Desenzano del Garda is the largest town at the southwestern shore of Lake Garda. Already the Romans settled down in this region and in the first century, the area around the town became a popular vacation spot for the Veronese elite. With its train station, own exit from the A4 motorway (main road between Milan and Venice) and main port, Desenzano is beside Peschiera del Garda the ideal place to start your excursion around Lake Garda. Here are my top 5 favorite attractions for your weekend in Desenzano:
1. Piazza Malvezzi & the old port
The town’s heart is the picturesque Piazza Malvezzi. Just right beside this square, you will find the old port, where during the Republic of Venice the derricks landed to lighten the goods needed for the nearby market. Under the ancient arcades, you will find the tourist office. The old port with its ancient bridge is the most photographed monument in town and offers plenty of lovely restaurants, gelaterias and coffee bars with a great view of the port.
2. Best restaurants, bars and gelaterias
My personal highlights are:
- Ristorante Colomba. When sitting on the terrace you will have a great view of the old port and the ancient bridge. The offer delicious food also with fish food from the lake. From September 12 to “Spring”, Monday to Friday also a lunch menu with two courses (per course you can choose between around 7 different plates) is offered for € 16.50 (drinks excluded, cover included) which is a good value for the Lake Garda.
- The Gelateria “Chocolat” has a wide offer of various ice cream flavors. You even get Sicilian Cannoli or German Spaghetti-ice. But the best are the porch swings on the outside you can sit and watch the hustle and bustle around.
- The molin22 is a fancy bar and restaurant located in the eastern part of the city center. It has a wonderful terrace with a great view over the lake.
- If you like to have a view to the Piazza Malvezzi while enjoying an Aperol Spritz together with some finger food you may like the Agora Bar.
- The Fiddler of Dooney, if you’re into an Irish Pub then this is your place.
3. Rent a boat (without driving license)
Yes you have read correctly, the law allows you to rent boats for the Lake Garda when min. 16 years old and with max. 40 horsepowers. I’ve rented one with 40 horsepowers and with space for up to 6 people and it was so much fun! But don’t underestimate the power of 40 HP, if you push the control lever too hard or cut a corner too harsh, you almost fall off the boat. Furthermore pay attention to the big ferry boats, the fast speed boats and never drive too close to the coast – otherwise, you could damage the expensive ship propeller. There are two rental companies near to the city center:
- Dolphin boat (I was driving it): Located in the new port close to the old port you can spontaneously rent two different types of boats. One for 6 persons and one for 7 persons, both with 40 HP. The price list can be found on their website, it’s much cheaper to rent it in the morning before 1 PM. Petrol is already included in the rental price always ask for a discount (especially when you see that there are no other people who would like to rent a boat). You will receive a quick driving and security course of approx. 10 min before you can drive the boat by yourself out of the port. You also get a map of the Lake Garda with dangerous and forbidden zones to drive in.
- Garda boat rent: Located in front of the hotel Mayer and next to the Ferry station. Beside different types of boats without a license, you can also rent boats with the license. The price lists can be found on their homepage also here petrol is already included.
Important things to know
You need to bring your passport or identity card in order to rent a boat. You also have to sign a contract wherein you’re accepting their terms & conditions. I’ve read this contract for you and would like to highlight the most important clauses (for Dolphin boat rental only):
- You get a fully comprehensive insurance on any boat damages, not including the engine’s propeller worth € min. 300
- The hiring company guarantees, upon consignment a full tank of fuel and a full equipment according to law-like life jackets or relevant documents.
- The hiring company has to show you the propeller (and if present any damages), have a close look at it or even make a picture of it
- You are not allowed to carry more than the legally permitted number of passengers, you have to respect laws, regulations, and rules of the Maritime authority
- You have to remain within 3 miles off the coast
- The renter is liable for all civil and personal consequences and relieves the hiring company of all joint obligations
- In event of not returning the boat within the agreed time, you pay for every 30-minute delay a surcharge of 30
4. The Castle
When you are at the old port of Desenzano and have a look in the direction of the hill above the old city part, you will spot the tower of Desenzano´s castle. After a short walk upwards the beautiful allies you will reach the 11th-century castle. For 3 Euros (reduced 1 Euro) you can climb up the stairs to the top of the tower in which you will have a perfect 360-degree view over the town. Unfortunately, the entire tower platform is covered by glass windows and beside the great view, there are no ancient facilities to see. If you pay 2 Euros more you will receive a cumulative ticket for entering the archeological museum “museo civico archeologico Giovanni Rambotti” as well. The museum collects the pile-dwelling artifacts found within the Lake Garda region which date back to the Bronze age. Personally, I recommend you do not enter the castle´s tower. In front of the entrance, there´s a little path with a great view over the town and the lake.
5. Roman villa
At the edge of the old city center lie the remains of a more than 1000 square meters big Roman villa. The villa is considered to be one of the most important testimonies of large late-antique villas of northern Italy. A first construction phase is attributed to the 1st century AD, the completion is dated to the beginning of the 4th century.
Right after the ticket office, there´s a little museum with statues, household objects, out of this period.
On the outside, you can walk on wooden paths over some of the 240 square meters floor mosaic remains and discover the cavity heating systems, which are considered to be the early forerunners of today´s underfloor heating.
On every sight, there´s a panel with information written in English, German and Italian. Especially the beautiful floor mosaics are absolutely worth to see!
Relevant visitor information (status 16.08.2018):
Via Crocefisso 22
25015 Desenzano del Garda
Tel. +39 030 914 3547
From April 1 to September 30: every day from 8.30 to 19.00
From October 1 to March 31: Monday to Saturday from 8.30 to 17.00 (museum and illuminated sector A until 19.30)
Opened every first Sunday of the month from 8.30 to 19.30
On Sundays and on public holidays during weekdays: 8.30 to 14.00
Closed: All Mondays, 1 January, 1 May, 25 December
- Normal ticket: € 4,00
- Reduced ticket: € 2,00 (Citizens of the EU incl. Vatican city, Montecarlo, Switzerland, Luxemburg, Republic of San Marino and Lichtenstein aged 18-25 years, teachers of Italian state schools)
- Free of charge (Every first Sunday of the month, Children under the age of 18, Groups of EU students, EU citizens with disabilites, more see website)
How to buy tickets?
You can buy them easily on-site.
There’s no audioguide but the following services are available:
- Multimedia installation with videos and 3D reconstructions in Italian, English, German
- Information brochure in Italian, English, German, French and Spanish of the archaeological area
- Panels in Italian, English, German, and topographic plans
- Guide on the Roman Villa of Desenzano available to the public on request