- Don’t choose Sirmione and Desenzano del Garda as the main point to stop if you don’t want to overpay. You’ll have your car to visit this places. Focus on less tourist but charming Gardone Riviera and Salò or other towns.
- If you are a fan of excellent wine or champagne, you cannot miss a visit to Franciacorta area and drink the same-name bubbles Franciacorta in Corte Franca. Franciacorta wineries are a good idea for your Garda and Iseo lake trip.
- Did you know that Lovere of Iseo lake is in the list of the cutest historic centers in Italy? Nature around is so spectacular.
- Do you love to visit particular restaurants? The whole point of the trip was a restaurant in Clusone where the truffle is the specialty.
So where to go on Garda lake, where to start from? How to plan a trip to Garda or Iseo, or both? Today I am sharing our route through the two lakes of Nothern Italy, which we did this May holidays during one week. The beginning of May was somehow similar to a mid-autumn period in Italy: you still wear a light jacket or a trench, it can rain at any moment, but don’t think this weather will spoil your program or mood. It was raining almost all days while we were on Garda and Iseo, but we totally enjoyed our trip. So Lombardy lakes are a perfect idea for an autumn escape.
Gardone Riviera, province of Brescia
We did not have any kind of super goal as it was supposed to be a relaxing long weekend with our friends coming from Saint Petersburg. So we just made a reservation for the first two nights on Garda Lake, and after we would decide the route spontaneously. The plan was to visit cute towns, walk around, find interesting family restaurants, drink wine and enjoy the tranquility of the places before the start of the touristic season. For this purpose, we skipped Desenzano or Sirmione as the most touristic places. We’ve chosen to Gardone Riviera – a small town belonging to the province of Brescia, the Lombardy region.
My husband and I set off early in the morning from Puglia, the heel of the Italian boot, and 1010 km and 12 hours later, having booked a hotel on the way, we reached Garda lake and checked-in at the Hotel Villa Florida 4 Stelle.
The hotel was not full around 30 percent and a very very polite owner offered us an upgrade (we paid about 120 euros per night instead of 200). Being conquered by the politeness and hospitality of the hotel we remained there for 3 days. The Florida hotel is very nice and compact. The rooms may seem a bit kitschy, but the view from the balcony won us over. A generous breakfast on the open-air terrace and drizzling rain made our mornings so peaceful and we could spend there a whole hour or more observing the lake, weird fruit trees around the terrace, and listening to the silence.
The staff, the breakfasts and the view in this hotel did not leave us indifferent and we left the hotel an excellent ratings on Booking.
While we were relaxing and watching the lake from above, our friends chose the Grand Hotel Gardone and had breakfast right by the water. This historic and huge hotel dates back to 1884, and as the guys are big fans of antiques they were in love of the atmosphere of this hotel, so bohemian one. And you have to pay for bohemianism – cappuccino in the lobby bar and a water – um … 15 euros (brought by the waiter).
While we were living in Gardone Riviera, we traveled to a nearby Salò, which is a little bit bigger town. Salò can boast a nice lakefront which during the season becomes so lively. The historic center, between Carmine Square, “Fossa” and the lakeside promenade, is a series of streets, lanes and squares with ancient houses, elegant shops, restaurants and bars. Everything was getting prepared for the opening of the season. In May we were among few people walking around.
At our first evening we went to dinner in Osteria Al Gallo i Salò – a simple atmosphere, delicious food and wine Amarone. During the autumn period choose meat and not fish as the main ingredient, combine it with mushrooms, cheeses for the first course, and meat steaks as the second course.
One day we went to Desenzano del Garda and Sirmione. Gorgeous, but they seemed us too noisy and already overcrowded. That was obvious as these two towns are top attractions of Garda Lake. But they didn’t catch our heart or attention. We were in a mode of complete relaxation and there was too much noise-din. Therefore, we quickly ran over main sightseeings and went back to Gardone Riviera to have dinner. Consider that Sirmione is famous for its therapeutical thermal waters. So for these purpurses you can choose it for your stay. I advice you to check the prices on the website before going there.
Corte Franca, Borgo Santa Giulia
On the fourth day, we left Garda lake and headed towards Iseo. Why? Because we needed to get closer to one restaurant, which we definitely had to visit according to the plan of the guys. That restaurant is located to the north towards the mountains, in the town of Clusone, province of Bergamo, and the way back at night would be tough. So we had to come closer. We had no specific plans and a brilliant idea appeared to visit Franciacorta area and it’s wineries.
In the afternoon we arrived at a small b&b or agriturismo Borgo Santa Giulia (price per night was about 70 euros) located in Corte Franca, which is just 4 km from Iseo Lake and in the heart of the production of Franciacorta wines.
If you love wine as we do, you cannot miss this places! Everywhere you go you’ll see the vineyards. In between of the vineyards you’ll find the wineries: Berlucchi, Bellavista, Bersi Serlini, etc.The biggest and the best are located here.
Franciacorta is a territory in Lombardy region, known for the same name sparkling wines (do not confuse with Prosecco), having the status of Franciacorta DOCG according to the Italian wine classification. Franciacorta is Franciacorta, and Prosecco is Prosecco. In a nutshell, franciacorta is a classic method of vinification (champagne method) and is reserved for wines produced exclusively by the process of re-fermentation in the bottle, and the removal of deposits by way of disgorgement, as complies with the conditions and requirements prescribed in the correspondent normative.
To understand all the processes and deepen the knowledge and of course taste lots of various sparkling vines you should go on a separate tour to Franciacorta. We were lucky to have an opportunity to bring some bottles at home as we traveled by car. What we saw and which wineries we visited I will write a separate post.
The biggest surprise we found when arrived to Borgo Santa Giulia was a winery Ca d’Or. It is not the same enterprise, but they share the territory. It was bigno! We managed to have a personal excursion inside the cellars and a degustation afterwards with the daughter of the owner. Federica is 23-years-old girls who told us so much of interesting facts regarding the franciacorta oriduction. She knows her job perfectly. Moreover, the degustation she organized us was much more than we expected. This is that Italian hospitality we hear a lot around the world 😉
So our evening was brilliant! After the wine tasting we discovered the the b&b has got a restaurant. Having looked at it it seemed to be an important stuff. It was. The restaurant fo Borgo Santa Giulia was another surprise for us. We were so happy about our day that we invited Federica to dinner with us. That was a present for us – a personal sommelier at the table who definitely new what we should have been drinking with the ordered heavy-flavored dishes.
The dishes were so unique and so delicious that I would go there again just for the taste that all one more time.
I TOTALLY RECOMMEND THIS PLACE:
- the price is fine (not too high);
- the b&b itself is ok (clean, large bed, all in all is okay);
- there is a magic winery on the territory of the b&b;
- the restaurant is superb!
The only negative impression we had about breakfast. How so a place with a wonderful restaurant doesn’t offer a quality breakfast, but some croissant and a coffee.
Lovere & Pisogne at Iseo lake
After Franciacorta we headed towards Lovere. But we took another way, don’t know why, and arrived for a stay in a small (very small) town Pisogne on another side of Iseo lake. Actually, Lovere from Pisogne is situated just 10 minutes by car, so it was not a problem to ger there for a walk.
Lake Iseo is a relatively small lake and some people like it, others don’t. Lovere is one of the most popular places of Iseo with a beautiful promenade. Here they have a reconstructed touristic port of Cornasola (Porto Turistico di Cornasola), the largest on the lake, and with its modern technologies it can offer boating, sailing, windsurfing and canoeing on the lake. By the way, since 2003 Lovere has been included into the list of “Top 100 most beautiful villages (borghi) in Italy”.
Misterious Clusone and “Mas-ci” restaurant
Finally the evening when we were about to visit the only place which was planned before arrived.
For a whole week I heard about it and was looking forward to see what it was. From Pisogne to Clusone it’ll take you about an hour to go to the north. A journey through the valleys of Bergamo area called Orobie Bergamasche will present you a wonderful view on the mountains and the river Serio, as well as exciting art treasures, often unknown.
The town of Clusone, which has got around 10 thousand of citizens, pleasantly surprised me. The place of art and frescoes, surrounded by the Bergamasque Alps and the sun, is a popular pre-arrival point before going to the mountains, and therefore Clusone is always lively and crowded with tourists.
Valle Seriana is one of the Italians’ ski destinations during the “settimana bianca” – “white week” after the New Year, when many people go skiing in the mountains. In few minutes you will reach the first mountains – Monte Pora, Passo della Presolana and Colere.
What to see in Clusone?
Park before the ZTL sign (limited traffic) and go up the street towards the historic center. Clusone is a town of many basilicas and churches, small palaces and hidden streets. But from everywhere you will see the main attraction – Basilica di Santa Maria Assunta – basilica, which according to the stories was built on the ruins of a Roman temple dedicated to Goddess Diana, but neither the temple nor the structure of the primitive church has been preserved and is not known to anyone.
You will definitely pass by the clock (Orologio planetario Fanzago) in the center of the city, which was put into function in 1583 and is still working non-stop until today. The mechanism at that time was unique: the hours point the movements of the sun and moon, the hours of the day and the duration of the night, the equinoxes and solstices, the constellation of the zodiac, the moon, months, hours, minutes.
The most memorable building was the oratorio near the beforementioned Basilica because of its frescoes, dated 1484-1485. Oratorio dei disciplini is a place for prayers. So these frescoes represent the “Triumph of Death” and “The Dance of Death” in the outer part of the building and the life of Jesus Christ with the Crucifixion in its inner part.
Because of the many frescoes on the front of the house, Clusone is called a “painted city”.
The restaurant that was waiting for us is called Mas-ci (Ristorante Commercio Mas-cì). This is a family restaurant, which is not surprising, and its name from the local dialect translates as “boy”. This is how the restaurant was called in 1927, when a grandson was born in the family. it has several rooms and, I think, this is an ideal place for winter gatherings, although the restaurant has its own patio with a terrace. In addition, the entire building belongs to the family-owner of the restaurant where the hotel is located.
This is a very cozy and very tasty place and for good reason it was in our plans from the very beginning. If we’ll be there near again, I will definitely go there.
After the lakes we had a day in Milan and the next day we would go towards Vicenza. We didn’t get into the city, as we were tired of traveling. We stopped in the agriturismo out of the city. For dinner, we chosed a hotel’s restaurant, where our friends stayed – Villa Tacchi Hotel Gazzo. Very nice villa with a lot of antiques inside, a pool and a tasty restaurant.
The next day we started our 1000-kilometer journey back home to Puglia.
The route may seem not that intense, but there was no such a goal. Nevertheless, we visited two lakes, 4 or 5 cities, tasted new red wines and franciacorta, discovered 2 new superb re4staurants. And the territory of Franciacorta itself became a place where we must return to visit more vineyards, winery cellars, learn the production of sparkling wine and make lots of degustations.
I hope that was useful for you and don’t hesitate to ask your questions in the comments 🙂
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