by Auretta Monesi
Gardone Riviera, situated on the shore of Lake Garda near Brescia, can be reached by the A4 motorway, which runs from Turin to Trieste, exit at Desenzano. Proceed along the state highway 572 (the famous ‘Gardesana Occidentale’) which passes through Salò, Gardone and continues all the way up to Riva del Garda.
Gardone’s fortune dates back to the end of the 19th-century, when German doctors praised the small locality for its ideal climate, allowing one to spend mild winters and to enjoy the refreshing breezes of the lake during the summer.
Middle-European bourgeoisie soon fell in love with the small village, and started building villas with magnificent parks, luxurious hotels and even a casino. Many green spaces attached to the villas are nowadays public parks.
The Heller garden, for example, at the end of Via Roma, was created at the beginning of the 20th-century, and is filled with bamboo and valuable plants (open from March till October, 9-19, for information telephone (+39) 0336 410877). Not far from the garden your attention will be attracted by the staircase of villa Alba, complete with ionic colonnade.
Like the Heller garden, it was constructed at the beginning of the 20th-century, when the German family of Lagensiepen had it built in neoclassical style. Nowadays, it is part of the Gardone’s town council, who are having it technically adjusted; next year it will reopen for events and congresses, but in the meantime its park is open to visitors.
Residence, since 1921, of poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, the Vittoriale is a citadel in the small village of Cargnacco. It occupies a large part of the Gardone territory, sloping down to the shore of the lake. Nowadays, it is a museum which welcomes 170 million visitors a year.
Nothing has been changed in the Prioria, the poet’s extravagant home, filled with millions of objects and relics. The park offers stage productions, such as the large open-air theatre, exedra, pavilions and even the bow of a ship is anchored in the olive-trees.
The airplane, used by d'Annunzio to get to Vienna, hangs down from the ceiling of the Auditorium, which was turned into a War Museum in 2000.
Built at the beginning of the 19th-century,
amongst its guests were members of the Habsburg family
who visited the area to shoot pheasants.
In the green hamlet of Fasano, on the river bank, you will find one of the most fascinating hotels of this area, the 5-starGrand Hotel Fasano (Via Zanardelli 190, (+39) 0365 290220).
There is also a pier, a high tower, an outdoor swimming pool and a wonderful garden. In 2007 the hotel will be open from April till November; double rooms are available from €200 including breakfast.
The pride of the Mayrs, owners and managers of the hotel, is the recent Acqua Spa, a health centre based on natural therapies and products (open throughout the year, daily entrance €30). Another magnificent villa, on the river bank, is the 4-star hotel/restaurant Villa Fiordaliso (Via Zanardelli 132, (+39) 0365 290014, open from March till October).
Built in 1931, it is renown for having been the residence of Mussolini’s lover Claretta Petacci, during the years of the so-called ‘Repubblica di Salò’.
Associated to the Relais et Chateaux hotel chain, Villa Fiordaliso has 7 stylishly furnished rooms, an indoor swimming pool and a garden on the river bank; double rooms are available from €240. Young chef Riccardo Camanini heads the restaurant, one of the best in the area which distinguishes itself by the use of local products in mouth-watering recipes such as ravioli with bagoss (a local cheese), pork cooked in milk and various fishplates; prices from €75.
Tourism in Gardone was born however at the 4-star Grand Hotel Gardone (Via Zanardelli 84, (+39) 0365 20261, open from April till October): initially called Hotel Pizzoccolo, in the beginning it was nothing more than an inn on the river bank. It soon became the large palace which it nowadays is, with a fantastic view of the lake; double rooms with breakfast are available from €179.