For those looking for landscapes that are different from the usual but not too far away, this town of art and natural beauty is located near Desenzano, on the shores of Lake Garda in the Brescia region.
A small gem nestled among the typical morainic hills and the lake, dominated by historical monuments such as the Rocca and the dome of San Giovanni. For those wondering what to see in Lonato, well, the choices are abundant…
Visiting the Rocca di Lonato and the Historic Center
The medieval history of many villages along Lake Garda comes alive in this town, which today maintains its historic center under the protective wing of the ancient fortress.
This castle is undoubtedly one of the most important attractions to see in Lonato and was built around the year 1000 on the slopes of Mount Rova, along with the surrounding village. It provided an excellent vantage point to oversee the Brescia plain and the shores of Lake Garda.
In reality, this hilly area has been inhabited since prehistoric times, later passing under Roman rule, as evidenced by various archaeological excavations. The oldest area was where the village now surrounds the Church of San Zeno, built in the early Middle Ages along with the walls and a small castle.
What we see today, the Rocca di Lonato, is the evolution of this defensive structure, which gained increasing importance. During the Lombard period, the village expanded and became richer, as well as politically significant. The Rocca and the walls later served to defend against the Hungarians, and over time, it transformed into a true fortress – there were many attacks on the citadel until modern times.
In its transformation, the architecture displays imposing walls, 11 towers, and three gates. Its position follows the profile of the hill to maintain a privileged surveillance view of the territory. The ancient lookout has now become a tourist Belvedere, where important astronomical observations are also conducted, in addition to local events.
The Podestà House Museum
Another interesting place to visit in Lonato del Garda is this house, built in the 15th century as the residence of the representative of the Republic of Venice (which controlled Lonato and many territories in the Garda region from that period until the 18th century).
Its walls were damaged in 1797 during the Battle of Lonato between Napoleon’s French army and the Austrian army.
When Napoleon ceded the Republic of Venice to the Austrians, this house became a barracks, and it was later abandoned until the early 20th century.
It was then purchased by Deputy Ugo da Como, who immediately undertook restorations to turn it into a historical memorial building. It soon became a house-museum, inhabited by the family until 1944, and then transformed into a public space, a foundation, and a library that houses around 50,000 volumes. It boasts one of the most notable bibliophile collections in the north, including incunabula and manuscripts. A first printed edition of the Divine Comedy from 1487 and the world’s smallest printed book, a letter from Galileo Galilei to Cristina di Lorena (1615), are also found here!
Moreover, the Ugo da Como Foundation houses tapestries, statues, valuable antiques, precious porcelain, vases, and ancient pharmacy instruments.
The Casa del Podestà is part of a monumental complex that also includes the Rocca Viscontea, declared a national monument in 1912.
The Lonato Cathedral
The church is dedicated to San Giovanni Battista and dates back to the 14th century, a period during which the ancient Pieve and the old Lonato were destroyed.
The new site hosted this construction, which was rebuilt several times and now features a seventeenth-century Baroque style. The facade prominently displays Lonato’s symbol, a rampant lion with 3 fleurs-de-lis and 2 keys. Since 1980, the Lonato Cathedral has held the status of a minor basilica and stands tall with its dome, reaching a height of 60 meters!
The Civic Tower of Lonato
Since the mid-16th century, this tower has stood out in the historic center with its crenellated walls and clock. It was built to enable the ringing of the civic bells, and after several centuries of honorable service, it was restored at the end of the 19th century by architect Antonio Tagliaferri.
You can reach the top after climbing 150 steps, revealing a spectacular panorama of the town known as the “Cittadella,” with its narrow streets…
From its 55-meter height, it is called the Torre Maestra, and it rang the 3 bells that marked life in the town and was used for surveillance.
The bell chamber has bifora windows and once had a small dome that was removed at the end of the 19th century. The housed bells include the major one that strikes the hours, the medium-sized bell that chimes the quarters, and the small one that rings for funerals. Today, the sound mechanism has become electric, whereas in the past, a bell ringer lived here and also maintained the clock, which has been present since the late 16th century.
Another historic place in the ancient village is the Piazza del Comune, where you’ll find the Monument to the Fallen of World War I and also the Venetian Column, with the Lion of St. Mark, which ruled Lonato for approximately 3 centuries!
The Lido of Lonato del Garda
This is a small lakeside beach where you can sunbathe by renting umbrellas or loungers, paddleboats, canoes, or enjoy a meal at the restaurant.
Nearby, there is also the La Quiete Water Park, which is just a taste of Gardaland, not far from Lonato.
What to see in the surrounding area? The village of Drugolo
In addition to the Rocca, there is another fortress not too far from the center of Lonato. In a small village called Drugolo, you can see this ancient castle from the outside, which is now privately owned and not easily accessible. Nevertheless, it is interesting to explore its territory and history, especially since Castel Drugolo likely has Lombard origins, with an attached convent.
In the 14th century, its walls were reconstructed, and the castle became the residence of various local nobles, including some well-known figures such as the Malatesta and Vimercati.
Today, it presents itself as a square-shaped castle with Ghibelline merlons and a picturesque drawbridge.