gather in the town or pass through on their way around the lake.
The lake itself is lively at weekends with yachts and speedboats cutting through the waves by enthusiastic sporty types. Also in August the town hosts the 'Palio delle Mura' where boats race in the moat alongside the old fort walls.
The old fortifications and the moat
It is quite a fashion-fest over on Lake Garda on most days and especially at weekends as the Italians like to dress up smart when they're out and about.
And everyone loves to wear those huge sunglasses that cover up half your face, even when the weather is overcast.
I thought that it was for the fullest protection from the ultra-violet but when it's cloudy all over I can only imagine it's for the sultry veneer and that air of mystery.
The girls in particularly are always wonderfully turned out looking very cool and chic.
Mixtures of sassy and sexy or elegant and tasteful with bright colours and pretty designs. Many wear pretty summer dresses decorated with bright floral patterns and with frills around the hem which is very fetching.
In the evenings you may espy a long slinky dress in the shape of an up-market fashionista as she strolls to the restaurant and swivels onto her seat ready for an expensive meal.
It's quite a fashion parade at the traditional tea-time 'passegiatta' when many Italians come out for a walk along the lakeside. Young couples hand-in-hand, old couples stick-by-stick and families with young children.
Even the male and female figures portrayed on the toilet doors are endowed with exquisite fashion sense. So I can't even go to the 'gentleman's library' without being reminded that I'm sartorially challenged.
Market day in Peschiera
There are many small shops offering fashionable clothing for the trendsetters and followers of the current mode.
From cool t-shirts and colourful sports shoes to elegant dresses and expensive suits.
However one exception is an alternative clothing shop called Kito'2 which sells dark gothic fashions and heavy rock clothes as well various accessories and exotic novelties.
Studded belts, skull badges and jewellery can be bought and I even saw a bust of Mussolini sitting on the cash counter.
Around the back of the town centre is a British Clothes Shop catering for anyone interested in 'Lambretta' t-shirts, 'Pringle' pullovers or any clothing suitable for English football fans or Indie music followers.
Another interesting little shop is an antiques store on via Roma with exquisite ornamental items, furniture and jewellery
With the price of clothes in the shops in Pescheira I think I'll make do with my shorts and t-shirt ensemble complete with burnt kness and mosquito bites.
I wouldn't pay €300 or €400 for a trendy jacket or €150 for a pair of denims. But they do cut a fine figure in passers-by I must say.
There is also a market every Monday at the car park behind the tourist office. It's aimed at the tourist market and for the best deals it's advisable to get up early.
However you will find the most interesting markets inland in places like Bussolengo and Valeggio. These are more designed for local tastes and prices and much more worth a visit.
Bar Carducci on the main road
Bars, cafés and restaurants in Peschiera del Garda
There are several popular bars around the town including 'Bar Carducci' which offers reasonably priced drinks and meals as well as live music most weekends.
Along Via Dante from there is the Caffé Centrale, a splendid restaurant right in the heart of this small town. Pleasant to sit outside during a sunny day and lively at night beside the waters of the moat. It also has an internet point and wi-fi available.
A really trendy place on via Roma is the strangely named 'Napule E' lounge and wine bar where many young sophisticates will gather.
Just on the fringes over on the west side of the town on the main road is the 'Due Route' bar frequented by scores of bikers at the weekend. A Mexican bar and restaurant it offers spicy meals as well as Salsa dancing every Saturday night.
It is an expensive drink in there but hugely popular at the weekend and being sited directly opposite the huge Bella Italia campsite it hosts people from all over Europe during the summer months.
On the other side of the town on Lungolago Garibaldi on the banks of the River Mincio is my personal favourite, 'Bar Jolly', a friendly pub with good prices and regular local clientele as well as tourists from the nearby Camping Butterfly.
As for restaurants 'Il Cantinone' is recommended for its excellent food and service. However, the price can be high, especially if you buy many drinks with your meal.
At first glance 'la Barcaccia' is not an attractive proposition resembling a blue-coloured converted ferry-boat sitting on the River Mincio around 10 minutes walk from the centre of town.
Nevertheless don't be put off as it is an excellent restaurant inside with delicious steak meals and fish menus. Ristorante 'Piccolo Mondo' is a very good sea-food restaurant, albeit a little on the expensive side but the high quality of the service and the food make it worthwhile.
Saturday night's all right for........
I've noticed that there is never late-night trouble in Peschiera as people don't get roaring drunk and become loud and obnoxious as they do back in Britain.
There is no binge culture and you never see people falling about completely blotto, urinating in shop doorways, smashing beer bottles sneaked out of bars and tipping over half-full pizza boxes in the taxi queue.
No, the locals around here in Pescheira seem to enjoy themselves on a Saturday night by relaxing and going out with friends for a nice meal and a moderate drink.
A light beer or a glass of the ubiquitous orange colour of Spritzer, a mixture of campari and white wine. They're not raucous or riotous in any way and in fact sometimes Saturday nights are quite quiet.
A bit of a culture shock. I don't imagine the streets of a typical town on Lake Garda on a Sunday morning are littered with empty pizza boxes blowing in the wind and cold spaghetti hanging from the lamposts.
Meanwhile pious churchgoers crunch shattered bottles of Valpolicella underfoot on their way to worship. But this just doesn't happen in this wonderfully civilised part of the world.
Diners at the Caffé Centrale
Places to stay in Peschiera del Garda
There are approximately 40 hotels in and around Peschiera and many fine restaurants.
Much too many for the purposes of this article.
Therefore a look at website reviews is recommended for further information.
But it's worth mentioning a couple such as the 'Bella Italia Hotel' next to the campsite. Although there are no balconies with the apartments which themselves consist of basic accommodation it is a popular hotel for families with a fine swimming pool.
In the centre of town the 'Hotel Bell'Arrivo' might not include breakfast but there are plenty of alternatives surrounding the hotel. It is right on the lakeside and though it doesn't have parking the staff will know of free parking nearby.
The 'Hotel Nuova Barcaccia' is on the outskirts of town which makes it handy for the autostrada. Next door to the hotel is an excellent pizzeria with terrace and bar used by all the locals. There is plenty of parking available front and back so it is ideal for car drivers wishing to tour the region.
Poolside at Camping Butterfly
As mentioned previously there are campsites in and around Peschiera.
There is the huge Bella Italia site about a mile from the town centre, the smaller and more family-oriented Camp Butterfly and next door to that is Camping del Garda.
For campers on a budget there are two low-cost supermarkets in 'Penny Market' and the popular 'Lidl' but also 'SMA', 'Eurospar' and 'Migross' which although more expensive do offer far more choice, quality and availability of produce.
There is even a McDonalds cafe just outside the town although there is a tasty fast-food outlet opposite the town hall in the centre with delicious roast chicken and burgers.
In the event of medical problems Peschiera also has the advantage and reassurance of a hospital with English-speaking tourist doctors in its Emergency Department.
A view over the moat towards the main bridge
Festivals and fun
In the summer you will find regular festivals and entertainment taking place in Peschiera.
Various concerts and theatrical performances often take place inside its ancient bastions.
There are also couple of discotheques and nightclubs such as the popular late-night bar 'Cafe Momus' which is situated behind the Tourist Information Office.
However an ideal time to visit is in the late evening as the bar is raised above street level and open at the front. Therefore you can marvel at the sunset as you enjoy a refreshing drink or two.
I attended a couple of concerts around at a popular venue which was the courtyards of the local artillery regiment. One evening was a polka dance with a live band fronted by a pretty woman on microphone who actually never sang a note.
Instead she just made pronouncements during and between songs encouraging the crowd of mainly middle-age and elderly locals to get up and dance.
Another occasion was more up my street as a Rock night was organised consisting of tribute bands playing songs by the likes of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Motley Crue, ACDC and Gun's n' Roses.
In the high season of summer you will also hear the sound of the cabaret from the 'Poppi Restaurant' behind Camp Butterfly booming across the town and the waters of the lake. The Italians love their music and dance.
But I must say I did enjoy the touring Danish brass band who performed an impromptu gig in the square in front of the town hall. They played a mixture of big band, classical and pop music with some musicians jumping on top of the bollards that lined the square.
Nearby was a fairground ride which proved irresistible to a clarinetist who played a tune whilst spinning around with the horses. Depending on when you visit you may discover travelling bands and orchestras passing through Peschiera.
The ferry and boat terminal in the harbour
The town possesses a great advantage logistically and positionally as it has a ferry port, a railway station, regular buses and for drivers it is adjacent to the A4 Milan-Venice autostrada. Therefore it serves as a convenient hub for visits around the lake and further afield.
You can take a cruise on a ferry or the hydrofoil to lakeside towns such as Sirmione, Saló, Lazise and Bardolino in a short space of time. For a longer journey the north end of the lake all the way up to Riva del Garda is highly recommended for it's spectacular mountain scenery.
The local train station has an excellent and wide-ranging service. On the western line you can catch an express to Milan and be there within fifty-five minutes.
However if you are in no hurry you can pay half the price for the regional train and still be there in around an hour and a half. In between you would be in Desenzano by the lake in less than 10 minutes or Brescia not long after.
A longer journey of around two hours or more with a change of trains at Brescia would find you in Bergamo. If you're up early and don't mind the travelling time it's worth a day-trip to visit the wonderful medieval streets of 'La Cittá Alta', in other words the old city of Bergamo high up on the hill.
In the eastern direction the express will take you to Venice in around an hour and a half. But again for half the price the regional train will get you there in around two and a half hours. It stops off at Verona only 20 minutes down the same line plus not to forget the other historic towns of Vicenza and Padova along the Venice route.
Furthermore a bus ride of only an hour inland will find you in the charming city of Mantova in the Lombardy region. You will find that no other town around the lake is as well served by communications as Peschiera.
The Blue Tornado at Gardaland
It is also only a few kilometres from the main themeparks which are grouped together stretching along the main road only 3-5 kilometres from Peschiera.
The most famous is 'Gardaland' which apparently is the third best themepark in Europe and the finest in Italy.
There are several rollercoaster rides of varying speed and excitement culminating in the fabulous 'Blue Tornado' an extremely fast ride that roars around a mangled course with corkscrew twists at high speed with concerted screeching and flailing legs.
Nearby is 'Aqua-Paradise' the most popular water park in the area with a tropical island, erupting volcano, a galleon and water galore. There is also the 'Movieland' themepark with hi-tec attractions on the big blockbusters of Hollywood action movies.
Inland is the popular 'Parco Natura' Safari Park, the 'Jungle Adventure' park for the active and the pleasant, though unremarkable 'Parco Giardinó Sigurta' ideal for strolling through to enjoy the flowerbeds and greenery in quiet surroundings.
The Church of San Martino
Museums and places of interest
The City Museum is located in Catullo Park and is one of the most important buildings in the town.
In 1917, after the defeat of Caporetto, King Vittorio Emanuele III summoned the major political and military authorities.
They were to conduct a resistance on the Piave River.
The building also houses a collection of exhibits of the 'Risorgimento', the 19th century campaign for Italian independence and also from the First World War I.
You will find military equipment, weapons and photographs as well as bound volumes containing the names of soldiers who received medals of valour.
Opposite to the museum is the old military barracks of the period of Austrian rule which has a small maritime museum at the end. This is free and contains exhibits and the history of fishing and sailing on the lake.
The church of San Martino at the immediate eastern side of the town centre is one of the oldest churches in the region and was first mentioned in the 11th century. It underwent renovations in the 15th century but then was actually completely demolished in 1822 and rebuilt from scratch.
In 1937 the interior was decorated by Pino Saoncella and inside you will find the high altar and four others dedicated to the Madonna, the Sacred Heart, the Blessed Andrea and Saint Anthony of Padova.
Just outside the town on the south side is the Madonna del Frassino Sanctuary dating from the beginning of the 16th century and renovated at the turn of the 20th century. The sanctuary houses a statue of the Madonna and also works by Paolo Farinati and Andrea Bertanza. The impressive 17th century frescoes of the facade are by Bernardone Muttone il Giovane.
It is a place of pilgrimage and devotion but unfortunately the autostrada has since been built adjacent and it has therefore lost the peaceful silence it must once have offered.
The Mille Miglia
Over in the city of Brescia there is the 'Mille Miglia' Museum of vintage automobiles.
Peschiera is also on the route of the associated 'Mille Miglia' car rally every May.
Although it's a run for old classic models it also includes more modern types that have some character or panache about them.
But most will be old sports cars with lots of Lancia's, MG's, Bentley's and some Daimlers and Beetles passing by too.
In between the classics there were also Ferrari's roaring along the streets of Pescheira and they were actually louder than the old cars which surprised me. Also they were so low to the ground you could near enough trip over them.
I'm sure the girls were tripping over themselves in their high-heels trying to catch a man with a healthy wallet. But that was an enjoyable evening watching the charming old automobiles pass by with drivers waving, people clapping and cheering and hooters blowing. Great fun.
A boat leaves Peschiera to travel the lake
My little passegiatta
The tea-time 'passegiatta' is an opportunity to get some exercise whilst enjoying the scenery, the weather and the course of nature.
It was an activity I enjoyed too especially watching with amusement the activities of the wildlife on the lake. Take for example the bird that I started watching one day in fascination as it went about its business.
It was a grebe with its distinctive plumage of orange coloured dashes on feathers that pointed out backwards on the side of its head. It was amazing to watch as it was so expert at swimming in an aquadynamic search and glide through the water that it seemed almost like a fish.
I knew it was under for around twenty seconds as I started timing it out of scientific interest. Not that my experimental techniques were anything systematic as my recording measures amounted to a quiet heuristic chanting of "One-Mississippi, Two-Mississippi, Three-Mississippi, Four-Mississippi......" all the way up to twenty before it surfaced. Purely empirical.
But I really got into the little guys efforts, so much so that I pulled out my mobile phone and started timing him with the stop-watch facility.
I almost felt like his personal trainer mentally encouraging and cajoling him into pushing the limits, stretching the boundaries and staying on course on the road of the relentless pursuit of excellence.
I admit that I really had nothing much else to do with my time that day.