A Rough Guide to Lake Garda: Things to Do in Peschiera del Garda
Peschiera del Garda is a picturesque town situated on the south end 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 family 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 from the Austrian occupiers by the Piedmontese.
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, Peschiera had its own Pentagon first.
Peschiera del Garda in Ancient Times
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 situated at the opening of the River Mincio into which the lake flows.
In 1974, the remains of a Roman settlement were found; these are on display in the town. Incidentally, someone told me that the name 'Peschiera' 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 Vecchio wrote that when the 'autumn' star shines (i.e. Venus rising) eels would come to the area by their thousands; today eel fishing still takes place in the Mincio.
Today, It Is a Thriving Tourist Destination
Nowadays the town is a very busy resort popular with tourists and locals alike, and the streets and lanes are often crammed at the weekends when many Italian day-trippers descend on the town. The roads are especially busy 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 driven by enthusiastic, sporty types cutting through the waves. In August, the town hosts the 'Palio delle Mura' where boats race in the moat alongside the old fort walls.
Top 8 Things to Do in Peschiera del Garda
- Enjoy wining and dining in the excellent restaurants, bars and cafes.
- Indulge in a little retail therapy at one of the high-end shops in town.
- Book a stay for fun and activity at the campsites in and around the town.
- Attend one of the town's many festivals and events.
- Have thrills and spills at Gardaland and the other theme parks nearby.
- View the historical town walls, the local museums and the churches.
- Come to town for the Mille Miglia rally.
- Go for a relaxing evening passeggiata on the shores of the lake.
1. Try One of the 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's expensive to drink there, but the locale is still hugely popular, especially at the weekend. Being situated 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 prices 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 seafood restaurant. It's a little on the expensive side, but the high quality of the service and the food make it worthwhile.
Nights in Peschiera Are Refreshingly Civilised
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 Peschiera 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 Spritzer, a mixture of Campari and white wine. They're not raucous or riotous in any way; 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. This just doesn't happen in this wonderfully civilised part of the world.
2. Partake in a Little Retail Therapy
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.
One exception is an alternative clothing shop called Kito'2 which sells dark, gothic fashions and heavy-rock clothes as well as various accessories and exotic novelties. Studded belts, skull badges and jewellery can be bought there, 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 to anyone interested in 'Lambretta' t-shirts, 'Pringle' pullovers or any clothing suitable for English football fans or indie music followers.
With the price of clothes in the shops in Peschiera, however, I think I'll make do with my shorts and t-shirt ensemble complete with burnt knees 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.
Another interesting little shop is an antiques store on via Roma with exquisite ornamental items, furniture and jewellery.
There is also a market every Monday in 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.
A Town of High-Class Fashionistas
It is quite a fashion-fest over on Lake Garda on most days, 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, 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 passeggiata 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.
3. Book a Stay at a Campsite
There are several campsites in and around Peschiera. There is the huge Bella Italia site about a mile from the town centre, the smaller, more family-oriented Camp Butterfly and Camping del Garda next door.
For campers on a budget, there are two low-cost supermarkets in Penny Market and the popular Lidl, but also SMA, Eurospar and Migros, 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 tastier 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.
4. Attend Festivals and Other Events
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 a couple of discotheques and nightclubs such as the popular late-night bar Cafe Momus, which is situated behind the Tourist Information Office. 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 at the courtyards of the local artillery regiment—a popular venue in town. One evening was a polka dance with a live band fronted by a pretty woman on the microphone who never actually sang a note. Instead, she just made pronouncements during and between songs encouraging the crowd of mainly middle-aged and elderly locals to get up and dance.
Another occasion was more up my street; 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.
5. Check Out the Theme Parks
It is also only a few kilometres from the main theme parks, 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 theme park 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 theme park with hi-tech attractions on the big blockbusters of Hollywood action movies.
Inland is the popular Parco Natura Safari Park, the Jungle Adventure park for the active. There is also the pleasant, though unremarkable Parco Giardinó Sigurta, which is ideal for strolling through to enjoy the flowerbeds and greenery in quiet surroundings.
6. Visit 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. 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.
7. Come to Town for the Mille Miglia Rally
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 Lancias, MGs, Bentleys and some Daimlers and Beetles passing by too.
In between the classics, there were also Ferraris roaring along the streets of Peschiera; 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.
That was an enjoyable evening watching the charming old automobiles pass by with drivers waving, people clapping and cheering and hooters blowing. Great fun.
8. Take Part in the Passeggiata
The tea-time passeggiata is an opportunity to get some exercise whilst enjoying the scenery, the weather and the course of nature. When I lived in Peschiera, it was an activity I enjoyed immensely. It was especially amusing watching 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 20 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 20 before it surfaced. Purely empirical.
But I really got into the little guy's 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.
Places to Stay in Peschiera del Garda
There are approximately 40 hotels in and around Peschiera, far too many for the purposes of this article. I recommend you look at website reviews for further information, but it's worth mentioning a few hotels.
The Bella Italia Hotel next to the campsite is a good option. Although there are no balconies with the apartments—which consist of fairly basic accommodation—it is a popular hotel for families and it has 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 a 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.
The town possesses a great advantage logistically and positionally, as it has a ferry port, a railway station and regular buses. 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.
Take a Cruise on a Ferry or Hydrofoil
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 its spectacular mountain scenery.
Explore via Train
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, not to mention the other historic towns of Vicenza and Padova along the Venice route.
Take the Bus
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.
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