The beauty of the waters and mountains of Garda does not end with beaches, villages, and walks. Among the most exciting landscapes, in fact, are those where ancient castles emerge, which dotted the Garda for defensive reasons, and which today are an often underestimated attraction to visit.
There are many defensive structures, actually, which one to see? The small villages on the lake shore are rich in castles and historic mansions, here I have tried to write about the most characteristic ones.
The Castle of Sirmione
The best-known castle on Lake Garda, perhaps, is this manor suspended on the waters of the lake, in a fabulous setting. It is one of Italy’s best-preserved castles, one of the rare systems that shows an ancient moat. Furthermore, the fortress represents a mandatory passage for those going to Sirmione, since the only entrance to the historic center is through the Scaliger Castle.
The Castle of Sirmione consists of a medieval defensive structure (13th century) created by Mastino della Scala, then Lord of Verona, to protect Sirmione and the surrounding territory of the lake from possible attacks. You can visit the arcade, where Roman and medieval inscriptions are on display, and above all it is exciting to walk along the walls, with passages reminiscent of the ancient guard walks. The wooden stairs leading to the tower have been restored for some time, from where you can enjoy a spectacular view of Lake Garda.
The Castle of Malcesine
This is also a Scaliger Castle (built by the Della Scala family) from the 14th century, but it rests on the ruins of a previous Lombard castle. Over the centuries, the castle was inhabited by several families and states, including those of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
A visit to the Castle of Malcesine represents a unique moment to look at Garda from one of the most scenic points, from the castle tower or from the Rivellino platform.
Inside the castle, you can visit two exhibition spaces. One is the Goethe Hall, dedicated to the German writer who made this fortress famous by writing about it in his book Viaggio in Italia. The other is a space that includes a Natural History Museum.
La Rocca in Riva del Garda
Together with the Apponale Tower, it created a defensive system in Riva and on the Garda, known since the 12th century as castrum novum on the shores of Garda. It was expanded by the dominations of the Della Scala and the Republic of Venice, but the various transformations have maintained the crenellated walls, the four corner towers, and a bridge that allows access from the canal, and many details that can be seen today are the result of a recent restoration. It also consisted of fish ponds and gardens around it, as a system not only of defense but also of aggregation.
Today the castle houses the Alto Garda Museum, which also shows stele statues dating back to the Copper Age. In addition, the Rocca is also the seat of the Riva del Garda Art Gallery.
It preserves its appearance of a solid fortress but with a touch of refinement, and it is a pleasure to see it stand out in the Garda panorama.
The Castle of Lazise
This fortress was already built in the 9th century, at a time when the fishing village of Lazise had to protect itself from the Huns. Over the centuries, the castle underwent numerous reconstructions and transformations, until it became a fortress with a city wall – also very suggestive to visit.
Today, only a few parts of the original castle are still standing, since in 1796 it was almost completely destroyed by the French, who used the castle as a powder magazine.
Subsequently, the Austrians sold the mansion to a private individual, who used it as a stone quarry for his constructions. Thanks to the intervention of the Buri family, who bought the castle in the 18th century and restored it, we can visit it in its current form – today it is located inside the 19th-century garden of Villa Buri Bernini.
Castle of Torri del Benaco
This manor dates back to ancient times since already at the time of the Romans, in 15 BC, Torri del Benaco was a fortified site!
Archaeological evidence, from the first castrum, continues into the medieval period, and the Torri castle had its greatest splendor at the end of the 14th century, under the rule of the Scala family. In the following centuries, the building deteriorated and the external city wall was demolished in the 18th century, and a lemon house was built on the ruins.
After a restoration in the 1980s, today the fortress can be visited and reserves exhibition rooms on the Upper Garda, the cultivation of olive trees, fishing, prehistoric rock engravings of the territory, and a rich botanical garden.
You can also visit the walkway up to the main defense tower, connected by a bridge to the castle. Here, inside the tower-keep, is the so-called death room: here prisoners were dropped through a trapdoor.
The Castle of Arco
In the hinterland, in one of the most suggestive areas near Lake Garda, this site of ruins of an ancient castle stands. You can get there through a beautiful path of olive trees and relaxing trees after crossing the village center. Truly precious to see, the castle of Arco dominates the valley, with its mighty Great Tower and a panorama that reaches up to Garda. It is, in fact, above a rocky spur from where it controlled the entire territory.
Several assaults have deteriorated it, the last one in the early 18th century by the French. Today it can be visited in the remaining parts of the Tower and the Sasso Prison. In the walls of the tower, there are frescoes renowned for their value, dating back to the 14th century and representing scenes of worldly life, such as the game of chess.
The Castle of Drena is located on a rock, nowadays constituted by fascinating ruins with the great tower from the 14th century that has remained intact, with its rusticated architecture and its 25 meters of height! This castle was also partly destroyed in 1703 by French troops and today the Ghibelline walls, the ruins of the count’s palace, a chapel, and some buildings have been recovered.
Castles on Garda Lake, beautiful… to marry in!
If you have always dreamed of getting married in a castle, like the princes and princesses of fairy tales, in this case too, the castles on Lake Garda are fabulous for an unforgettable event.
These castles are perfect for celebrating weddings and civil unions: the photos with the breathtaking scenery of the lake and mountains, the enchanted atmosphere… attract many people every year who want to get married in the most exclusive dwellings!