Lake Garda, or Lago di Garda as it’s known in Italian, is one of Italy’s best-kept secrets. Less touristy than nearby Lake Como, Lake Garda is equally as beautiful and well worth a visit. If you have only 1 day in Lake Garda, make sure to enjoy this beautiful lake in style.
This 1 day Lake Garda itinerary is perfect for luxury travelers looking to make the most out of their stay in Northern Italy. While many posts will point you to more trafficked towns like Sirmione and Malcesine, we aim to peel back the layers a bit and take you where most travelers don’t go. Sirmione and Malcesine are stunning in their own rights, and are well worth a visit.
With just 1 day to explore Lake Garda, though, we want to pull out all the stops. Here’s how to spend one day at Lake Garda:
Wake up in Style
Spend the night at one of Italy’s most exclusive addresses, Grand Hotel a Villa Feltrinelli. This former home to one of Italy’s lumber magnates and location of Mussolini’s house arrest is now a luxury hotel with rooms and suites peppered across the stunning lakefront.
You could easily spend days without leaving the property – I’ve done it! – just enjoying the scenery, the pool, lemon grove, greenhouse, manicured gardens, and of course, sitting lakeside with a good book. However, you’ve got too much planned on your one day in Lake Garda. Let’s get going.
Stroll through Gargnano
After breakfast with a view, take a walk through nearby Gargnano town, complete with cobblestones, a marina, and all the storefronts you could want. The cotton candy colored stucco buildings house clothing and home goods stores, Michelin-starred restaurants, and a church. It is small but perfect for a morning through an off-the-beaten-path Italian village.
You can drive around Lake Garda, but there is so much traffic and the roads are so narrow that I found it too stressful to enjoy. The roads also don’t always have a good view of the water because as you get into a town, the waterfront buildings block your ability to see the water. I highly suggest parking the car and exploring Gargnano (or any town) on foot.
After a stroll through the streets of Gargnano and a fortifying gelato, head back to Villa Feltrinelli and climb aboard their luxury speedboat for a day on the water.
Luxury Boat Tour of Lake Garda
There is no better way to see Lake Garda than on the water, and taking a boat tour of Lake Garda lets you see lots of adorable towns in just one day. Have Villa Feltrinelli pack you a bottle of champagne, and sit back while your captain ferries you around the lake. You will see kite surfers, pleasure boats, swimmers, and breathtaking views of water, towns, and mountains.
Stop for a swim in the clear, crisp water. Aim to work up an appetite but give yourself plenty of time to get dry before your next stop.
Exclusive Lunch in a 15th Century Church Courtyard
Your boat will whisk you off to San Vigilio, a park that juts out in the water. It is home to Locanda San Vigilio, a hotel and restaurant practically spilling into the water. When you arrive, you will see tables and patrons lunching on the dock and fairly squished together, but you will keep going, through the hotel and to their private courtyard overlooking the water.
Here, you will enjoy a massive buffet lunch, with rustic and truly delicious Italian dishes. The best ravioli I have ever had in my life was here, and it was also the most simple – drizzled with olive oil, a shaving of parmesan, and some curls of lemon peel. They stopped the buffet during Covid, but I have high hopes they will restart it. The restaurant is worth a visit even if the buffet is not on offer, but the value and variety makes it a must-do if it is available.
Private Tour of an Italian Castle
The capstone to your 1 day in Lake Garda is a private tour of Isola del Garda with a member of the Cavazza family, owners of the villa on Lake Garda’s largest island. During your tour, you will learn insider history and charming tidbits about growing up surrounded by such history. The island started as a cemetery, became a refuge for pirates, and was later a monastery – and that was all before the year 900. Its illustrious visitors include St. Francis of Assisi, St. Anthony of Padua, and Dante Alighieri, who references the island in his Divine Comedy.
It is now a tourist attraction in addition to being a family home. Group tours are offered along with private event spaces, but the private tour is the way to go to really bring the history to life. With one of the owners as your guide, you will see spaces not open to the public, and end your tour with snacks and wine before climbing back onboard your private speedboat to return to Villa Feltrinelli.
Dinner with a View
After such a big day, you’ll need a spectacular meal to bring it all home. For that, go right down the road to the terrace at Lido84, where you will find rich, perfectly balanced dishes with a strong sense of place. The kitchen staff serving your meals is a nice touch, allowing you to interact with and learn from the masters creating your amazing food.
Lake Garda in 2 Days
If you have a second day to spare for Lake Garda, spend it exploring another village. The most popular are Malcesine, Salo, and Sirmione. Park that car and see the area on foot, stopping for lots of pictures, shopping, and eating. Do give yourself enough time to get around the lake – it is bigger than it seems, and you don’t want to eat up all your time in the car.
How to get to Lake Garda
Lake Garda is almost equal distance from Milan and Venice, the two major international airports in northern Italy. You can fly into either airport and arrive at Lake Garda in about 2 hours. The roads are large, well-maintained, and they drive on the same side as we do in the US, so it’s easy to get around. Your best bet for exploring northern Italy is definitely with a car.
If you are driving to or from Verona, watch the toll roads carefully. We made the mistake of going through the “fast pass” lane as we entered the toll road going from Verona to Lake Garda, and then since we didn’t have the fast pass device, we got stuck when we were exiting the toll booth on the other side. We ended up paying much more than we needed to because they treated it as a lost ticket. Though the toll booth attendant tried to be helpful, our lack of Italian and his lack of English made it very difficult to explain what happened. We lost a lot of time, added unnecessary stress to the journey, and made a lot of drivers behind us very angry as they waited for us 😄