This easy trail, approximately 30 km long, runs along the lakeside before climbing up the gentle hills surrounding the area. It is an extremely scenic route, winding through the countryside lined with vineyards and olive groves.
This is why the eastern shore of the lake is known as the “Olive tree Riviera”, and here is where the renowned Garda PDO extra virgin oil is made. The starting point is in Bardolino, a famous lakeside resort, renowned also for its Bardolino DOC, the wine produced from the grapes growing on the nearby hills.
Inside the town walls, there are a number of sites worth visiting, such as the 11th-century Romanesque Church of St. Severus, the ancient castle tower and the harbour with its countless fishing boats, and the legendary Preonda.
A lakefront road departs from Bardolino, leading to Cisano, a small town with a charming church, the so-called Pieve di Santa Maria. Only a short stretch of road separates Cisano from Lazise. This celebrated town of the Olive tree Riviera was the first free Commune in Italy. Lazise is famous for its 12th-century Romanesque Church of St. Nicolò, the old harbour, the Venetian customs house, and the Scaliger Castle.
The trail then leaves the shores of the Lake and climbs gently towards the inland hills. Once again the beauty of the countryside, with its wide expanse of vineyards and olive trees, fills the eye. Not far beyond there is the hill of Pacengo, from where one can admire a stunning view on the Calmasino hill. A few gentle climbs and descents lead to the village of Colà, famous for the hot springs and spa of Villa dei Cedri.
A few miles further on there is Calmasino, a hamlet of Bardolino: its Parish Church, perched on top of a hill, is definitively worth visiting, because of the incredible view from there. An easy stretch of downhill road leads back to the shores of the Lake, and from there to Bardolino.
Olive trees have been cultivated for many thousands of years. They prosper where the climate is temperate, and ancient evidence of their cultivation has been found in the environs of Lake Garda. Garda PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) oil is a light, fruity extra virgin oil made chiefly from Casaliva olives and a small percentage of other varieties of minor importance such as Fort, Leccino, Moraiolo and Pendolino.
The first settlement in Bardolino dates back to prehistoric times, when people used to live in stilt houses. The city however only developed under the Roman Empire and throughout the Middle Ages, when the area was subjected to Barbarian invasions. In the 12th century, it became a Commune ruled by the Della Scala and the Visconti families first, and the Republic of Venice later. In 1798, it passed under the dominion of the Austrians, and subsequently became part of the Kingdom of Lombardy-Venetia, before being annexed to the Kingdom of Italy in 1866.
As testified by the archaeological finds in this area, dating back to the Bronze Age, grapes have been growing since time immemorial in what is now the production zone for Bardolino wine. Ancient artifacts show that in Roman times, wine was often used in religious ceremonies. It would seem that the first vineyards were established back then, and the wine produced was stored and transported in amphoras, many of which have been unearthed in this region.
Bardolino wine is mainly made from Corvina grapes, but also contains a small percentage of Rondinella and may include other varieties as minor components. It has a bright ruby-red colour and a delicately fruity flavour, with notes of cherries, sour cherry, strawberry, raspberry, blackcurrant and spices (cinnamon, cloves and black pepper). It is an exceedingly pleasant wine that pairs well with a wide array of dishes.
The Church is located on the north side of the town. It has a tall, stone bell-tower with a reddish roof. The only part that is not original is the belfry, which was rebuilt in the Nineteenth century. The apses too have been restored, but preserve the aspect of the original ones erected in the 14th century. Like all Romanesque churches, its façade faces westwards.
Not much is left of Bardolino Castle. Historians presume that towards the end of the 9th century, Berengar I, unable to fend off the Magyars, granted permission to build defensive strongholds and castles to protect the towns around Lake Garda. The Scaligers rebuilt and enlarged the castle, as well as constructing walls with towers, ramparts and battlements, and digging a moat around it. One of the oldest maps of Lake Garda shows that Bardolino had a near-square design, and a harbour inside two buttresses protruding into the lake. All that remains now are the two gates and part of the rectangular tower on the lakefront.
A large stone slab can be seen in the charming old harbour of Bardolino: it is called the “preonda”, a combination of the Italian words for stone and wave, because it emerges from the shore of the lake. On this slab the local fishermen would sell their catch, but in general, it was considered a meeting point for the inhabitants of the village. It is said that it brings good luck in love.
The Pieve (Church) in Cisano, first built around the Fifth century, was referred to as St. Julian’s Church in a document dating from the year 915. In the 10th or 11th century a bell-tower was erected, and the church was enlarged and dedicated to St. Mary. The façade and north-facing wall are typical examples of Romanesque architecture. The rest of the building was rebuilt in the mid 19th century and has a more Neoclassic style. The crypt was destroyed during these works.
In the year 983, the people of Lazise asked Otto II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, to grant them permission to fortify the castrum so as to better defend the town. On May 7 of that year, the emperor issued a charter granting tax collecting, fishing and transit rights, and the possibility of fortifying the town. Lazise hence nominated a Vicinia, a deliberative assembly whose 18 members discussed and determines all civil and economic actions, including fishing and trading. This was quite an uncommon thing for the time, and for this reason, Lazise is considered to be the first free Commune in Italy.
The Church of St. Nicolò is near the old harbour of Lazise. Its Romanesque architecture suggests that in was built in the 12th century, although the first document that mentions it dates back to 1320.
Together with the harbour, which was already present on 10th-century maps of the area, the Venetian customs house was a building of great importance for the economy of the town. At the two ends of the harbour, which at that time was smaller than today, there were two towers, and the entrance into the port was near the larger one. From these turrets (no longer visible), defensive walls departed, running up to the Scaliger Castle. The harbour was enlarged in the 16th century, but a dockyard must have already been present before then, because it is mentioned in documents dating from 1329. It was probably built under the dominion of the Scaligers, and used by the Veronese first and the Venetians later to moor part of their fleet. On October 19, 1607, a request was made to the Republic of Venice, to demolish the dockyard and build a customs house in its place. Nowadays this stone building, approximately 900 sq.m large and 10 m high, has an open-space plan and is used as a congress centre.
The most impressive building in Lazise is the Scaliger Castle with its walls encircling the town’s historic centre. The casle was built under the dominion of the Della Scala dynasty, and the Porta Nuova, an archway that used to be a city gate, bears the date May 21, 1376.
Villa dei Cedri is a palace of great historical importance. Built in the late Eighteenth century, it is surrounded by a 13-hectare park with forest trees, lakes and hot springs.
This parish Church, erected in 1774, is dedicated to St. Michael. It was built on the summit of the ancient hamlet and on a clear sunny day, offers a magnificent view of Lake Garda, the Lessini mountains, the upper Valpolicella and the top of Mount Baldo.